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She Took of the Fruit Thereof: Yolande Bonhomme and her Bible

BRB1494_1000

 

Bridwell Library recently purchased the first Bible ever published by a woman:
Biblia sacra integrum utriusque Testamenti corpus complectens.
Paris: Widow of Thielman Kerver [Yolande Bonhomme], 1526
[Fig 1, left].

 

 

 

 

williamsonofeton_comparison

During Fall 2013 Bridwell Library featured four books printed by Yolande Bonhomme (ca. 1490–1557) in its exhibition “Fifty Women.” The following April, the opportunity arose to purchase a fine copy of Bonhomme’s Latin Bible of 1526 from the London booksellers Bernard Quaritch, Ltd [Fig. 2, near right]. The Quaritch firm’s catalogue advertised the Bible as an “attractive and rare” Bible in an early seventeenth-century binding by “Williamson of Eton” – a noted bookbinder at Eton College who probably also bound Bridwell Library’s early fifteenth-century manuscript of John Wycliffe’s English New Testament [Fig. 2, far right]. But the Bonhomme Bible was of interest to Bridwell Library less for who bound it than for who printed it.

BRB1494_cropped and edited publishers mark

Yolande Bonhomme was the daughter of Pasquier Bonhomme, a minor printer for the University of Paris. She married Thielman Kerver, a highly successful printer, and when he died in 1522 she assumed control of his printing shop on the Rue St. Jacques in Paris. Although a distinct minority that faced ingrained social and economic barriers, widows like Bonhomme became relatively well represented in the sixteenth-century printing trade. Following her husband, Bonhomme specialized in illustrated Books of Hours (private prayer books for lay worshippers), but the Latin Bible she published in 1526 demonstrates that she was fully capable of taking on expensive and challenging printing ventures. Her Bible of 1526 features woodcuts that she inherited from Kerver’s stock, including the Creation of Adam [link to Welcome Additions], which illustrates the beginning of the Old Testament, and the Tree of Jesse, introducing the New Testament. The Bible’s title page features a woodcut printer’s device depicting a unicorn. This was her husband’s trademark, signifying his printing shop at the “sign of the unicorn” on the Rue St. Jacques. [Fig. 3, left].

Bridwell Library also owns other books printed by Yolande Bonhomme: a 1523 Book of Hours [link to Fifty Women], two French devotional texts issued in 1539 [link to Fifty Women], and another edition of the Latin Bible, published in1551 [link to Fifty Women]. With three decades of printing experience behind her, Bonhomme still utilized her husband’s “unicorn” trademark on the title page to signal the continuity of his press. At the time of her death in 1557, the press was one of the most successful and respected in Paris, having produced more than 200 editions, including the first Bible published by a woman.

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Current Exhibition

In honorem: 
Dr. Richard P. Heitzenrater

Entry Hall
May 16 – August 22, 2014