Books On Books Collection – Johann Theodor de Bry

Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595/1995)

Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595/1995)
Johann Theodor de Bry
Facsimile edition created by Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel as part of the boxed set Alphabets Buchstaben Calligraphy, published by Ravensburger Buchverlag (1998). H275 x W255 mm, 80 pages. Acquired from Antiquariat Terrahe & Oswald, 14 March 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Johann Theodor de Dry and his sons were copperplate engravers, best known for their Grands and Petits Voyages (1590-1634) of 57 separate parts, containing over 500 different engravings illustrating the explorations of the world beyond the shores of 16th and 17th century Europe. While the De Brys’ place in the history of book art might be traced from their illustrations of Hans Staden’s tales of Brazilian cannibals to Oswald de Andrade’s “Manifesto Antropófago” [Cannibal Manifesto] (1928) and Moussa Kone’s Nowhere Land (2017), their equally strong, if not better, claim rests on the Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595) and the Alphabeta et characteres (1596).

The Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet presents the letters of the alphabet adorned with Judaeo-Christian allegorical figures, vegetation, birds and animals, instruments, implements, weapons and regal emblems. An octave in Latin and one in German provide hints for identifying the allegorical and emblematic references. At the end of the De Brys’ alphabet atlas Alphabeta et characteres, iam inde a creato mundo ad nostra usq. tempora, apud omnes omnino nationes usurpat (1596) depicting dozens of alphabets — the Chaldaic, Egyptian, Hebrew, Greek, Slavonic, Hispanic, Latin and so on — another decorated alphabet and an alphabet formed of human figures make their appearance.

Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595). Images: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Letters R&S and the human alphabet from Alphabeta et characteres, iam inde a creato mundo ad nostra usq. tempora, apud omnes omnino nationes usurpat (1596).
Images: Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel reproduce to scale the letters from the Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet and present thumb-nail versions of the alphabets as well as the decorated letters from Alphabeta et characteres. Their facsimile is not the first for these works. J.N. Stoltzenberger printed Alphabeta et characteres in translation for William Fitzer in 1628, and George Waterston & Sons published Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet as The New Artistic Alphabet in 1880 (albeit without the original’s text and verses). By juxtaposing all these originals, Kiermeier-Debre and Vogel provide a concentration of what makes the De Brys partial forerunners in the history of book art: images embracing letters (and letters embracing images).

Joseph Kiermeier-Debre and Fritz Franz Vogel facsimile (1995) of Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595), pp. 12-13.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Left: George Waterston & Sons facsimile (1880) of Neiw Kunstliches Alphabet (1595).
Right: Caracters and Diversitie of Letters Vsed by Fivers Nations in the VVorld; the Antiquity, manifold vfe and varietie thereof; vvith Exemplary defcriptions of very many ftrang Alphabets. Curiously cutt in braffe by Iohn Theod: de Bry deceased, Franckfort on the Mayne. Printed by John Nicol: Stoltzenberger for William Fitzer (1628). Close up.
Photos: Books On Books at the Bodleian Library.

Left: Waterston (1880). Right: Stolzenberger (1628).

Left: Waterston (1880). Right: Stolzenberger (1628).

Other abecedaries in the Books On Books Collection that strike the Baroque note or blend image and letter in ways that argue a descendancy from the De Brys include

Marie Angel‘s An Animated Alphabet (1996)
Tauba Auerbach‘s How to Spell the Alphabet (2007)
Anthon Beeke‘s Alphabet (1970) and Body Type (2011)
E.N. Ellis’ An Alphabet (1985)
Francesca Lohmann‘s An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017)
Lisa Merkin’s Bodies Making Letters (2021)
Suzanne Moore‘s A Blind Alphabet (1986)
Johann David Steingruber‘s Architectonisches Alphabeth (1773/1972)
E. Andrew Zega and Bernd Dam‘s An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)
Ludwig Zeller‘s Alphacollage (1979)

De Bry also published Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens or Emblemata Nova (1618), which is represented in the Books On Books Collection by Daniel E. Kelm’s Möbius version Neo Emblemata Nova (2005).

Further Reading

Paulus Franck“. 22 March 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Richard Niessen“. 23 April 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Bry, Johann Theodor de. 1595. Nova Alphati[sic] Efficitio Historiis ad singulas literas correspondẽtibus, et toreumate Bryanæo artificiose in æs incisis illustrata: Versibus insuper Latinis et Rithmis Germanicis nõ omnino inconditis. Nejw[isc] Kunstliches Alphabet, gezirt mit schonen Figurn, deren Iede sich auff seinen Buchstaben accõmodirt; artlich jn Kupffergestochen, durch die Bryẽ, Auch mit Lateineschen[sic] Versen vnd teutschen Reimen lustig beschrieben. Fr[ancoforti]: ad Mo.e[num].

Caracters and Diversitie of Letters Vsed by Fivers Nations in the VVorld; the Antiquity, manifold vfe and varietie thereof; vvith Exemplary defcriptions of very many ftrang Alphabets. Curiously cutt in braffe by Iohn Theod: de Bry deceased, Franckfort on the Mayne. Printed by John Nicol: Stoltzenberger for William Fitzer (1628). Appears to be a reprint.

Bry, Theodore de, and Michael Alexander. 1976. Discovering the New World. London: London Editions.

Maier, Michael. 1618.  Atalanta Fugiens, hoc est, Emblemata Nova De Secretis Naturae Chymica: Accommodata partim oculis & intellectui, figuris cupro incisis, adiectisque sententiis, Epigrammatis & notis, partim auribus & recreationi animi plus minus 50 Fugis Musicalibus trium Vocum. Oppenheim: Johann Theodor de Bry.

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