During the first decades after the introduction of printing with moveable type in the west copies were not complete without the intervention of rubricators and/or decorators, who entered rubrics at the beginning and the end of sections, who highlighted important capital letters with red or/ and blue ink or paint, and who added beautifully decorated large initials at the beginning of important sections of the text, often combining different colours with gold or silver foil. It is surprising that some copies contain an important number of wrongly added letters, which sooner or later sometimes were corrected, e.g. by painting or pasting over.
This article offers a first systematic analysis of mistakes in large decorated initials and Lombard initials in twenty-one (almost) complete and digitised copies of the 42-line Gutenberg Bible. The focus is not an arthistorical one, but on the textual accuracy of added Lombard initials of two lines tall or more – typically added by rubricators – and of large (multi-colour and/or gilt) decorated initials at the beginning of Bible books and Psalms and their prologues – usually the work of specialized decorators or artists. A statistical account of mistakes and corrections in added initials is first followed by an analysis which aims at explaining how mistakes may have happened, and then by an assessment of corrections. By doing so, this study creates a sort of benchmark which can be used to assess the accuracy of rubrication in other copies of this specific edition as well as in other incunabula requiring the intervention of rubricators and decorators.
Appendix 1 lists all 1,443 incipits surveyed in each copy of the 42-line Gutenberg Bible, appendix 2 gives an overview of all mistakes and corrections per copy, appendix 3 brings all mistakes together in order of the Bible books. The final appendix contains URLs referring to the digitised copies surveyed.