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1309 1319 1329 1339 1349 1359 1369 1379 1389 1399  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
CONTENTS
  BACK-1390-1392 NEXT-1397-1399    
 
 
     
1390 - 1399
YEAR BY YEAR:
1390-1392
Robert III, King of Scots
Jan van Eyck
Jan van Eyck
Louis I of Orleans
Muromachi period
Ashikaga Yoshimitsu
Sassetta
Sassetta
 
YEAR BY YEAR:
1393-1396
John of Nepomuk
Jobst of Moravia
Pisanello
Pisanello
Isabella of France at Calais
Battle of Nicopolis
Manuel Chrysoloras
Michelozzo
Gutenberg Johannes
 
YEAR BY YEAR:
1397-1399
Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester
Kalmar Union
Delhi
Confrerie de la Passion
Henry IV of England
Dufay Guillaume
Guillaume Dufay
The Fall of Richard II
 
 
 
 
 
 
 HISTORY, RELIGION, PHILOSOPHY, ART, LITERATURE, MUSIC, SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, DAILY LIFE
 
 
 
 
YEAR BY YEAR:  1300 - 1399
 
 
 
1393 - 1396
 
 
 
1393
 
Bayezid I subdues Bulgaria
 
 
 
1393
 
Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia has St. John of Nepomuk murdered in Prague
 
John of Nepomuk
 

Born at Nepomuk about 1340; died 20 March, 1393.

 
  The controversy concerning the identity of John of Pomuk or Nepomuk (a small town in the district of Pilsen, Bohemia), started in the eighteenth century, is not yet decided. The principal question at issue is whether there was only one John of Nepomuk, or whether two persons of that name lived in Prague in the second half of the fourteenth century and met with precisely the same fate. This inquiry leads naturally to the further question, as to the true cause of John's violent death. In a controversy of this character it is of primary importance to set down clearly the information given in the original sources. Extant documents, ecclesiastical records, and contemporaneous accounts of the second half of the fourteenth century relate in unmistakable fashion that in 1393 a certain John of Nepomuk was Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Prague, and that on 20 March of the same year by command of King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia he was thrown into the Moldau and drowned. This John was the son of Welflin (or Wölflin), a burger of Pomuk (Nepomuk), and studied theology and jurisprudence at the University of Prague. In 1373 he took orders and became public notary in the archiepiscopal chancery, and in 1374 was made prothonotary and first secretary of Archbishop John of Jenzenstein (Jenstein). In 1389 he received the parish of St. Gallus in Prague, and, continuing meanwhile his studies of jurisprudence at the university, was promoted in 1387 to the doctorate of canon law. He was also a canon in the church of St. Ægidius in Prague, and became in 1389 canon of the cathedral in Wyschehrad. In 1390 he gave up the parish of St. Gallus to become Archdeacon of Sasz, and at the same time canon of the Cathedral of St. Vitus, without receiving however any cathedral benefice.
 
 
Shortly afterwards the archbishop named him president of the ecclesiastical court, and in 1393 his vicar-general. King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, wishing to found a new bishopric for one of his favourites, ordered that at the death of Abbot Rarek of Kladrau no new abbot should be elected, and that the abbey church should be turned into a cathedral. The archbishop's vicar-general, however, interposed energetically on this occasion in defence of canon law. When Abbot Rarek died in 1393, the monks of Kladrau immediately held a new election, the choice falling on the monk Odelenus, and John, as vicar-general, promptly confirmed this election without referring to the wishes of the king. Upon hearing this Wenceslaus fell into a violent rage, and had the vicar-general, the cathedral official, Provost Wenceslaus of Meissen, the archbishop's steward, and later the dean of the cathedral thrown into prison.

