n another section we have seen how the printers in a certain area, Paris, and within a certain time period, ca. 1495 - 1520, were competing with each other when it came to decorate the margins in their printed prayer books with a myriad of illustrations.
A similar phenomenon took place in the German-speaking countries, where the printers in a certain area, Basel, in a certain period, 1515-1545, excelled in decorating their initial letters.
The biggest difference is that the Parisian printers could draw their inspiration from a broad selection of traditions and literary works — danse macabre, the women's danse macabre, Mors de la Pomme, Les loups ravissans and La dance aux aveugles — whereas almost all of the corresponding trend in Basel originates from one single man, namely Hans Holbein.
he Germans didn't have nearly the same interest in over-decorating their books, as the Frenchmen had.
The decorated initials served a practical purpose helping the reader to navigate in the text. The initials would mark the start of the individual sections. Sometimes the printers would use different sizes to differentiate between paragraphs and chapters, and they could use horizontal "lineal mouldings" like the one above to indicate the beginning of a new volume.
trictly speaking there's a difference between:
Decorated initials, where the letters are adorned with branches, leaves etc.
Inhabited initials, where the letters are accompanied by an animal, a human being, a saint, Death etc.
Historiated initials, where an action takes place.
Obviously the latter kind is the most interesting one.
The first chapter is about Hans Holbein's alphabet from 1524.