Monday, March 18, 2013

The Saint John's Bible: Gospel and Acts


Theophrastus said...

The ordinary ("reproduction") edition of the St. John's Bible (e.g., the affordable one that offers all seven volumes for about $290) uses four-color printing, so it does not have the "gleaming gold" effect.

The video shows the "Heritage Edition" which is absurdly expensive ($145,000). The "Heritage Edition" does feature the "gleaming gold" effect.

The "gleaming gold" effect is highly impressive in printing. One way to see it is in the six-color printed Bible with Illustrations from the Vatican Library published by Turner and Oxford University Press. This publication is largely based on the 1478 Urbino Bible, widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest illuminated manuscript of the Italian Renaissance. Some estimate that Urbino Bible contains over a kilogram of gold; and the designers of the Turner/OUP publication found a suitable shiny gold-colored ink make the reproduction "gleam." The text of the Turner/OUP is the NRSV (like the St. John's Bible).

The "gleaming gold" effect elevates the quality of illustrations in illuminated Bibles to a much higher level.

The Turner/OUP volume originally sold for $395 and is still available from book dealers in near-new condition for about that price; while the price for the Heritage edition of the St. John's Bible (again, the one shown in the video) is in the six figures.

I will mention that reading from either the ordinary ($290) St. John's Bible or the Turner/OUP Bible can be a spectacular experience. The illustrations are so beautiful and engrossing that it helps one in meditating on the text and can bring a new dimension of appreciation.

Jason Engel said...

To be specific, it's not a gleaming gold "effect". The Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible uses real 24K gold embossed in a process that is entirely separate from the inks (one company prints, a second company embosses).

Inks are laid down in multiple passes, building up text and image, which gives the print portions more depth and life. Because the paper used is 100% cotton, a process using ultraviolet light to instantly dry the ink is employed so that the inks do not bleed out into the cotton.

Likewise, the gold & silver embossing is applied in several passes, depending on the complexity involved. In some cases, it may take up to a week to complete a single page.

The gold used in the illuminations makes them quite stunning and dramatic. I had the pleasure of sharing the 1st & 6th volumes of the Heritage Edition (Pentateuch and Gospels & Acts) yesterday with students and staff at Ancilla College in Indiana as well as the nuns of the Poor Handmaidens of Jesus and residents of the nursing home. The community aspect of sharing this tremendous work of religious art in a small to medium group is simply exhilarating.

(disclosure: I work with Saint John's Abbey and University as an "ambassador" of the Saint John's Bible)

Theophrastus said...

Jason, that is very interesting to read; thanks for sharing that.

In 2007, I was privileged to see the fourth volume ("Prophets") of the Saint John's Bible on display at the San Diego Natural History Museum (in conjunction with a display of the Dead Sea Scrolls). It was, of course, stunning, but after having just seen the Dead Sea Scrolls and a variety of medieval illuminated manuscripts also on display, I was already overwhelmed even before I had a chance to see it.

I've had much more enjoyment with the "cheap" ($290) reproductions, which I have had to study and meditate on at leisure at home.

I have no doubt that the Heritage Edition is also wonderful, but the price makes it too expensive for all but but a few individual collectors, and when the Heritage Edition is kept as an institutional holding, there is not really a chance to fully immerse oneself in the manuscript the way one can with the "cheap" personal edition.

I think that if I had a chance to see one of the original volumes again, I would study the personal edition first, so that I knew what I should look for in the original volume, and could focus my attention on the way that the hand ground ink made from lapis lazuli, malachite, silver, copper, and gold were used in the manuscript.

I hope someday to make it to the Hill House Museum and Manuscript Library at Saint John's Abbey and University to do just that.

Jason Engel said...

Theophrastus, it's comments like yours that make me wish it were easier for me to travel, or to bring people to me, so that you and I could have the opportunity to spend all the time you'd like exploring the Heritage Edition. I know I am privileged to have a pair of volumes in my care and thus the opportunity to actually read from them daily. Yes, it is a treat, I really wish I could share that with you. So, open invitation to you (and likewise to Tim's other readers): If you are in or visit the Chicago area, I'd be very happy to make time to share the Heritage Edition of the Saint John's Bible with you. It can be an inspiring and exhilarating experience, particularly when done in small groups.

Jason Engel said...

I've been informed I was wrong about some of the details in the use of gold, so I'm passing along the corrections so that the details shared are accurate.

The -original- uses 24K gold foil. The artistic director, Donald Jackson, worked very closely with McIntosh Embossing to make sure the illuminations in the Heritage Edition reproductions were true to the intent of the original manuscript. Indeed, Sarah Harris, who was involved in the original project, traveled from Wales to hand-treat thousands of reproduced illuminations in the Heritage Edition. So, not only was each illuminated element carefully inspected, the hand-treatment also means that no two sets of the Heritage Edition are identical.

There seems to be an amazing wealth of detail involved in the creation of the original and the fine-art "interpretations". I'm feeling kinda humbled to realize that as much as I've learned about the Saint John's Bible in the last couple years I'm still just scratching the surface.