Biography of Johannes Gutenberg | The dark life of the inventor of the printing press.

The dark life of the inventor of the printing press, one of the technical developments of major significance in the cultural history of mankind.

First years

Johannes Gutenberg, real name Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden, was son of a patrician of Mainz, Goldsmith by profession and director of the Mint of this city, who was married, remarried, to Else Wilse, bourgeois extraction, whose family brought as dowry a mansion called Zum Gutenberg, in which was born the famous printer, between 1394 and 1399.
In the family home, the young Johannes was early initiated in the art of the goldsmith and the techniques of minting coins. In addition to his father, many of their relatives working in these offices, and it is possible that there is present the opportunity record punches and attend the manufacture of molds from sand that smelters employed.

Johannes Gutenberg
So passed the first thirty years of his life, until 1428, when Mainz, like so many other Rhenish towns, began to suffer the terrible consequences of a violent social and political turmoil between warring communities, and to impose the party from the labor leaders to the patricians, Gutenberg, belonged this had to flee his hometown. Nothing is known of it during the next four years. However, the files for the city of Strasbourg confirmed his presence there from 1434. Some of these documents are acknowledgments of debts, a constant in his life. There is also a formal complaint for breach of marriage promise, brought against him by a such Emelin zu der Yserin Tür. Gutenberg resided on the outskirts of the city, in the suburb of Saint-Arbogast, near the convent of the same name, on the banks of the Ill.

The process of Strasbourg

In Strasbourg, Gutenberg was associated with three wealthy citizens, Hans Riffe, Andreas Dritzehn and Andreas Heilmann, in activities related to the carved gems and the polishing of mirrors, trades that Gutenberg undertook to teach and exercise in Exchange for money. However, most of the time invested it into a project that sought to keep completely secret; thus sought to protect themselves against any imitators capable of appropriating the fruit of their efforts. Discovered, however, by its partners, they insisted in participating in that mysterious matter that the inventor had been between hands. Gutenberg agreed willingly, since he needed money, and in 1438 he signed an contract which stipulated, among other things, that the three newcomers should pay 125 guilders. The sudden death of one of them, Andreas Dritzehn on Christmas day of that year, led to the brothers of the deceased require entering the society either receive financial compensation. However, under the terms of the contract not contemplated that eventuality, and Gutenberg was denied such claims. The case was brought before the courts in 1439, and they ruled against the heirs.
The Strasbourg process served at least to shed some light on the nature of the project. Officially, Gutenberg only had to deal with the work of goldsmiths; but the statements of the witnesses made reference, not infrequently, the strange feverish activity that reigned in the workshop of the respondent. He worked there at all hours, day and night. In what? Testimonies speak of acquisitions of lead, a press, moulds for casting, etc., in very vague and imprecise terms, but all these objects are familiar to printers.

Detail of one of the Bibles of Gutenberg
More deepens in the birth of letterpress printing, better understood the importance of the work of Gutenberg in Strasbourg, which had come marked by arduous research, not only on the principles of the invention, that were already established, but also, and above all, by a long series of possible solutions techniques, obtained, without a doubt, after performing a large number of tests with successes and failures alternate , but accompanied by the obstinacy of a man completely convinced to achieve the expected result, which gives faith testimony of numerous people called to testify during the Gutenberg. Undoubtedly, such conviction came from the training received in childhood, during which had familiar in the techniques of goldsmiths and engravers of coin, since etching with punches until the casting of metals, through the preparation of arrays. And very likely there, in Strasbourg, Gutenberg started to realize what constitutes the originality of his work: the production of metal movable type.

Back in his hometown

He stayed in Strasbourg at least until 1444; This your registration is confirmed by that same year, in a list of useful men to defend the city against the troops of the count of Armagnac. After that date his whereabouts is lost to meet again it four years later in Mainz, where he had gone in search of money between lenders in the city. His art as a printer had reached sufficient refinement as to seduce Johann Fust, a wealthy bourgeois, and obtain, in 1450, the sum of 800 guilders, amount which amounted to ten years of salary of the municipal trustee. However, Fust was limited to accept tools and utensils of Gutenberg as a guarantee, and two years later, in 1452, as a result of a new loan, became his partner. Ridden by both business was called Das Werk der Bucher, and was, in fact, the first printing press letterpress in the modern sense; the main partner of Gutenberg, there was Peter Schöffer, a calligrapher of great talent who had studied in Paris. But as jobs in the workshop were held to a parsimonious rhythm, and Fust had the early profitability of their investments, began to get impatient and Gutenberg requiring greater agility in the marketing of the works. The latter, as so many other creators, preferred to perfection to the abrupt realization, and thus arose the first disagreements between the two partners.
In 1455, most likely, the first masterpiece of the Art Nouveau famous Bible «42 line» was completed, thus called because this is the most frequent number of lines per column in each of its 1,280 pages. It was a Latin version of the writings of Saint Jerome, and they were needed to melt almost five million types, edited 120 copies in paper and 20 in parchment, which preserved respectively 33 and 13.
Despite the success achieved by the publication, Fust filed, that same year, a lawsuit against Gutenberg, accusing him of having failed to meet its financial commitments. The unfortunate inventor was sentenced to pay your creditor 2.026 guilders, which included all capital borrowed together with accrued interest. Lost also its workshop and, apparently, most of his material, which seized Fust. This was associated with Peter Schöffer, whose statements against the defendant was conditioned to a large extent, the result of the judgment, and which was later married to a daughter of Fust. The new masters of the printing press published, in 1457, the Mainzer Psalterium, a Psalter, the first book that bears the name of the Publisher. The composition of this beautiful work must have required several years of work and is likely to begin under the direction of Gutenberg.
After losing his lawsuit with Fust, the existence of the famous printer met a bitter years. Ruined, it was hounded by creditors, some of whom brought him back before the courts, and eventually take refuge in the community of religious of the Foundation of San Víctor. Later, it was the selfless help of a such Konrad Humery, official of the city of Mainz, which provided him material to mount a small typographical workshop. It is speculated that there printed several works, among them the German translation of a papal bull against the Turks and a medical calendar in latin. A «36 lines» Bible usually attributed to his work, seems rather, according to other testimonies and characteristics, work of Schöffer.

