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Ptolemy's Geographia (Lyon, 1541).

A selection of illustrations from Michael Servetus's (1511?-1553) second edition of Ptolemy's work on geography. This guide to geography, originally written in the 2nd century A.D., became the standard work until the 16th century, and was still having an influence in the 18th century, in spite of its inaccuracies. To some degree later editors augmented and corrected their versions of his text.

The Bible in Icelandic (Holar: Jon Jonsson, 1584).

The first complete printed Bible in Icelandic. These Bibles were more popularly known as Gudbrands Biblia after their translator and editor Gudbrandur Thorlaksson, Bishop of Holar (1571-1627). King Frederick II of Denmark, who helped pay the costs of publication, ordered that every church in Iceland should purchase a copy, and some were given away to the very poor.

Expeditionis Hispanorum in Angliam vera descriptio, Anno D. MDLXXXVIII (London, 1590).

In 1588 King Philip II of Spain sent a great fleet (Armada) to invade England which was defeated by the English fleet and the English weather. Soon after, this set of ten hand-coloured charts was engraved and published showing the operations of the English and Spanish fleets off the south coast of England, with a final chart of Great Britain and Ireland showing the course of the Spanish fleet after its defeat.

The opening of Genesis from the Coverdale Bible (1535) and Matthew's Bible (1537)

The first printings of the English Bible were rather cloak and dagger affairs. All of the first editions were printed abroad at unspecified locations. This reflects the power of the Catholic Church in England in the early 16th century, and the desire of the younger Henry VIII to promote himself as amongst the most pious and Christian princes of the day. The Church recognised only the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible and viewed any attempt at translation into a vernacular as heretical.

Tacuini sanitatis (Strasbourg: Johann Schott, 1531).

An illustrated Latin translation of the Taqwim al-Sihhah (The maintenance of health), originally written by the eleventh-century Iraqi physician Ibn Butlan (died ca. 1038). This work, which is tabular in form, treats matters of hygiene, dietetics and exercise. It emphasises the benefits of daily attention to personal physical and mental well-being. Ibn Butlan came from the Christian community and died as a monk in Antioch.

Details from a chronology of the papacy from Martin Luther's Works (Jena, 1564-70)

When Martin Luther pasted his Ninety-five theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg Castle in 1517, he initiated the Protestant Reformation. The impact of his writings was amplified by the fact that many were printed, and therefore reached a much broader readership, particularly when translated into German. The edition of his works pictured here dates to 18 years after his death, and shows some of the inventive ways in which this new medium was already being used.

The Bible in Welsh (London: Christopher Barker, 1588).

The printing of a language often ensures its survival, particularly when it is faced with competition from the language of an economically and culturally powerful and ambitious neighbour. Although printing in Welsh began in 1546, it was the production of this work, the first complete Bible in Welsh, that ensured the continuing vitality of literature in Welsh.

Geronimo Nadal, Adnotationes et meditationes in Euangelia (Antwerp: Martin Nuyts, 1595)

This image forms one of a sequence of 153 plates illustrating the Gospel stories, first published separately in 1593, then with a commentary in this edition, commissioned by Geronimo Nadal at the instigation of Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (1540). Nadal was one of the first ten members of the order, and Loyola’s personal representative.

Everard Digby, De arte natandi libri duo (London: Thomas Dawson, 1587).

Everard Digby was admitted to St John's in 1567 and became a Fellow in 1573. His best known work is this book on swimming, the earliest such work to be published in England. The illustrations are composed from five landscape blocks with swimmers in different positions inserted in the middle. Digby was deprived of his Fellowship in 1587 partly on account of his habit of blowing a horn and shouting in College.

Konrad Lykosthenes, Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon (Basel: Heinrich Petri, 1557).

Reports of strange phenomena and creatures from foreign lands had long filtered back to Europeans who then proceeded to populate the blank spaces on maps with them. They also flourished as woodcuts and engravings in many books from the time, some of which were re-used in several different volumes owing to the cost of production.

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