Set of Woodblocks for the 1590/1591 Arabic Gospels

Collection ID





Prior to 1590/1591


Rome, (Italy)






4 × 5 × 1 in. (10.1 × 12.7 × 2.5 cm)

Exhibit Location

On View in The History of the Bible, Revolutionary Words

This set of woodblocks was used to illustrate the 1590/1591 Gospels in Arabic (Evangelium Sanctum Domini nostril Jesu Christis) printed on the Medici Oriental Press (Typographia Medicea Orientale) in Rome, Italy. Designed by renowned artist Antonio Tempesta and cut by engraver Leonardo Parasole, these woodblocks demonstrate Tempesta’s innovations in converting his personal drawing style into printable form. The Museum Collections possesses 73 woodblocks, 67 of which were used to print 148 images in the original Arabic edition of 1590/1591 and 149 images in the Latin/Arabic edition from 1591. Since woodblocks were often discarded upon the closing of a press, it is rare to see a complete set, along with the printed book, in a single collection.

Designed and created prior to 1590 by Antonio Tempesta for the Medici Oriental Press (Typrographia Medicea Orientale) publication of the Evangelium Sanctum Domini nostri Jesu Christis in 1590/1591, Rome, Italy.[1] Used in 1619 for a reprint of the Evangelium Sanctum Domini by Jo. Antonius Rodolus, Rome, Italy.[2] Used in 1774 for a reprint of the Evangelium Sanctum Domini by Caesar Malanimeus, Florence, Italy.[3] Purchased at auction in 2007;[4] Privately purchased in 2012 by the Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.[5]

Notes: [1] The Medici Oriental Press (Typographia Medicea Orientale) was founded by Cardinal Ferdinado de’ Medici on March 6, 1584, at the request of Pope Gregory XIII. [2] Printed on the Medici Oriental Press, with a dedication to Cardinal Madrutius. [3] Malanimeus was the historian of the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana. There is no other record of the woodblocks until 2003. [4] Purchased at Christie’s, June 6, 2007, Sale 7399, Lot 172. [5] Purchased from Les Enluminures, Paris and Chicago.

Published References:

Neil Harris, “Printing the Gospels in Arabic in Rome in 1590,” in A Concise Companion to the Study of Manuscripts, Printed Books, and the Production of Early Modern Texts, ed. Edward Jones (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley Blackwell, 2015), 131–149.

Sara Fani and Margherita Farina, Le Vie Delle Lettere: La Tipografia Medicea tra Roma e l’Oriente (Florence, Italy: Mandragora, 2012), 210–215.

Richard S. Field, Antonio Tempesta’s Blocks and Woodcuts For the Medicean 1591 Arabic Gospels (Paris, France: Les Enluminures, 2011).

Museum of the Bible Publications:

Roland S. Werner, Unser Buch: Die Geschichte der Bibel von Mose bis zum Mond (Our Book: The Story of the Bible from Moses to the Moon) (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH KG, 2017), 108–109.

David Trobisch, Jennifer Atwood, Jonathan Kirkpatrick, and Rory P. Crowley, Verbum Domini II: God’s Word Goes Out to the Nations (Abilene, Texas: Abilene Christian University Press, 2014), 123–125.

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