Leaving a Lasting Impression. The Impact of Incunabula on Late Medieval Spirituality, Religious Practice and Visual Culture in the Low Countries


This project investigates how the first generation of Dutch printed books (the incunabula, 1473-1501) affected late medieval spirituality, religious practice and visual culture in the Low Countries. While print still tends to be seen as holding a singular relation to the Reformation (the ‘Protestant paradigm’), 80% of the books printed in Dutch before the Reformation offered readers spiritual inspiration and religious instruction in texts and woodcut illustrations. Yet, so far, these books are nearly invisible in historiography and are not taken into account when scholars refer to traditional medieval piety and its visual culture.
I will bring to light the cultural-historical dimensions of religious incunabula by focusing on the books published by the Low Countries’ most prolific, successful, and original printer of the period, Gerard Leeu (d. 1492). With 228 editions and 936 woodcuts he was the trendsetter in the production of (illustrated) incunabula. Drawing on the methodology (combining book studies, cultural history and literary studies) that I have developed in my dissertation and recent publications, I will study these books as material traces of a complex interaction between printer, author, and readers. Incunabula were sent into a manuscript culture in which readers actively engaged in shaping their meaning.
Analyzing both the content and design of incunabula, and studying individual copies to collect data about owners and handmade additions (decoration, color, texts, notes), the project will uncover the influence of incunabula on the way lay and religious individuals shaped their spirituality and integrated practices of religious reading and viewing, devotion, contemplation and prayer into their lives. The project will result in the first ever monograph on the work of Gerard Leeu, the most influential publisher of the fifteenth-century Low Countries and his (readers’) role in shaping the religious book in the age of transition from manuscript to print.


Chapter in book

Scientific article

Publication meant for a broad audience

Publications for the general public

  • A Dlabacova(2019): Prayers in Print: Transmission and Function. Examples from the Workshop of the Netherlandish Printer Gerard Leeu (d. 1492)


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. A. Dlabačová

Affiliated with

Université Catholique de Louvain

Team members

Dr. A. Dlabačová, Dr. A. Dlabačová, Dr. A. Dlabačová, Dr. A. Dlabačová


01/02/2018 to 31/12/2020