Workers in a printing press as the Gutenberg devised
In 1465, Gutenberg began to enjoy certain economic security thanks to the patronage of the elector Archbishop of Mainz, Adolfo II of Nassau. Became you a member of the Royal Court, exempted him from paying taxes and granted him a pension, annual grain and wine. Gutenberg died February 3, 1467, if the testimony that wrote a Canon of San Víctor Foundation is true, and was buried in the Church of the Franciscan monks possessed in Mainz. This church was destroyed by artillery fire which was under the city in 1793, and the tomb of Gutenberg disappeared with it. On your site passes currently a street which, irony of fate, named after Peter Schöffer.
Gutenberg lived to see how his invention spread rapidly across Europe, starting with the cities along the Rhine Valley. This contributed, without a doubt, the violent occupation of Mainz in 1462 by Adolfo II of Nassau, which surrendered the city to the sacking and pillaging of its troops. Many inhabitants fled, among them Peter Schöffer, who settled in Frankfurt and there founded a new graphic arts workshop. On the death of Gutenberg, no less than eight major cities had printing workshops, and in the following decades, the revolutionary technique was known from Stockholm to Cracow, passing through Lisbon. In Spain, the printing press was introduced by the Germans, and it is known that in 1473 there were workshops in the Kingdom of Aragon. The first Spanish printed book that has come down to us is considered Obres et girders on the Verge Maria lohors printed in Valencia in 1474.

Chronology of Johannes Gutenberg

1400?Born in Mainz.
1434He settled in Strasbourg.
1438Gutenberg is associated with Andreas Dritzehn to carry out printing experiments.
1439It is sued and trial exposes is secretly working on an invention.
1448He returned back to his hometown.
1450It is associated with the dealer and lender German Johann Fust, creating a printing press where he probably began to print the great Latin sacred Bible, as well as smaller books.
1455Ending the 42-lines Bible printing. Fust files a lawsuit against Gutenberg, claiming the money had been invested in the company, so Gutenberg is forced to give up their participation in the same.
1465Adolfo II, Archbishop of Mainz and elector of Nassau, becomes his patron, in recognition of his invention.
1467? Died in Mainz.

Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press

Much discussed on the real contribution of Gutenberg to the industry of graphic arts, but in no way can attributed the invention of the printing press, whose principles were exploited prior to their discoveries. Already at the beginning of the fifteenth century, are printed cards and prints with religious motives, using a wooden plank recorded and smeared with grease ink, on paper or parchment. This procedure of print, woodcut, was originally from far East, China or Korea, and came into Europe through Italy.
Did not merit of Gutenberg texts composition with movable type, i.e. the manufacture of individual symbols or letters. This practice arose in a natural way, through the need for corrections to the texts of the xylographic plates, since it was necessary to remove the Lyric to replace and replace it with a taquillo or wood that carried the new character embossed die. The true merit of Gutenberg was perfecting these techniques even get a typographic procedure that has remained unchanged just until the first bars of the 20th century.
So he proceeded to replace the wood with metal, manufacturing foundry moulds capable of playing enough regular metal types to allow the composition of texts. It was this invention, the letterpress printing with movable metal type, which gave rise to the modern book.

Imprint of the time
Much discussed also on the authenticity of their contributions. The fact of not having left his name in any of the books by printed, along with the shadows that exist around his life, has given rise to attributing to others the merits of his invention. The main adversary in the discovery dispute has been, and for some remains, Laurens Janszoon Coster, a printer of Haarlem which is said that about two decades before Gutenberg invented metal mobile type. In fact, found incunabula in Holland, made with movable type, which could very well have come out of his workshop. However, the defective printing has led many scholars to think that Coster availed themselves of punches wood and fine sand or clay moulds to manufacture the types of printing, attributing to Gutenberg metallic punch and the mould, without whose contest typography were not possible.

Its significance

The invention of printing with movable type, the German Johannes Gutenberg work, is one of the major milestones in the history of culture. The possibility to run multiple copies of books facilitated the access of a greater number of people around the world to the written knowledge and led to radical transformations in politics, religion and the arts.
The impact of the invention of the printing press was tremendous. The production of books during the first fifty years after the decisive contribution made by Gutenberg was, almost for sure, higher than in the previous thousand years.
Gutenberg printing press caused a revolution in the culture. Written knowledge ceased to be the heritage of an elite and was extended to broad segments of the population. The writing was replacing the oral tradition as a privileged way to transmit knowledge, as well as print publications, such as books or newspapers, they generalized. At the beginning of the 20th century printed writing was already predominant media in the West for the dissemination of knowledge. In addition to its enormous significance for religion, politics, and the arts in general, this was a technological advance that facilitated all the others who followed him.

Bible of the University of Texas at Austin
The changes that brought the Gutenberg printing only are comparable to that is causing the generalization of computer science on the threshold of the 21st century. Computers are replacing printed documents as instruments to transmit and preserve texts. However, the book, as we have understood it until today, will continue to be useful for a long time. It could be said that we still live in what the Canadian sociologist Marshall McLuhan called the "Gutenberg Galaxy», the epoch of history marked by the predominance of the printed word.
Extracted from the website: Biografías y Vidas
Biographies of historical figures and personalities

Recommended Contents