The first four were even tortured on 4 March, but, although the others were thus brought to acquiesce in the wishes of the king and the official even proposed everlasting secrecy concerning all that had occurred, John of Nepomuk resisted to the last. He was made to undergo all manner of torture, including the burning of his sides with torches, but even this could not move him. Finally, the king ordered him to be put in chains, to be led through the city with a block of wood in his mouth, and to be thrown from the Karlsbrücke into the river Moldau. This cruel order was executed on 20 March, 1393.
  We possess four contemporaneous accounts concerning these proceedings. First of all, the extant bill of indictment against the king, presented to Benedict IX by Archbishop John of Jenzenstein, who went to Rome with the new Abbot of Kladrau on 23 April, 1393 (Pubitschka, Gesch., IV, app.; ed. Pelzel, "Geschichte König Wenzels", I: "Urkundenbuch", 143-63). Some years later Abbot Ladolf of Sagan gives an account of it in a somewhat abbreviated form in the catalogue of the Abbots of Sagan completed in 1398 (ed. Stenzel in "Script. rerum Silesiacarum", I, 1835, pp. 213 sqq.), as well as in the treatise "De longævo schismate", lib. VII, c. xix (Archiv für österreichische Geschichte, LX, 1880, pp. 418 sq.). A fourth reference is to be found in the "Chronik des Deutschordens", a chronicle of the Teutonic Knights which was compiled by John of Posilge who died in 1405 ("Scriptores rerum Prussicarum", III, Leipzig, 1860—, 87). For the discussion of the question it is important to remark that Archbishop John of Jenzenstein in his above-mentioned indictment (art. 26) calls John of Nepomuk "martyr sanctus", and that, in the biography of John of Jenzenstein by his chaplain, John of Nepomuk is described as "gloriosum Christi martyrem miraculisque coruscum". It is thus clear that his contemporaries had already begun to honour as a martyr and a saint the vicar-general put to death by the cruel and licentious tyrant for his defence of the law of the Church. The body of John of Nepomuk was drawn out of the Moldau and entombed in the cathedral of Prague, where in fact, as is proved by later documents, his grave was honoured.
 
 
In his "Chronica regum Romanorum", finished in 1459, Thomas Ebendorfer (d. 1464) relates that King Wenceslaus had Magister John, the father confessor of his wife, drowned in the Moldau, not only because he had said that "only he who rules well is worthy of the name of king", but also because he had refused to violate the seal of the confessional. The refusal to violate the seal of the confessional is here for the first time given as the reason for John's violent death. The chronicler, who speaks of only the one John drowned by order of King Wenceslaus, evidently refers to the John of Pomuk put to death in 1393. In the other chronicles written in the second half of the fifteenth century, we find the reason regularly assigned for the execution of John, that he had refused to tell the king what the queen had confessed to him.
 
 
Paul Zidek's "Instructions for the King" (sc. George of Podiebrad), completed in 1471, contains still more details (cf. Schmude in "Zeitschrift für kathol. Theologie", 1883, 90 sqq.). He says that King Wenceslaus suspected his wife, who was accustomed to confess to Magister John, and called upon the latter to declare the name of her paramour. On John's refusal to say anything, the king ordered him to be drowned. In this old account we do not find the name of the queen or any date assigned to this occurrence; a little later the year 1383 is given, when Wenceslaus's first wife, Johanna (d. 1389), still lived.

In his "Annales Bohemorum" ("Kronika ceská", first printed in Bohemian, Prague, 1541; translated into Latin and published by Gel. Dobner in 6 vols., Prague, 1761-83) the Bohemian historian, Hajek von Liboczan (d. 1553), in view of these varying accounts, is the first to speak of two Johns of Nepomuk, who were put to death by order of King Wenceslaus: one, the queen's confessor, and martyred for refusing to violate the secret of the confessional, having been thrown into the Moldau in 1383; the other, auxiliary Bishop of Prague, drowned in 1393 because he confirmed the election of the monk Albert as Abbot of Kladrau. The later historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries give more or less legendary details of the universally accepted martyrdom of John, because he refused to violate the secret of the confessional. Bohuslav Balbinus, S.J., in his "Vita b. Joannis Nepomuceni martyris" (Prague, 1670; "Acta SS.", III, May, 668-80) gives the most complete account.

