Category: incunabula

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Special Collections in the News: Illumination Magazine

Incunabula and fine printing from Special Collections are featured in this semester’s Illumination, “Ink Indelible: Ellis Exhibit Features Masterworks from Printers Past.”  The feature also includes a multimedia presentation on YouTube.

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Student Spotlight: Lauren Young

Lauren Young is a senior majoring in art history and magazine journalism and minoring in music. She will graduate from the University of Missouri in May.  During the fall 2011 semester Lauren researched and studied Ellis Library’s copy of the Liber Chronicarum for her class on Renaissance figural arts at MU. She is currently working on a research project on fourth and fifth century manuscripts.  She comments on her project and provides an excerpt from her paper below.

The goal of my research project was to study the portraits of cities in the world chronicle, also known at the Nuremberg Chronicle. I discovered that the woodblock images of the cities as well as the content of the chronicle were, in fact, out of date when the book was printed in 1493. However, these images, which the Nuremberg Chronicle is well known for, exposed readers to far away lands allowing them to become armchair travelers.

The World According to the Liber Chronicarum: Selected Excerpts

Origins of the World Chronicle

The concept of a world chronicle was not a new one when the Nuremburg Chronicle was printed in 1493. In fact, the biographer of Emperor Constantine, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, developed the idea. His chronicle, Chronicorum Canones, included a list of dates from Assyrian, Hebrew, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman times up to 325 C.E. Saint Jerome translated and completed Eusebius’ chronicle in 378 C.E. This chronicle became the model for later medieval historiography.

The Birthplace of the Nuremberg Chronicle

The security provided by the stable and growing economy in Nuremberg allowed two local men, Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kamermaister, the ability to finance the printing of a new world chronicle. Hartman Schedel, the city physician, was hired to write the text and artists Michael Wolgemut and Hans Pleydenwurff were contracted to produce the woodcut images. In total there are 1,809 illustrations in the chronicle. Forty-four woodcuts of kings are used for 270 different rulers and 28 woodblocks are used for 226 popes. The reuse of images through out the chronicle may have helped decrease the time and cost of labor during the creation of the world chronicle because woodblock illustrations were one of the least expensive ways to illustrate a book.  This practice also extended to the 101 places pictured in the Nuremberg Chronicle using 53 blocks.

Anton Koberger printed the Nuremberg Chronicle in both a Latin version and a German version. Koberger established his press in Nuremberg in 1470. It was the second press to open in the city and he published his first book in 1471, the same year he became godfather to Albrecht Dürer the younger.  He later purchased the building his press was housed in and added four houses over the years. Koberger’s press had space for 100 workers, 24 presses and living space for his large family. The press even had its own water system used for dampening paper during the printing process. The permit for the pipes from a well at the city wall remained in effect until 1881 when the city bought the water system. This water system helped supplement Koberger’s income because any leftover water he sold to the city.

The Ellis Library Liber Chronicarum

Ellis Library on the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus has in its special collection a nearly complete, uncolored, Latin copy of the Liber Chronicarum. The book was trimmed and rebound at some point before the university acquired it. However, whoever trimmed the book was careful enough to leave many of the notes in the margins intact by creating a series of flaps. This, in a way, increased the interactive nature of the book similarly veiled illuminations in manuscripts did. The reader now has to physically manipulate the book in order to look at the notes. The previous owner of the book who wrote the notes in brown ink was clearly literate and knowledgeable. There are places in the chronicle where this owner has corrected information and page numbers as well as added in their own thoughts. Clearly, they had a strong connection to Prague and may have even lived there because there are extensive notes in Latin below the two-page woodcut of the city.

During the time spent researching this paper, it was discovered that one of the maps in the Chronicle had been cut out of the book some time in the past. Even after consulting with the librarians in the Special Collections department of the library it is still not clear when folios 12 and 13 where removed. However, the other pages containing 26 two-page city portraits, 69 single page portraits and one world map are still intact.

Know an outstanding student you’d like to nominate for the Spotlight?  Email SpecialCollections@missouri.edu.

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Jenson in Venice, or Contra Gentiles beati Thome de Aquino

This post highlights Summa Contra Gentiles by St. Thomas Aquinas published in Venice in 1480 by Nicolas Jenson, one of the most renowned printers.  The book is of special importance to all with an interest in theology, history of book printing, and rare books.  This is one of the four incunabula recently acquired by the Special Collections and Rare Book department.

Shows fifteenth century leather tooled binding with copper claspsOn the warm and humid Venetian day of June 13th, 1480 the book was finally finished. Nicolas Jenson had only two months to live: he wasn’t well and felt old, tired and lonely. His children were in France: daughters Joanna, Catherine, and Barbara were young and unmarried, still living in Sommevoir with his beloved brother Alberto and his mother donna Zaneta; his son Nicolas, whose behavior worried him a lot, was in Lyon. A “most honorable tradesman, alien and printer of books”, Messer (as stated in his official will and testament), Nicolas Jenson, a very rich man, felt with some sadness that this strange place was going to be his final destination. A Frenchman, he had come here twelve years prior, when Venice was already in a long and exhausting war with the Turks, and when two years earlier the Doge Giovanni Mocenigo had made peace with Mehmed II, the famine and plague were still ravaging La Serenissima (the name of the Republic of Venice). Messer Jenson was a very successful printer; even his rivals admitted that the elegance of his Venetian Gothic type was unmatched — after all, he published a good quarter of all the books printed in Venice from his arrival in 1468 to 1480* , and Pope Sixtus IV made him Count Palatine.

