Ars moriendi : [Blockbuch]

Bayerische Staatsbibliothek


Block books are slim volumes, typically comprising 20 to 50 pages, produced by cutting text and images into wooden blocks (a process known as xylography). The production of block books reached its peak at a time when printing with metal letters (moveable type) was already established, around the 1460s-1470s. Worldwide only about 600 block book copies have survived, and they are among the rarest and most precious products of the printing press. The Bavarian State Library holds 40 of these books and eight fragments. Only a limited number of copies could be printed from the same woodblocks, as they were easily damaged in the process of printing or during storage. Particularly popular works therefore were reprinted from recut blocks as early as the 15th century. The Ars moriendi (Art of dying) serves the purpose of preparing the reader for the moment of death. This was a central medieval topic, since few things were dreaded more than a sudden death for which the victim was unprepared. On two sets of ten plates each, grouped in pairs and each with images and text, this book illustrates the temptations that the dying person suffers and provides guidance on how to escape each of these temptations. The 20 plates are preceded by a prologue on two plates and followed by an epilogue illustrating, on two plates, the triumph over death.

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