  He relates with many details how on 16 May, 1383 (this date is already found in old accounts), John of Nepomuk, because he steadily refused to betray the confession of Queen Johanna to King Wenceslaus, was by order of the latter thrown into the Moldau and drowned. From the year 1675 the cathedral chapter of Prague repeatedly petitioned Rome for the canonization of Blessed John of Nepomuk, who enjoyed special veneration in Bohemia.

In the years 1715-20 evidence was gathered and the cause examined; in 1721 followed the beatification, and in 1729 the canonization. The acts of the canonization are based on the statements, according to which John died on 16 May, 1383, a martyr to the secrecy of the confessional. But ever since 1777, when the Augustinian Hermit, Athanasius a Sancto Josepho, sought to prove by the testimony of Archbishop Jenzenstein's written accusation, which did not become known till 1752, that John of Pomuk was put to death by Wenceslaus in 1393 for the reason given above, the controversy has never ceased.

We still find defenders of the opinion advanced by Hajek, that there are two Johns of Pomuk. Most modern historians, however, are probably correct in regarding the vicar-general murdered in 1393 as the only historical personage. A few of these, however, do not look upon the confirmation of the election of the Abbot of Kladrau as the true reason for John's murder; they hold that Wenceslaus IV was already exasperated against John, because he would not violate the secret of the queen's confession, and took this opportunity for revenge.

 
 

Martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk by Szymon Czechowicz, c. 1750.
 
 
These details can in no way affect the validity of the canonization of the vicar-general, who had been recognized as a martyr immediately after his death. Consequently, when Protestant historians, as Abel, assert that the veneration of St. John Nepomucene was first introduced by the Jesuits to banish the cult of John Hus from Bohemia, their contention is both unhistorical and without justification: the veneration of John of Nepomuk was widespread long before the Jesuits ever existed. St. John Nepomucene is patron saint of Bohemia. When in 1719 his grave in the Prague cathedral was opened, his tongue was found to be uncorrupted though shrivelled. His feast is celebrated on 16 May.

Catholic Encyclopedia

 
 
 
1394
 
Robert II, King of Scots starts on expedition to Ireland
 
 
 
1394
 
Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia taken prisoner by his cousin, Jobst of Moravia
 
Jobst of Moravia
 

Jobst (or Jost or Jodokus) of Moravia, Jobst von Mähren (Czech: Jošt Lucemburský or Jošt Moravský; French: Josse de Luxembourg; 1351 – 18 January 1411) from the House of Luxembourg was the eldest son of Margrave John Henry of Moravia, the younger brother of Emperor Charles IV.

 
 

Upon his father's death in 1375 he ruled the March of Moravia often quarreling with his surviving brothers and also held the family castle Luxembourg.

In 1388 Jobst became Margrave of Brandenburg, given in pawn by his cousin Sigismund, son of Charles IV, who focused on the Kingdom of Hungary.

After the death of German king Rupert in 1410, Jobst was elected successor by four of the electors on 1 October, opposing his cousin Sigismund who had already been elected by three electors on 10 September.

Though Jobst had the greater support among the electors, he died on January 18, 1411, clearing the way for Sigismund's election as king and later Holy Roman Emperor.

 
 
 
1395
 
Ir. rulers do homage to Richard II of England, receive amnesty
 
 
 
1395
 
 
Pisanello

 

(b Pisa or Verona, by 1395; d. Oct 1455).

Italian painter, draughtsman and medallist. His richly decorative frescoes, courtly and elegant painted portraits and highly original portrait medals made him one of the most popular artists of the day. He travelled extensively and worked for several Italian courts, at Mantua, Ferrara, Pavia, Milan and Naples. Many of his paintings have been lost or damaged, making a reconstruction of his career difficult. He is now better known as a medallist.

