Although much later than most of the other books represented here, this volume of ‘cuts’ is representative of a style of biblical illustration dating back to the 1620s. Its opening four pages are unusual in having been coloured by hand, almost certainly by an early owner. The page displayed opposite depicts the Fall; it shows Eve on the point of handing to Adam the fruit of the tree of knowledge, which she has already taken from the serpent. As yet, the fruit is uneaten, since, according to many contemporary theologians, Adam was the first to sin. Animals recline in the foreground, and wander peacefully in the background. Beneath the picture, extracts from the relevant verses of the third chapter of Genesis have been engraved, and the whole page bears the title: ‘Mans fall by the Serpents deceit. Gen. 3’.
The history of this picture is complicated. In 1716, it was published as part of a discrete collection of biblical cuts, intended to help the young ‘attain to the knowledge of the historical and most remarkable passages’ of scripture. The pictures in this collection, however, are simply reversed copies of engravings which could have been bought, either separately, or as a set of illustrations for binding with a copy of the Bible, during the 1690s. The illustrations of the 1690s are themselves enlargements of cuts made by Frederick Henderick van Hove (c.1628–1698), and first published in London in 1671. Almost all of van Hove’s cuts derive their inspiration from the series of biblical pictures engraved by Matthaeus Merian the elder (1593–1650), originally published at Frankfurt from 1625 to 1627, and reissued at Strassburg in 1630. From the late 1640s, Merian’s work was extensively copied by Dutch engravers (see catalogue no. 7), some of whose illustrations to the Bible circulated in England. Van Hove was the first of a number of artists working in England during the second half of the seventeenth century to base his biblical illustrations on Merian’s engravings. His cut of the Fall is rather more loosely grounded on Merian’s original than most of his other biblical pictures.
Apart from Merian’s engravings, the most-widely available biblical illustrations in England during the 1640s and 1650s were those of Jacob Florensz van Langeren, which were issued with dedicatory verses to Charles I by William Slatyer, treasurer of St David’s (see catalogue no. 8). These cuts, which were based on pictures by Maerten de Vos, influenced later Dutch engravers, and may have inspired van Hove’s depiction of the Creation. In general, illustrations of the Bible, which could be bound with the text, served to personalize books, and to encourage readers to assimilate the highpoints of scripture history. They tended to be expensive, however, and they were also theologically suspect in the eyes of many of the hotter sort of Protestants. Thus, the practice of binding pictures with the English text of the Bible was attacked as Popish and idolatrous at the trial of Archbishop Laud, and, again, by the bookseller Michael Sparke in the 1650s.