Die vier Buecher von der Nachfolge Christi

I chose Die vier Buecher von der Nachfolge Christi by Thomas von Kempis. Translated, this title means “The Four Books of the Following of Christ.” This edition of the book was published in 1922. Visually, the book looks to be a religious text without any context of what could be inside. The cover is textured and resembles a stained glass window, although it is only one true color. The title of the book is centered around a gold decorative element, and the text of the title itself also has the same gold treatment.

Photos by Chris Bullock

The cover is textured very distinctly and appears to have faded over as it is mainly a cream-white color. The book is very large and quite thick, but this is mostly due to the uneven and thick nature of the paper not lying completely flat. The book was bound traditionally with thread, and the paper used resembled traditional parchment. The book may have encountered humidity or water damage, as the pages were “bubbled” in a way. The pages had natural valleys and crests that would slowly changes as you flipped through the book. Overall, the book carries a very dominant visual presence with its size and weight. The lettering is very dominant and large with bold drop caps that carry significant visual weight on many pages. The book feels old in a way, largely due to the faded and textured nature of the pages and cover. Every page has significant texture and color variation. The pages crack and crinkle as they turn, solidifying the “old” nature of the paper being very stiff and unforgiving. The edges of the pages are not even and show significant variation from page to page. This is one of the first things that drew me to the book. It looks ancient; significantly older than many of the other books in the reserve collection. Many other books in the collection had a similar graphic style, which was modern at the time. This book, however, was very traditional and had a presence that many of the other books did not possess. It is much less graphically focused, and more focused on basic layout with decorative elements to accompany the text. The inside cover pages are stunning, and were very different than the abstract modernism that many of the other books exhibited.

The book interests me because of its grandiose nature. It is ornate, but not over the top. The classical manuscript elements of the book attracts me, although it is significantly less illustrated than a traditional manuscript.The decorative borders, drop caps, and other illustrated elements are well balanced and beautifully done in relation to the dominant typography. This balance is what I find very intriguing about this book. The layout of the body pages is also very interesting, as no two pages are laid out quite the same.

Photos by Chris Bullock

Many pages involve two colors, with body copy alternating between these two colors (red and black). Because the book is in German, I can appreciate the design of the typography rather than focusing in and reading it. I look at the type as more of a design element and less as actual content. The letterforms are of course very similar to English, which means that I can still analyze the typography without being able to read the page. I think this is a very interesting dynamic. I understand the nature of each letter’s form in relation to English, but my mind is not being distracted by the natural tendency to group these letters into cohesive phrases.

Not only is this book very interesting in its aesthetic nature, but it carries a significant history. It is regarded as an important guide to Christian succession and is very popular among Catholics and Protestants.

Photos by Chris Bullock

Likely, this edition of the book is valuable and important due to its classic and it is the most used book of Christianity next to the Bible. There are more than 3,000 editions of this book, with many editions remaining anonymous. What makes this book so influential is its geographic and cultural spread. While many of the authors of the different editions (in many different languages) remain anonymous, there is some consensus to the original author, who is now believed to be Thomas von Kempis. The publisher of this edition, “Einhorn Presse” or “Unicorn Press” I could not find much information about online. It is difficult to pin down research on this particular edition of the book, but historically, this book was slotted into the late 14th and early 15th century, with original texts being handwritten and illuminated.

This book was part of a revival period of sorts in Christianity, and became so widespread because it was thought of as a pure and good following of Jesus Christ. This book was part of the Devotio Moderna movement, of which the author, Thomas Kempis, was a part of. Devotio Moderna, or Modern Devotion, was an apostolic awakening through the rediscovery of genuine pious practices, such as humility, obedience, and simplicity of life. The book became one of the most critical building blocks of this movement as it formed in the late 14th century.

Photos by Chris Bullock

The book influenced saints such as Thérèse of Lisieux and Ignatius of Loyola. When the printing press became more widespread in the 15th century, Nachfolge Christi was able to be printed in several different languages by the end of the century. This allowed its ultimate purpose to be carried out more effectively – to spread the word of piety and basic religious practices as they should be carried out. Its association to this significant time in Christianity makes this book very important. Not knowing the history of the book while I was looking at it allowed me to look at it objectively, but knowing now the history the surrounds it I am able to gather a more clear and informed opinion on the design and purpose of the book. Overall, I appreciate both the traditional design and layout of the book in addition to the historical connotations it carries with it.



“The Imitation of Christ.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Feb. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Imitation_of_Christ.

“Devotio Moderna.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Jan. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devotio_Moderna.