Beginnings of printing in Serbia, the Struggle for culture

Major part of History of Serbian printing is actually tale of the culture struggling with difficult historical circumstances. The beginnings of printing coincides with beginnings of great Ottomans conquests. While Gutenberg Bible was printed (1453), Sultan Mohamed the Conqueror took Constantinople, Byzantine capital. By then large part of Serbian country was conquered. Guttenberg himself was aware of the great danger that threatened whole continent: In 1454, a year before publishing the Bible, he published so called Turkish Calendar where he calls for resistance against Ottomans. By the year of 1459, just four years after Gutenberg Bible finished printing, whole Serbia was occupied by Ottomans. These historical circumstances have greatly determined the nature of Serbian book printing.

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Псалтир са Послиатованием (Psaltir sa Posliatovaniem) printed in Venice, 1546 by Vincenco Vuković. Arguably one of the most beautifully decorated books of the 16.century. The margins around the black and red printed text are different for every page.

The primary goal of printing in Serbia was preserving of national, cultural and spiritual self-consciousness. Only religious (orthodox) books were printed in Serbia, as main goal of Serbian people was to resist islamization and to preserve Serbian Orthodox faith. Sometimes some pieces of educative information were implemented into these books. Led by strong desire to preserve national and religious identity, last medieval ruler of country of Zeta (nowadays Montenegro), Ђурађ Црнојевић (Djurdje Crnojevic), ordered Serbian letters and opened the first Serbian printing house in Cetinje. His printers with Hieromonk Makarije onward, managed to print five books in period from 1494 to 1496. First of them was Oktoih Prvoglasnik (Ocotechos of First Tone), which also represents first book printed in Cyrillic in Southeast Europe. It was finished on January 4th, 1494. This book contains hymns to be sung to the first four tones of the Octoechos System, musical system eight tones, which has Byzantine origin. Book is characterized by high quality two colored printing, red and black. It’s decorations and initials remind a lot of the Renaissance style of decoration.

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Leaf of the Београдско Четворојеванђеље (Beogradsko Četvorojevandjelje), the first book printed in Belgrade, 1552.

After the fall of Zeta and destruction of Crnojevic’s printing house, people of Serbia had to seek foreign cultural shelters and support. The mission of printing was firstly continued in Romania. In the year of 1507 Hieromonk Makarije started to print religious books in Bulgarian redaction, which was then used in Romania. These outstanding editions showed great similarity with books that were printed in Cetinje. However, main base of Serbian printing at that time was Venice, where Божидар Вуковић (Bozidar Vukovic), born in Podgorica, Montenegro, continued to print Serbian religious books between 1520 and 1560. His son, Винћенцо Вуковић (Vicenzo Vukovic) continued tradition of printing up until the very end of 16th century. During the time of Vukovic printing house in Venice, some significant books were printed. During the first period of printing, this house printed first Srbulje (Cyrillic books on Serboslavonic language, Serbian recension of Church Slavonic). In the second period this house also published several religious books (Psalter, Liturgijar, Molitvenik and Zbornik). The most luxurious and lengthiest edition was edition was Praznični Minej. Books that were printed by Bozidar Vukovic was so popular, that his son who inherited printing house, up untill 1561 did only reprints of his father’s books and sold them successfully.  In 1561 Vicenco engaged Stefan Marinovic to operate printing process, he printed Posni Triod and Jakov of Kamena Reka printed The Book of Hours (Часослов) in 1566. Books printed in Vuković’s printing house significantly influenced books printed in Russian, Greek and particularly Romanian language.

Opportunities for printing of Serbian books within borders of Ottoman Empire were very weak. Seventeenth century was particularly dark period for Serbian printing and culture in general. Certain renaissance will come in 18th century, when Serbian book will find shelter within the borders of Habsburg Monarchy.

 

Милош Станковић
Miloš Stanković

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