fol. I1r, Gospel of John
Tés Kainés Diathékés hapanta. Nouum Iesv Christi D. N. Testamentum. 2 pts. Paris: Robert Estienne, 15 June 1550.
Folio. Gospels and Acts. 300 pages (, 272 [i.e., 268]), 12¾ x 8½ inches. All three sizes of Garamond’s Greek typefaces, text in Royal Garamond, 34 or 35 lines. Critical apparatus printed in the inner margin of the text; printer’s device on title page (snake on vine), foliate and Greek initials in two sizes, with matching headpieces. Bound in 18th-century dark red calfskin, gilt border; spine gilt. § DM 4622.
It is telling of the intellectual significance and stature of the Renaissance printing industry that several of the greatest scholars made their careers as printers. Members of the Estienne family, in particular Henri the Elder, Robert, and Henri the Younger, were among the most brilliant of these.
Robert Estienne’s New Testament scholarship culminated in this grand edition. So important was the authority of this text that a later scholar called Estienne the "Protestant Pope." This version of the Greek New Testament is often referred to as the "received text" (textus receptus), which means that it established a standard so authoritative that subsequent editors need to record deviations from it. The term textus receptus, however, was first used in an Elzevir printing of the Bible from 1633 (a book that is also in the Ryrie Collection, but not on exhibition).
This is the first Bible with a printed critical apparatus, which provides variant readings and, with a system of symbols, identifies their manuscript sources. The advantage of a critical apparatus is that it allows readers to consider readings attested in manuscripts, even if the editor chose otherwise for the text. The process of comparing the texts in various manuscripts, which is called collation, was done by Robert’s son Henri. Many of the manuscripts they collated are still extant and have been identified. The symbol α΄ indicates the text of the Complutensian Polyglot; β΄ is the Codex Bezae, the most important new manuscript used for this edition. An interesting feature is the reluctance to modify Erasmus’s text even if better readings are occasionally provided in the variants of the apparatus.
This book is considered a typographical masterpiece as well. As of 1539, Robert Estienne called himself the "Typographus Regius," the royal printer, an office he held under King Henri II. This book is set in Grecs du Roi, a font designed by Claude Garamond, perhaps the Renaissance’s greatest genius for type design. The font was paid for by Henri II, as we know from a document authorizing payment of £225 to Garamond "to defray the payment for the punches of the Greek letters which he has undertaken and promised to cut and place in the hands of the said Estienne, as he completes them, to be used to print books in Greek to be placed in our libraries" (Armstrong 1953, 52). Grecs du Roi was first used for an edition of Eusebius in 1543. The 1550 Bible is the first time that all three sizes of the Grecs du Roi were used.
Literature: Armstrong 1954, 131–38; Hotchkiss and Price 1996, 102–103; Schreiber 1982, 97.