Rutgers Seminar in the History of the Book
Thursday, 22 March
Alexander Library - Pane Room Abby E. Zanger (Tufts University)
“What is a Book? Repetition and its Compulsions in Sixteenth-Century French Book Illustration”Abstract:
This talk concerns the reuse or reiteration of images across the "corpus" of one prolific and influential early 16th century Parisian printer-bookseller, Denis Janot. Active in Paris in the first half of the 16th century, Janot's career spanned a transitional moment for the early modern book in general, and for the Parisian book more specifically, where the period of the incunable has been extended into the 1530's. He produced books in a time when the material object we recognize today as a printed book was not yet fully developed. Janot played a crucial role in the evolution of this emerging object. As a follower of Geoffroy Tory, the renowned innovator of graphic design for print, Janot was a proponent of innovations such as Roman lettering and of "modern" spelling. He was also known for his development of the illustrated title page and for pioneering the extensive use of the woodblock vignette, a fixed decorative formula that distinguished the illustration of the printed book from that of the manuscript. Janot's books are known for their use of illustration and indeed he had a store of over 900 woodcuts he both inherited and commissioned. In this talk I will trace how these images got shifted both within and among books published by Janot. For example, often, the same woodcut might shift from a romance novel to an emblem book and then a work of political theory. I will choose three or four such examples of repetition and analyze their implications for how early modern readers might have read not just individual books within Janot's popular "corpus," but across that group of books with which they would have been familiar.
The central thesis of the paper is that, followed to its logical consequences, Janot's extensive recycling of images requires us to rethink how we understand the book as an emerging object in the early years of the 16th century, unsettling our modern notion of the book object as a discrete and autonomous unit.