I am constantly reading history books and immersing myself in the lives of people who lived centuries ago. In Europe, there are still houses standing containing libraries that no one has touched in 500 years. These books sit patiently on their shelves waiting for someone to take them down and read them. Some have to wait a long time, for in many cases the text is is Latin or Greek, and the literate people who originally owned them are long dead, and their children never studied the ancient languages. Lonely books. The books themselves have lasted so long because the bindings are leather and wood, and the pages, likewise are either vellum, which is nearly indestructuble, or a very sturdy kind of handmade paper that does not crumble to dust like newspaper.
These particular pages are from alchemy books written in Latin or German and are from the 16th and 17th centuries. The books were not destroyed to make these images, but someone in Romania was clever enough to take digital photographs of each page and save the images to a disc. I was able to buy the disc for the cost of a half a tank of gas. I have the images of thirty alchemy books, all pages and illustrations…readable on my computer. The beauty of this is that the person who owns these 30 books can sell them over and over again, and still keep his library intact. And I get to look at his books. The average alchemy book in good to fair condition from 1580 runs about 3 to 7 thousand dollars. I am unlikely to be able to buy any real book…but I can look at them.
I like to imagine the books on the shelf in that Romanian library. Maybe it is a manor house…maybe it is a castle! Reading a book is the most intimate way to connect your mind with the mind of someone else. A book contains the contents of someone’s mind put down on paper or vellum. When you read a very old book like this, it is like communing with the dead.
The pictures are block printed, and then hand-colored. I am imagining a little shop lit with candles and an assembly-line of people bent over the sheets with a paint brush and paint pot. Imagine having to hand-color an entire print run.
I enjoy the idea that I am reading 16th century books on a 21st century laptop.