 
Original name Antonio Pisano Italian medalist and painter, a major exponent of the International Gothic style. His early work suggests that he was the pupil of Stefano da Zevio, a Veronese artist. (He was wrongly called Vittore by Giorgio Vasarí, and only in 1907 was his personal name verified as Antonio.)

Pisanello collaborated with Gentile da Fabriano on frescoes in the Doges' Palace in Venice (c. 1415–22) and in St. John Lateran in Rome (after 1427). After Gentile's death, Pisanello probably completed the Roman frescoes, known only through drawings, which show Gentile'sgreat influence over the young Pisanello. His only surviving frescoes are an Annunciation at the tomb of Niccolò di Brenzoni in San Fermo in Verona (c. 1423–24) and the legend of St. George in the Pellegrini Chapel in San Anastasia, Verona (c. 1433–38). These works are characterized by the curvilinear design, calligraphic draperies, and decorative detail typical of the International Gothic style from which Pisanello never completely freed himself. Even a mature work such as his “St. Eustace” (National Gallery, London) is encrusted with rich detail that tends to work against spatial clarity. The “Madonna with SS. Anthony and George” (National Gallery) displays a simpler conception. It is dominated by the monumental figures of thetwo saints and the bust of the Virgin in a mandorla, or almond-shaped aureole.

Pisanello's fame and his importance in court circles rested more upon his medals than upon his painting. They are thought to have resulted from his study of ancient Greek andRoman numismatic portraits. He had virtually no recent predecessors, and, with him, the art reached its highest point. His work includes the medal of the Greek emperor JohnVIII Palaeologus (1438), the wedding medal of Lionello d'Este(1444), Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1445), and the medal of Alfonso of Aragon (1448), generally cited as his most successful work in the genre.

 
The Virgin and Child with Saints George and
Anthony Abbot,
mid 1400s, National Gallery, London
 
 
Most of Pisanello's painted portraits, such as the “Margherita Gonzaga” (c. 1438; Louvre, Paris), and “Lionello d'Este” (c. 1440; Accademia Carrara, Bergamo), show the sitter in profile (a convention of Pisanello's portrait medals) against a background of delicate, colourful flowers and butterflies.

Pisanello's drawings have been preserved in the Codex Vallardi (Louvre, Paris). This is the only instance in which thedrawings of a 15th-century workshop have been preserved virtually intact. They are of unique value, therefore, for the study of the style and techniques of draftsmanship of the period. Pisanello uses a large variety of techniques and materials to produce masterful drawings (some coloured) of animals, plants, costume design, and perspective studies. His drawings of various views of horses are particularly well known. He was one of the first 15th-century artists to draw from life instead of adhering to the medieval tradition of copying the drawings of others. The drawings reveal Pisanello's breadth of interest and his sensitive eye. They combine delicately rendered Early Renaissance naturalism with the beauty of Late Gothic line and are one of his most important contributions to the history of art.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 
 
     
 
Pisanello
     
 
 
 
     
 
Gothic & Early Renaissance Art

Painting
 
     
 
 
 
1396
 
Richard II of England marries Isabella of France at Calais
 
Isabella of France at Calais
 

Isabella of France (9 November 1389 – 13 September 1409) was Queen consort of England as the second spouse of King Richard II. Her parents were King Charles VI of France and Isabella of Bavaria-Ingolstadt.

Isabella's younger sister, Catherine of Valois, was Queen consort of England from 1420–1422, as the wife of King Henry V of England and mother of Henry VI, King of England.

 

Richard and Isabella on their wedding day
  Isabella lived during a period of political tension between France and England known as the Hundred Years War, the situation exacerbated by the mental instability of her father. On 31 October 1396, at the age of six, Isabella married the widower King Richard II of England in a move for peace with France. Although the union was political, Richard II and the child Isabella developed a mutual respectful relationship. The Queen was moved to Porchester Castle for protection while Richard went on a military campaign in Ireland. When Richard II was imprisoned and murdered on his return to England, Queen Isabella was ordered by the new King Henry IV to move out of Windsor Castle and to settle in the Bishop of Salisbury's Thameside palace at Sonning.

