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Following on from seminar work that Edward Wouk taught through his class, Renaissance Print Cultures, the Library has been reassessing and trying to extend our knowledge of the uncatalogued Holtorp Collection. Over the last month, with the help of MA student George Spearing, we have begun to identify some of the prints which are held here.

The Holtorp Collection comprises ten large boxes that contain approximately 2500 examples of early prints, texts and illustrations, which German-born bibliophile Hiero von Holtorp spent over 50 years assembling. He attempted to collect examples of early printing in order to:
“facilitate bibliographical studies and researches by reference to original documents as issued from the presses of the first typographers; to recognise anonymous productions by comparison of type and typographical arrangements [and] to ascertain the first appearance of each type and its migration from one printing establishment to another…” Hiero von Holtorp, Catalogue d’une collection de specimens d’impression du XV. Et XVI (1892).

The collection was auctioned at Sotheby’s in March 1906 and all 20 lots were purchased by Mrs Rylands for The John Rylands Library at the price of £742 15s. The Collection contains examples from virtually all fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printers in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, The Netherlands and England.

We started by looking at Box 5, helpfully labelled ‘Woodcuts, German’, where the images were mainly of a religious nature, often what appeared to be book illustrations and frontispieces. These images above were created by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-50) and are illustrations to accompany The New Testament.

These images come from Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) and a collection of Prints known as The Small Passion, of which The John Rylands has a large number.

There is currently an exhibition curated by the students from the Art History and Visual Studies Course entitled Imprinting the Imagination here in the Library. The exhibition uses prints from the Holtorp Collection. The exhibition aims to investigate aspects of the rise of printmaking in Europe, attending to the material, social and economic history of visual print media during their development in the early modern period. It devotes particular attention to how innovations in terms of materials and techniques related to change in cultural experiences and notions of authorship, invention and the construction of identity. Please note that the prints on display will be changed in early August so it’s worth coming to have a look more than once!

For more details go to: http://www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/exhibitions/imprintingtheimagination/