Contra Gentiles was his second book published this year. By the end of July the last part of De humilitate interiori et patientia vera by Johannes Carthusiensis was to become his last printing venture. After his death his printing partner John of Cologne published a few more titles from the stock left after Jenson’s repose, under the joint name of Johannis de Colonia, Nicolai Jenson, and Sociorumque.

Nicolas Jenson was a master, not a scholar like Aldus, Merula, or Caracciolo, and thus he was in need of assistance by monks in proofreading the works of philosophy and especially theology. Petrus Albus Cantianus, a Dominican friar, was the editor of Contra Gentiles: at the very end of the text, after the colophon, we find his letter to Petrus Frigerius, Archbishop of Corfu (“Veneto theologico Excellentissimo Archiepiscopo Corkire[n]si ordinis”) confirming that he checked and corrected the text.

Why did Jenson decide to publish Contra Gentiles in 1480, when the market was still saturated with the books by Aquinas? Only four years earlier Contra Gentiles was brought out in Venice by Francis Renner of Heilbronn and Nicolas of Frankfurt, and before that, in September of 1475, in Rome, by Arnold Pannartz, and before him in 1473-74 Georg Reyser printed it in Strasburg. And this is not counting numerous editions of his most widely known and enormously influential Summa Theologiae.

St. Thomas Aquinas‘s authority in the Roman Church was indisputable: his works were the basis of Thomist theology and philosophy. It is widely believed that Aquinas wrote Contra Gentiles in Italy between 1261 and 1264 at the request of St. Raymond of Penafort, Magister General of the Dominican order, who wanted to have a good and convincing resource for the missionaries in Tunisia and Murcia, a Moorish kingdom in southern Spain.  While written most probably in Rome, it is supposed to be based on his lectures he read at the University of Paris between 1257 and 1259.  Aquinas’ intention was to give his students clear and focused answers to the most important questions about God, creation, providence and salvation. Each of the four books that constitute this work consists of about a hundred chapters (102, 101, 164, 97, to be precise). Each chapter is a question/postulate (Quod veritati fidei Christianae non contrariatur veritas rationis <That the truth of reason is not in opposition of the Christian faith>) which is then proved in a series of arguments and counter arguments, supported by citations from the Scriptures, and led to a logical conclusion.medieval handwritten title on a blank page Thomas contra gentiles

Our book looks characteristically mediaeval: in contemporary brown tooled leather binding over wooden boards with the front half of embossed metal clasps still present. The title is written in a contemporary hand on the fore-edge and at the top of the blank recto of the first printed page: Tho[mae] [contra] gentiles. The watermarks {a crown without arch between two chain-lines} suggest that Jenson bought the paper from Genf (Genève), and the binder of the book had a paper stock {watermark: Virgin Mary in a shield} produced in Dorpat (modern Tallinn) or Riga in Livonia in the 15th century.

The beginning of "inserted" chapter 21Jenson’s division of chapters differs from some of the known printed editions. He thought, for instance, that chapter 20 (Quod Deus non est corpus) was too long and he divided it after the 11th argument thus making an additional chapter 21, “Obiectiones co[n]tra hu[n]c processum”. (Objections against this reasoning). On the other hand, his Book Three consists only of 163 chapters instead of 164 in several other editions. The very first line of Chapter 20 also differs from the majority of modern texts and coincides with the Roman edition of 1894 that reads: “Ex praedictis a[u]t[em] oste[n]ditur,[ quod] Deus non e[st] corp[us]”; in later editions it reads: “Ex praemissis etiam” etc. St. Thomas’ hand was notoriously difficult to read, and it is not my task here to determine what manuscript was used by Jenson for his publication, but it is interesting to observe that even after seven hundred years of studying the text even at the beginning of the twentieth century, some passages were still being disputed, and monks who spent their entire lives reading, editing and publishing it, complained about difficulties in decoding it.

Picture of the beginning of the book with large initialThe text is rubricated with red and blue capitals.  A large and very elaborate first capital “v” in “Veritatem” opens the book, and each objection and counter argument is marked with red paragraph mark up to Book Four, chapter 11; after that, hand written capital letters at the beginning of chapters continue, but paragraph marks are much rarer and frequently coincide with short contemporary notes in the text, as if a reader was rubricating while reading.

More than just another remarkable example of an incunabulum printed by one of the greatest printers of Venice, our book carries a fitting St. Thomas’ message not only to Jenson and his contemporaries, but to the posterity — and thus to us — as well, namely that “of all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is the more perfect, the more sublime, the more useful, and the more joyful.” (Book 1, Ch. 2)

*There were 596 books brought out in Venice in that period, of which number 150 were published by Jenson.

Bibliography:

  • Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274. Incipit tabula cap[itu]lo[rum] libri [contra] ge[n]tiles b[ea]ti Thome de Aquino. [Venice : Nicolas Jenson, 1480]   BX1749 .T38 1480
  • Thomas Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274. Summa contra gentiles : libri quatuor Thomae Aquinatis, ad lectionem codicis autographi in Bibliotheca Vaticana adservati, probatissimorum codicum meliorisque notae editionum, fideliter impressi ; volumen unicum. Romae : Ex typographia Forzanii et Socii, 1894. BX1749.T38 1894
  • Corpus Thomisticum Sancti Thomae de Aquino. http:/www.corpusthomisticum.org
  • Jenson, Nicolas, ca. 1420-1480. The last will and testament of the late Nicolas Jenson, printer, who departed this life at the city of Venice in the month of September, A.D. 1480. [Chicago, Ludlow Typograph Co., 1928] Z232.J54 L3 1928
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