King Henry IV then decided Queen Isabella should marry his son, the future Henry V of England, but she put her foot down and refused to have anything to do with the prince. Knowing her husband was dead, she went into mourning, ignoring Henry IV's demands. Eventually he let her go back to France.

On 29 June 1406, Queen Isabella married her cousin Charles, Duke of Orléans. She died in childbirth at the age of 19, leaving one daughter, Joan, who married John II of Alençon in 1424. Isabella was interred in Blois, in the abbey of St.Laumer, where her body was found entire in 1624, curiously wrapped in bands of linen plated over with quicksilver. It was then transferred to the church of the Celestines in Paris.

 
 
 
1396
 
Bayezid I defeats Christian army under Sigismund of Hungary at Nicopolis
 
Battle of Nicopolis
 

The Battle of Nicopolis took place on 25 September 1396 and resulted in the rout of an allied army of Hungarian, Wallachian, French, Burgundian, German and assorted troops (assisted by the Venetian navy) at the hands of an Ottoman force, raising of the siege of the Danubian fortress of Nicopolis and leading to the end of the Second Bulgarian Empire. It is often referred to as the Crusade of Nicopolis and was the last large-scale crusade of the Middle Ages.

 

The Battle of Nicopolis, as depicted by Turkish miniaturist in 1588;
The Battle of Nicopolis, Ottoman miniature
 
 
Battle of Nicopolis, (Sept. 25, 1396), military engagement that resulted in a Turkish victory over an army of European crusaders. It brought an end to massive international efforts to halt Turkish expansion into the Balkans and central Europe.

When the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (ruled 1389–1402) laid siege to Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1395, the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus appealed to the Christian rulers of Europe for aid. King Sigismund of Hungary responded by organizing a crusade. In July 1396 knights from France, Burgundy, England, Germany, and the Netherlands joined Sigismund at Buda and set out first to evict the Turks from the Balkans and then to march through Anatolia and Syria to Jerusalem.

Having entered Turkish territory (August) and conquered the garrisons at Vidin and Rahova, the crusaders laid siege to Nicopolis, the main Turkish stronghold on the Danube River. While they waited for the well-stocked, well-fortified town to submit, Bayezid marched from Constantinople and established his army on a hill several miles from Nicopolis.

  Although Sigismund urged his allies to maintain a defensive position, the knights charged up the hill, scattering the first lines of the Turkish cavalry and infantry. Bayezid awaited them, however, with another cavalry contingent reinforced by a Serbian army, and by that time the heavily armoured Western knights were too exhausted to fight effectively.

Sigismund, whose army had not participated in the initial attack, tried to rescue the knights, but his Walachian and Transylvanian contingents deserted and his Hungarian force was insufficient. The Turks slaughtered most of the crusaders and pushed the remainder back to the Danube. Although a small portion of the allied army, including Sigismund, escaped, most survivors were captured and executed by Bayezid.

By their victory at Nicopolis, the Turks discouraged the formation of future European coalitions against them. They maintained their pressure on Constantinople, tightened their control over the Balkans, and became a greater menace to central Europe.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 
 
1396
 
 
Manuel Chrysoloras opens Greek classes in Florence: beginning of revival of Greek literature in Italy
 
Manuel Chrysoloras
 
Manuel (or Emmanuel) Chrysoloras (Greek: Μανουὴλ Χρυσολωρᾶς; c. 1355 – April 15, 1415) was a pioneer in the introduction of Greek literature to Western Europe during the late middle ages.
 
  He was born in Constantinople to a distinguished family. In 1390, he led an embassy sent to Venice by the emperor Manuel II Palaeologus to implore the aid of the Christian princes against the Muslim Turks.

