JF Ptak Science Books Post 1917
Images of Hell do not often appear graphically depicted right on the title page of books, even though books speaking to Hell and warning us of its coming number in the hundreds of thousands, if not more, particularly if you interpret religion as the means for keeping people away from the ring of fire. Few people are shy about depicting Hell in general, though there evidently is some reluctance (or forbearance, or oversight) to showing it front-and-center on the title pages of books.
A terrific exception to this rule is Jacobs de Voragine’s Passional, Hyr hewrrey sick an dath winter deel, printed in Basel in 1511, and illustrated by various and unidentified Strassburg woodcut masters. In this extraordinary title page we see the vision of the adoration of the Virgin Mother and child supported in a rose of light, aided by guiding winds and various floating saints, and shown lowering the holy book directly to the city of Strassburg. In either corner positioned above the temporal city and below the firmament are two visions of hell, one less vicious and the other more so: to the left we see some of the pious praying for better judgment as they are about to be consumed by the background flames, while to the right is a far more ambitious and morbid vision of hell featuring the famous Hellmouth. The Hellmouth makes appears all throughout the history of art (as we can see in this Brueghel painting, for example), but it is a little curious that, outside of the mention of Leviathan (translated from Hebrew, Job 41:1), Hellmouth (as the entrance to hell) doesn’t make an appearance in the Bible.
What is more easily found, at least in the artwork on title pages throughout the Renaissance and the Baroque, are images of people about to be sent to hell. A good and chilling example of this can be seen in the artwork for Thomas Murner (1475-1537) De quattor heresiarhis ordinis Praedicatorium de Observantis nuncupatorum…, printed (again) at Strassburg in 1509. The pamphlet tells the story of Johannes Jetzer and his accomplices (including four monks) who were tried (under torture) for blasphemy after it was revealed that they colluded to defraud people with a bogus story of religious visions, employing the bloody tear of Mary. All were found guilty and the four monks were burned alive at the stake—Jetzer having escaped—and sent immediately to the deeper, more fiery, pit.
This isn't quite showing the coming of hell as in the first case, but it is getting close. In any event, I found it interesting to see the depiction of the Bad Place right there on the title page of the Murner bokk.