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The Presidential Library’s rare materials spotlight the printer of "radically new books" Ivan Fyodorov and his masterpiece Apostles

1 March 2021

"When people acquired the ability to think, their first intention was the creation of human speech - the way of representation of their thoughts, which aims at conveying their ideas to contemporaries and descendants", writes historian Leonid Denisov in his research The First Printers Johannes Gutenberg and Ivan Fyodorov (1908 ), available on the Presidential Library's portal.

An event that marked the beginning of the era of printing took place on March 1 (14, according to new style), 1564. On this day in Moscow, the first dated printed book in Russia was issued. It was The Acts of the Apostles, Written by the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke. There were several anonymous and undated printed editions in Russia before The Apostles, but this book is a special one. Rare publications of the Presidential Library, available on the portal and in the institution's collections reveal its advantages and the difficult fate of the first printer Ivan Fyodorov.

Russian book printing during the reign of Ivan the Terrible fell behind European countries, which knew and already used the invention of Johannes Gutenberg - a machine with movable letters that made prints on paper. "The art of book printing quickly spread throughout Western Europe. By the end of the XV century, printing houses were already in 40 cities", notes Leonid Denisov in the publication The First Printers Johannes Gutenberg and Ivan Fyodorov. The historian Sigismund Librovich provides details of this movement in the research History of the Book in Russia. [Chapter 1]: [From Ancient Times to the End of the XVII Century] (1913).

Ivan the Terrible, an educated and erudite person, was not content with this situation: "The Tsar was worried about the fact that church manuscript books had lots of mistakes made by the copyists". He decided to develop book printing, "to make sacred books in a right way without doubts to any Orthodox believer", - states the essay of the historian and philologist Anthony Petrushevich Ivan Fyodorov, the First Russian Printer (1883). Metropolitan Macarius blessed Tsar Ivan IV to develop book printing.

There are several versions of the origin of the first Russian printers and their schools of craft. According to Anthony Petrushevich, Ivan the Terrible invited the Danish printer Hans Missenheim, who opened a printing house with his equipment in 1553. "The Englishman Fletcher, the author of the description of the Moscow state in the XVI century, who arrived in Russia in 1588, insists that the first printers studied in Poland and the type and press for printing were brought from this country", - is written in the above-mentioned publication History of the Book in Russia. [Chapter 1]: [From Ancient Times to the End of the XVII Century]. Their names were Ivan Fyodorov and Pyotr Timofeev Mstislavets, "one is a Muscovite, another is a Mstislavets, one is a deacon, and the other is unknown", says the collection Ivan Fyodorov, the First Printer (1935). Only one year passed, the Apostles was published, and these names became known "to the whole baptized world". In the first Russian printing house entitled "Printing Yard" on Nikolskaya Street near the Kremlin, two Russians created a masterpiece.

The choice of Apostles as the first state print publication was not accidental. This edition was intended for the education of the clergy. It was believed that Cyril and Methodius themselves translated it into Slavic. This relatively small book with a tiny and elegant print was comfortable to read in hand. It states that Ivan Fyodorov launched book publishing not only for the church liturgy but also for personal use.

The Apostles was well decorated: the text was typed in two colours in a balanced and attractive font. The first printer did not strive for creating something new. He wanted to make the printed type similar to the handwritten letters beloved by Russians. The book is decorated with hand-drawn miniatures before each section. This innovative publication has no title page, but it got an afterword with the book's imprint. Ivan Fyodorov was a good writer, and there is an opinion that he created the secular epilogue to the Apostles.

The book by Sigismund Librovich History of the Book in Russia. [Chapter 1]: [From Ancient Times to the End of the XVII Century] estimates the professional qualities of the printer: "Fyodorov was not only a printer: he himself cast forms for letters... He was the first compositor... he was also a maker-up, who composed pages out of lines... <...> He was not only an ordinary artisan but an inspired artist of his art". Then, the author notes: "The promotion of God's Word in the universe through book printing was the purpose and task of his life, his mission".

But not everyone was satisfied with the successes of Fyodorov and Mstislavets. The scribes were displeased: the printing presses deprived them of their earnings. Many officials from the court circle envied the first printers because of the special favour from the monarch. As a result, the Printing House was set on fire by unknown persons. It burned down, and the printers had to hastily retreat to Lithuania. Later, having moved to Lvov, Ivan Fyodorov and Pyotr Mstislavets continued book printing. And although life abroad was not easy, Ivan Fyodorov proved himself to be a master blessed by God. The Prince of Ostrog ordered him to print the famous edition of the Bible, which involved six different fonts.

The first Russian book printer died on December 5 (15, according to the new style) 1583 and was buried in Lvov. Leonid Denisov declares in the publication The First Printers Johannes Gutenberg and Ivan Fyodorov that his gravestone had the family coat of arms and an inscription: "Creator of radically new books".