Roberto de' Rossi of Florence met him in Venice, and, in 1395, Rossi's acquaintance Giacomo da Scarperia set off for Constantinople to study Greek with Chrysoloras.

In 1396, Coluccio Salutati, the chancellor of the University of Florence, invited him to come and teach Greek grammar and literature, quoting Cicero:

"The verdict of our own Cicero confirms that we Romans either made wiser innovations than theirs by ourselves or improved on what we took from them, but of course, as he himself says elsewhere with reference to his own day: 'Italy is invincible in war, Greece in culture.'

For our part, and we mean no offence, we firmly believe that both Greeks and Latins have always taken learning to a higher level by extending it to each other's literature."

 
 
Chrysoloras arrived in the winter of 1397, an event remembered by one his most famous pupils, the humanist scholar Leonardo Bruni, as a great new opportunity: there were many teachers of law, but no one had studied Greek in Italy for 700 years. Another very famous pupil of Chrysoloras was Ambrogio Traversari, who became general of the Camaldolese order. Chrysoloras remained only a few years in Florence, from 1397 to 1400, teaching Greek, starting with the rudiments. He moved on to teach in Bologna and later in Venice and Rome. Though he taught widely, a handful of his chosen students remained a close-knit group, among the first humanists of the Renaissance. Among his pupils were numbered some of the foremost figures of the revival of Greek studies in Renaissance Italy. Aside from Bruni and Ambrogio Traversari, they included Guarino da Verona and Pallas Strozzi.

Having visited Milan and Pavia, and having resided for several years at Venice, he went to Rome on the invitation of Bruni, who was then secretary to Pope Gregory XII. In 1408, he was sent to Paris on an important mission from the emperor Manuel Palaeologus. In 1413, he went to Germany on an embassy to the emperor Sigismund, the object of which was to fix a place for the church council that later assembled at Constance.
  Chrysoloras was on his way there, having been chosen to represent the Greek Church, when he died suddenly. His death gave rise to commemorative essays of which Guarino da Verona made a collection in Chrysolorina.

Chrysoloras translated the works of Homer and Plato's Republic into Latin. His own works, which circulated in manuscript in his lifetime, include brief works on the Procession of the Holy Ghost, and letters to his brothers, to L. Bruni, Guauni, Traversari, and to Pallas Strozzi, as well as two which were eventually printed, his Erotemata Civas Questiones which was the first basic Greek grammar in use in Western Europe, first published in 1484 and widely reprinted, and which enjoyed considerable success not only among his pupils in Florence, but also among later leading humanists, being immediately studied by Thomas Linacre at Oxford and by Desiderius Erasmus at Cambridge; and Epistolæ tres de comparatione veteris et novæ Romæ (Three Letters Comparing Ancient and Modern Rome). Many of his treatises on morals and ethics and other philosophical subjects came into print in the 17th and 18th centuries, because of their antiquarian interest. He was chiefly influential through his teaching in familiarizing men such as Leonardo Bruni, Coluccio Salutati, Giacomo da Scarperia, Roberto de' Rossi, Carlo Marsuppini, Pietro Candido Decembrio, Guarino da Verona, Poggio Bracciolini, with the masterpieces of Greek literature.

 
 
 
1396
 
 
Michelozzo
 

Michelozzo, in full Michelozzo di Bartolommeo, Michelozzo also spelled Michelozzi (born 1396, Florence [Italy]—died 1472, Florence), architect and sculptor, notable in the development of Florentine Renaissance architecture.

 
Michelozzo studied with the celebrated sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, in whose workshop he acquired the skills of a bronze founder. After 1420 they collaborated on the “St. Matthew” for the church of Or San Michele, Florence. In 1427 Michelozzo and the sculptor Donatello established a partnership, active until 1438, to build several architectural-sculptural tombs. They also collaborated on the pulpit (designed 1428) in Prato cathedral.

