National Library of Scotland displays ‘world’s most beautiful books’

Detail from Pennyroyal Caxton Press Bible. Picture: PA
Detail from Pennyroyal Caxton Press Bible. Picture: PA
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AN exhibit displaying some of the “most beautiful books that man has ever made” has opened in Scotland.

Book Beautiful, at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, includes texts from the earliest days of print in the 15th and 16th centuries and explores their influence on small private presses active over the last 120 years. The display, which features a mixture of 10 early and later texts, is a celebration of books that “transcended their medium to become works of art”, organisers said.

Detail from William Morris's 1896 edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Picture: PA

Detail from William Morris's 1896 edition of The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Picture: PA

The books include the 1545 edition of Francesco Colonna’s La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo and William Morris’s 1896 edition of The Works Of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Also on show is the earliest printed book in the National Library’s collection, the Biblia pauperum, which features engravings of biblical scenes and was printed in the Netherlands around 1460.

Alongside this is the last great private press book of the 20th century, the Pennyroyal Caxton Press Bible, printed in the US. It features a series of biblical engravings which took the artist, Barry Moser, four years to complete.

Rare books curator James Mitchell, who selected the books for the display, said: “By conceiving the book as a unified whole in which format, page design, type, illustration, binding and paper all work together harmoniously, the people who worked with private presses designed books which were to be read slowly, appreciated and treasured.

Detail from Francesco Colonna's La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo. Picture: PA

Detail from Francesco Colonna's La Hypnerotomachia di Poliphilo. Picture: PA

“They are no less than some of the most beautiful books that man has ever made.”