500 years ago, on 31 October 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five theses to the doors of churches in Wittenberg, Germany. This act initiated the Protestant Reformation, the schism with the Catholic Church which profoundly changed Europe.
To mark the anniversary of Reformation Day, the curator of the Western Collections and the Reference Librarian selected a number of printed books and prints on the subject of the Reformation for display in our Sacred Gallery.
One of the prints chosen from the collection (Wep 2182) is an etching entitled Tyranny against the ‘Reformed’ (Tirannien tegen de Gereformeerden in Vrankryk), a broadsheet printed on a single piece of paper. It depicts the oppression of the Huguenots in France between 1685 and 1699, with a central scene of King William and Queen Mary welcoming the refugees into the Netherlands in 1686.
The print is attributed to the Leiden base printmaker, Romeyn de Hooghe (1645-1708), and was produced in the last decade of the 17th Century.
The Chester Beatty copy of this print is missing the accompanying text which should run under the image. The text can be seen in this copy of the print held by the Getty Research Institute.
However, if one zooms into the left hand corner of the Getty’s print, just above the decorated letter D, one can see the overlap of two pieces of paper and the difference in size of the two sheets. It seems that the text and image were printed as two separate parts, on separate pieces of paper, which were then joined together. The absence of any evidence of a join on the CBL impression may suggest that it was never actually attached to its text counterpart.
What our print was attached to is an altogether different story! When looking at the engraving closely, it was clear that the print had been lined with a slightly larger piece of handmade paper of a similar colour. A number of black lines could be seen from the verso, which did not match the print on the recto. With transmitted light, the secret of the print was revealed. It showed very clearly that the print was lined with a map of Brazil. Using a lightbox we could see the typical nautical frame around the map, as well as a lovely compass rose indicating north. The outline of the borders of Brazil were clearly defined but it was difficult to make out any of the information relating to the printer.
Unsurprisingly, the curator was keen to separate the two prints, and so were we. As there were no writing inks or fugitive pigments on either of the prints, separating them using water seemed possible. The adhesive used to attach the prints which we believe to be starch-based was first tested and reacted very well to moisture. Both prints were printed on lovely high-quality 17thcentury European paper, which was determined to be strong enough to tolerate washing with water.
The print was lightly humidified using a fine spray before it was float washed in a bath of luke warm water. The adhesive started to swell rapidly and it was quickly possible to separate the two layers of paper using a spatula. The excess adhesive remaining on the paper surface of both prints was brushed off in the water with a soft flat brush.
So we find ourselves with two prints; one a Dutch etching about the Reformation and the second a beautiful map of Brazil, printed in Amsterdam by the prolific Dutch cartographer and publisher Johannes Janssonius (1588-1664). The faint residue of a paper guard at the centre of the verso of the map of Brazil tells us that this print was once folded and inserted in a bound volume, possibly an atlas of maps. Janssonius’ maps are similar in style and date to those of the famous Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu (1571-1638).
The skills and craftsmanship used to produce this print are truly of high quality and the reason it was considered waste and used to line another print will remain unanswered for now!
Julia Poirier, Book and Paper Conservator
Come and see the display of printed books and mounted prints commemorating the anniversary of Reformation Day in our Sacred Traditions gallery from the 1st of June.