Throughout his career Michelozzo was closely associated with his principal patrons, the Medicis, and he followed Cosimo de’ Medici into exile at Venice in 1433. Upon Cosimo’s triumphant return to power in Florence in 1434, Michelozzo’s architectural career began in earnest with several important commissions. In 1436 he began the complete rebuilding of the ruined monastery of San Marco at Florence. The elegant library he built for the monastery became the model for subsequent libraries throughout 15th-century Italy. In 1444–45 he directed the similar reconstruction of the large complex of church buildings at Santissima Annunziata, also in Florence.

  Michelozzo also temporarily succeeded Filippo Brunelleschi as architect for the cathedral of Florence upon the latter’s death in 1446.

Michelozzo produced several innovations in the design of the Florentine palazzo, or palace. The basic plan called for a blocklike structure, usually three stories high, with a central open court. On the exterior the three stories were separated by horizontal string courses, and the rustication of the stonework was different in each story. The building was capped by a bold overhanging cornice.

These features are outstanding in the palazzo that Michelozzo built in Florence for Cosimo de’ Medici (1444–59; now called the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi), one of the finest examples of early Renaissance architecture.

In his later years Michelozzo restored several villas for the Medicis and worked as an engineer in Ragusa (now Dubrovnik, Croatia) and on the Greek island of Chios.

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 

Michelozzo. Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, Florence. Begun 1444
 
 
 
1396
 
 
Johann Gutenberg, inventor of printing in Europe, b.
 
Gutenberg Johannes
 

Johannes Gutenberg, in full Johann Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg (born 14th century, Mainz [Germany]—died probably February 3, 1468, Mainz), German craftsman and inventor who originated a method of printing from movable type that was used without important change until the 20th century. The unique elements of his invention consisted of a mold, with punch-stamped matrices (metal prisms used to mold the face of the type) with which type could be cast precisely and in large quantities; a type-metal alloy; a new press, derived from those used in wine making, papermaking, and bookbinding; and an oil-based printing ink. None of these features existed in Chinese or Korean printing, or in the existing European technique of stamping letters on various surfaces, or in woodblock printing.

 
  Life
Gutenberg was the son of a patrician of Mainz. What little information exists about him, other than that he had acquired skill in metalwork, comes from documents of financial transactions. Exiled from Mainz in the course of a bitter struggle between the guilds of that city and the patricians, Gutenberg moved to Strassburg (now Strasbourg, France) probably between 1428 and 1430.

Records put his presence there from 1434 to 1444. He engaged in such crafts as gem cutting, and he also taught crafts to a number of pupils.

Some of his partners, who became aware that Gutenberg was engaged in work that he kept secret from them, insisted that, since they had advanced him considerable sums, they should become partners in these activities as well. Thus, in 1438 a five-year contract was drawn up between him and three other men: Hans Riffe, Andreas Dritzehn, and Andreas Heilmann. It contained a clause whereby in case of the death of one of the partners, his heirs were not to enter the company but were to be compensated financially.

 
 
Invention of the press
When Andreas Dritzehn died at Christmas 1438, his heirs, trying to circumvent the terms of the contract, began a lawsuit against Gutenberg in which they demanded to be made partners.

They lost the suit, but the trial revealed that Gutenberg was working on a new invention. Witnesses testified that a carpenter named Conrad Saspach had advanced sums to Andreas Dritzehn for the building of a wooden press, and Hans Dünne, a goldsmith, declared that he had sold to Gutenberg, as early as 1436, 100 guilders’ worth of printing materials. Gutenberg, apparently well along the way to completing his invention, was anxious to keep secret the nature of the enterprise.

After March 12, 1444, Gutenberg’s activities are undocumented for a number of years, but it is doubtful that he returned immediately to Mainz, for the quarrel between patricians and guilds had been renewed in that city. In October 1448, however, Gutenberg was back in Mainz to borrow more money, which he received from a relative.

