Celebrations in 1840 of the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention were influenced by contemporary attitudes to print culture and universal education.
Previous celebrations in 1640 and 1740 at Leipzig had been planned by the printing guild.
Before Gutenberg, printing was practiced but on a very small scale as each page had to be carved on wood.
Gutenberg developed printing by the use of 25 mobile fonts cast in lead and set in a press with a frame operated by a screw.
While Johannes Gutenberg was born and raised in Mainz, he lived to Strasbourg between 1434 and 1444, where he was an apprentice goldsmith. It was in Strasbourg that he invented the printing press that so changed the world.
The statue, sculpted in 1840, by David d’Angers, is of Johannes Gutenberg holding a piece of parchment on which is inscribed the words “Et la lumière fut” (And behold, there was light) from the Book of Genesis. He was the publisher of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.
In Frankfurt, the sculptor Edward Schmidt von der Launitz (1797-1869) created a group of three figures using galvano-technology. Depicted are Johannes Gutenberg – with book and letters – and his colleagues and financial backers Johannes Fust – with books on his arm – and Peter Schöffer – with stamping hammer.
The four figures seated symbolize theology, poetry, natural sciences and industry. The upper sandstone pedestal bears 14 portraits of renowned European printers of early modern times. The standing figures shown on the pedestal hold the escutcheons of the centres of the early book printing and book trade: Frankfurt, Venice, Strasbourg and Mainz.
“What the world is today, good and bad, it owes to Gutenberg. Everything can be traced to this source, but we are bound to bring him homage, … for the bad that his colossal invention has brought about is overshadowed a thousand times by the good with which mankind has been favored.” Mark Twain