Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio from Venice to Jerusalem

Elizabeth Ross

Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Journey to the Holy Land), first published in 1486, is one of the seminal books of early printing and is especially renowned for the originality of its twenty-six woodcut illustrations. In Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book, Elizabeth Ross considers the Peregrinatio from a variety of perspectives to explain its value for the cultural history of the period. Breydenbach, a high-ranking cleric in Mainz, recruited the painter Erhard Reuwich of Utrecht for a religious and artistic adventure in a political hot spot—a pilgrimage to research the peoples, places, plants, and animals of the Levant. The book they published after their return ambitiously engaged with the potential of the new print medium to give an account of their experience.

The Peregrinatio also aspired to rouse readers to a new crusade against Islam by depicting a contest in the Mediterranean between the Christian bastion of the city of Venice and the region’s Muslim empires. This crusading rhetoric fit neatly with the state of the printing industry in Mainz, which largely subsisted as a tool for bishops’ consolidation of authority, including selling the pope’s plans to combat the Ottoman Empire.

Taking an artist on such an enterprise was unprecedented. Reuwich set a new benchmark for technical achievement with his woodcuts, notably a panorama of Venice that folds out to 1.62 meters in length and a foldout map that stretches from Damascus to Sudan around the first topographically accurate view of Jerusalem. The conception and execution of the Peregrinatio show how and why early printed books constructed new means of visual representation from existing ones—and how the form of a printed book emerged out of the interaction of eyewitness experience and medieval scholarship, real travel and spiritual pilgrimage, curiosity and fixed belief, texts and images.



  • $79.95 cloth, 978-0-271-06122-1
  • $14.95 ebook, available from Amazon, Google Play, or the iTunes Store.
  • 256 pages
  • 111 illus., 27 in color, 9 x 10 in.

Content Excerpt

About the Media

In Picturing Experience in the Early Printed Book, Elizabeth Ross considers the Bernhard von Breydenbach’s Peregrinatio in terram sanctam (Journey to the Holy Land) from a variety of perspectives to explain its value for the cultural history of the period. These images, featured in Ross's work, are captioned with quotes from the book.

about the author

Elizabeth Ross received her B.A. in History of Art from Yale University and her A.M. and Ph.D. in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard University. She has held fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the Deutscher Academischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), and Harvard University. In the spring of 2008, she taught in the University of Florida semester-long Honors in Paris study abroad program. Before coming to UF, Dr. Ross taught courses at the Rhode Island School of Design; in the Master’s Program in the History of European Design and Decorative Arts at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; and at Harvard University.

In 2012, she was named the University of Florida's Teacher of the Year, and for her research she received an Excellence Award for Assistant Professors from the Provost's Office. In 2011, she was UF's junior faculty International Educator of the Year, an award bestowed by the UF International Center for outstanding contributions to the internationalization of the campus. From 2011 to 2013, she represented her colleagues in the College of Fine Arts as Chair of the Faculty, an elected position in the college's system of shared governance. Currently, she is head of the Art History area in the School of Art + Art History.