New lease of life given to early printed books
<img class="imgl" alt="" src="http://www.belarus-magazine.by/belen/data/upimages/2009/0001-009-479.jpg">[b]All Frantsisk Skorina works to be republished by 2017[/b]<br />2017 will wel-come celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the release of the first Belarusian book — a Bible published by Frantsisk Skorina: ‘from the glorious city of Polotsk to honour God and teach the people of the Rzech Pospolita’. It was the first translation of the Bible into Belarusian, released in Prague in 1517, under the title ‘Biblia Ruska’.<br />The National Library of Belarus has joined forces with the BelVEB Bank to launch a series of editions, reproducing the originals published by Skorina in Prague and Vilnius. Roman Motulsky, Director of the National Library, emphasises that, at present, around 360 copies of Skorina’s editions exist worldwide.
2017 will wel-come celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the release of the first Belarusian book — a Bible published by Frantsisk Skorina: ‘from the glorious city of Polotsk to honour God and teach the people of the Rzech Pospolita’. It was the first translation of the Bible into Belarusian, released in Prague in 1517, under the title ‘Biblia Ruska’.
The National Library of Belarus has joined forces with the BelVEB Bank to launch a series of editions, reproducing the originals published by Skorina in Prague and Vilnius. Roman Motulsky, Director of the National Library, emphasises that, at present, around 360 copies of Skorina’s editions exist worldwide.
“Rare editions are kept in libraries and museums in Belarus, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Russia and Ukraine. The National Library of Belarus is the only such in the country to hold books by the first printer: ten editions of the Bible, which first appeared in Prague. The republications of the Polotsk-born printer’s legacy are being copied from electronic editions held in Germany, Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. Each volume will contain explanations in Belarusian, Russian and English,” notes Mr. Motulsky.
National Library employees Alexander Susha and Galina Kireeva tell us more about the project’s first volume: The Book of Genesis, “It was released in Prague in 1519, including two engravings: The Holy Trinity and The Creation of the World. Art experts believe that these images were inspired by Albrecht Dьrer’s St. Michael Fighting the Dragon. Unlike Dьrer, Skorina’s Holy Trinity has a tri-facial God, symbolising light and the struggle between good and evil. The Belarusian publisher always found the necessary style for his compositions, as well as the necessary form for expressing his thoughts. His Holy Trinity engraving shows the tri-facial God sitting solemnly at the top, surrounded by angels. Meanwhile, Gavriil struggles against the devils and archangels at the bottom.”
The Book of Genesis is one of two Prague editions by Frantsisk Skorina in which he used two-colour printing to emphasise headings, including red ink on the first page. Copies are currently kept not only at the Library of the Academy of Sciences but at the Russian State Library, at the Russian National Library, at the State Historical Museum in Moscow, at the Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts, at the Tyumen Regional Local History Museum, at the Odessa State National Library in Ukraine, at the Jagiellonian National Library in Poland and at the Upper Lusatian Science Library in German Gцrlitz.
The new reproduction of The Book of Genesis, being published in Minsk, is based on an electronic copy held by the Upper Lusatian Science Library in German Gцrlitz. The original was exhibited in Minsk and Nesvizh in autumn 2012 and has been kept in Germany since the 16th century. In 1527, Skorina’s Bible belonged to prominent Duke Johann Hess — a leading Reformation figure in Silesia.
Expert Georgy Golenchenko believes Skorina to be the most prominent representative of the spiritual Renaissance in Belarus. He notes that the approximate date of Skorina’s birth is around 1490, and continues, “In 1504, he entered Krakow University, where students usually enrolled at age 14 (occasionally older). However, Skorina was still registered as a ‘young man’ in 1512, by the University of Padua. It was there that he defended his thesis, gaining a prestigious doctoral degree in ‘medical sciences’. He later placed this title on the front pages of his editions. His book, released in Prague, also bears an inscription revealing that Belarusian-origin merchants from Vilnius funded his printing of the Bible in the Belarusian language: called ‘rusky’ (Russian) at that time. Over several years, Skorina managed to prepare and publish more than a half of the Old Testament’s books: those from the most ancient part of the Bible, created in pre-Christian times. The first — the Psalter — appeared on August 6th, 1517; the last editions were published in late 1519 and early 1520. We have no idea why Skorina left Prague around 1520 but, in Vilnius, he organised his own printing house: at the chairman of the city’s house, that of magistrate Jakub Babic, near the market square. Around 1522, his Little Travel Book appeared, which included the Psalter with additions; this was followed, in 1525, by The Apostle. Skorina’s Vilno editions were released in the Church Slavonic language and included Skorina’s own prefaces in Belarusian. The forecast of solar and six moon eclipses until 1530, included in his Little Travel Book, was unique. Skorina spent his final years in Prague and, in January 1552, his son, Simeon, received recognition for his father’s heritage from the Czech king. It’s unknown where the great Belarusian is buried.”
Monuments and other landmarks in Polotsk, Minsk, Vilnius, Kaliningrad, Prague and Padua mark key events in the life and creativity of Polotsk-born Frantsisk Skorina.
By Viktar Korbut
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