  By 1450 his printing experiments had apparently reached a considerable degree of refinement, for he was able to persuade Johann Fust, a wealthy financier, to lend him 800 guilders—a very substantial capital investment, for which the tools and equipment for printing were to act as securities. Two years later Fust made an investment of an additional 800 guilders for a partnership in the enterprise. Fust and Gutenberg eventually became estranged, Fust, apparently, wanting a safe and quick return on his investment, while Gutenberg aimed at perfection rather than promptness.

Fust won a suit against him, the record of which is preserved, in part, in what is called the Helmaspergersches Notariatsinstrument (the Helmasperger notarial instrument), dated November 6, 1455, now in the library of the University of Göttingen. Gutenberg was ordered to pay Fust the total sum of the two loans and compound interest (probably totaling 2,020 guilders). Traditional historiography suggested that this settlement ruined Gutenberg, but more recent scholarship suggests that it favoured him, allowing him to operate a printing shop through the 1450s and maybe into the 1460s.

 
 

An artist’s visualization of Johannes Gutenberg in his workshop, showing his first proof sheet.
 
 
Printing of the Bible
There is no reason to doubt that the printing of certain books (werck der bucher, specifically mentioned in the record of the trial, refers to the Forty-two-Line Bible that was Gutenberg’s masterpiece) was completed, according to Gutenberg’s major biographers, in 1455 at the latest. It has been estimated that the sale of the Forty-two-Line Bible alone would have produced many times over the sum owed Fust by Gutenberg, and there exists no explanation as to why these tangible assets were not counted among Gutenberg’s property at the trial.
  After winning his suit, Fust gained control of the type for the Bible and for Gutenberg’s second masterpiece, a Psalter, and at least some of Gutenberg’s other printing equipment. He continued to print, using Gutenberg’s materials, with the assistance of Peter Schöffer, his son-in-law, who had been Gutenberg’s most skilled employee and a witness against him in the 1455 trial.

The first printed book in Europe to bear the name of its printer is a magnificent Psalter completed in Mainz on August 14, 1457, which lists Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer.
 
 

Early wooden printing press, depicted in 1568. Such presses could produce up to 240 impressions per hour.
  The Psalter is decorated with hundreds of two-colour initial letters and delicate scroll borders that were printed in a most ingenious technique based on multiple inking on a single metal block.

Most experts are agreed that it would have been impossible for Fust and Schöffer alone to have invented and execute the intricate technical equipment necessary to execute this process between November 6, 1455, when Gutenberg lost control of his printing establishment, and August 14, 1457, when the Psalter appeared.

It was Gutenberg’s genius that was responsible for the Psalter decorations.

In the 1960s it was suggested that he may also have had a hand in the creation of copper engraving, in which he may have recognized a method for producing pictorial matrices from which to cast reliefs that could be set with the type, initial letters, and calligraphic scrolls.

It is at present no more than a hypothesis, but Gutenberg’s absorption in both copper engraving and the Psalter decorations would certainly have increased Johann Fust’s impatience and vindictiveness.

A number of other printings used to be attributed to Gutenberg.
 
 
They are now considered the work of other minor printers; among these is a Thirty-six-Line Bible printed in Bamberg, a typographic resetting of the Forty-two-Line Bible. Attributed to Gutenberg himself is a Türkenkalender, a warning against the impending danger of Turkish invasion after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, printed December 1454 for 1455 use, some letters of indulgence, and some school grammars. The identity of the printer of a Missale Speciale Constantiense is still not established, but it was probably produced about 1473 in Basel, Switzerland.

In January 1465 the archbishop of Mainz pensioned Gutenberg, giving him an annual measure of grain, wine, and clothing and exempting him from certain taxes. His financial status in his last years has been debated but was probably not destitute.

Hellmut E. Lehmann-Haupt

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 

Gutenberg Bible, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
 
 

"What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source, but we are bound to bring him homage, ... for the bad that his colossal invention has brought about is overshadowed a thousand times by the good with which mankind has been favored."

Mark Twain (1835−1910)

 
 
 

 
 
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