Category: Annotations

A stray quire in Rotherham’s copy of Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum – something, or nothing? – A post by Ed Potten

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By , 13 December 2011 12:55 pm

Inspired by David McKitterick’s recent Masterclass exploring some of the ways in which the make-up of books can be changed once they leave the printer, an erroneous quire within a recently catalogued copy of Durand’s Rationale divinorum officiorum ([Basel: Michael Wenssler, not after 17 Mar. 1476] – ISTC id00411000) raises some interesting questions about the book’s production history and its later use, but frustratingly answers none.

Inc.1.C.1.2[2286] has a significant Cambridge provenance. The book appears in a manuscript list of early donations to the Library (MSS Oo.7.52), listed as item 72 ‘Ex dono Reverendi Patris in Xto Thomæ Rotherami Episcopi Lincolniensis et Cancellarii Angliæ’. The list was compiled in about 1658 by Jonathan Pindar, Under Library-keeper, and in the words of J.T.C. Oates “Its accuracy has long been suspect”.[1]

Thomas Rotherham (1423-1500), Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England, was also Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1469 and at intervals (perhaps continuously) from 1473 to 1492. In 1475 he was listed amongst the University’s principal benefactors for his contribution towards the completion of the east front of the schools, which included the Bibliotheca minor, for which he had provided the furnishings and a donation of books. This original gift was supplemented with other books during his lifetime, and possibly also following his death in 1500. Oates tentatively identified some thirty-five books he felt could be attributed with some certainty to Rotherham.

Interestingly, not only is the Durand not included in this list, but it is actually used as an example of a book cited by Pindar, but believed by Oates to be demonstrably not a Rotherham book, based on the fact that it does not appear in the library catalogue of 1556-7.[2] Happily, the cataloguing of the book proves Rotherham’s ownership beyond doubt – an annotation on sig. [b]10r can be matched to Rotherham’s hand from evidence in other incunabula.[3]

Rebound in plain quarter-blind-ruled calf over pasteboards in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, the Rationale is neither decorated nor rubricated, save one quire.  Quire [e] has red paragraph marks and capital strokes supplied, with a note from the rubricator in the right-hand margin.

The presence of a single rubricated quire in the midst of 22 unrubricated is puzzling, but not inexplicable. If multiple copies of the book were stored together prior to binding, some rubricated, others not, quire [e] could conceivably have been substituted with an undecorated instance and mistakenly bound in the CUL copy.

Palaeographical evidence, however, adds a further layer of potential interest. The marginal note features a distinctive rounded letter ‘e’, very characteristic of an English hand, indicative that this particular quire could have been rubricated in England.[4] If this were the case, then in order for quire [e] to become muddled with an undecorated instance multiple copies, some rubricated others not, must have been stored together in England in the fifteenth century. Is this then evidence that the book was imported into England in bulk in sheets in the fifteenth century, then rubricated and sold here? There is ample evidence of this trade taking place,[5] but to extrapolate such from the letterform of a single rounded letter ‘e’ would require a monumental leap of faith!

An alternative hypothesis has quire [e] originating from an entirely different copy of Durand’s Rationale. We most commonly think of imperfections to incunabula being the result of use, neglect or mistreatment, but David McKitterick has convincingly shown that fifteenth-century books could occasionally come from the print shop incomplete. If insufficient sheets were printed or supplied to the binder it was often economically more viable to copy out the missing text by hand rather than set the sheets afresh.[6] McKitterick provides several examples of this practice at CUL, and more have surfaced as part of the incunabula cataloguing project. CUL’s copy of Bartholomaeus’s De proprietatibus rerum ([Basel: Berthold Ruppel, about 1479-80] – ISTC ib00132500), for example, is wanting quire [p], substituted with a contemporary manuscript version on paper bearing a watermark of scales, apparently contemporaneous, and certainly present when the book was first bound.

As well as the insertion of manuscript transcriptions, later book owners could complete an imperfect book by cannibalising other copies. The practice of constructing composite copies is well recognised and was a common practice by the late-eighteenth century. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century collectors sought the crispest, cleanest, tallest, most perfect copies and booksellers, aware that such copies would realise the highest return, were keen to oblige, often advertising that they could complete imperfect books from their standing stock.[7] The CUL Durand, however, is far from a collector’s trophy piece and was in private hands by 1500 – if this is an example of ‘making-good’ an imperfect book it would certainly be one of the earliest recorded. Could the erroneous quire have been added when the book was rebound at the end of the seventeenth century? Again, this seems unlikely. There is no evidence elsewhere that the Library sought to perfect other imperfect books in this way in this period, and quire ‘e’ has the same wide margins as the other quires within the Durand – although a wholly unscientific basis on which to draw a conclusion, the quire certainly ‘feels’ as if it has been part of the book since Rotherham’s ownership.

Are there any useful conclusions to be drawn from the Durand? Not really! The quire could be explained in any number of ways, all equally probable or improbable and none provable. The discussion, however, does make one useful point – in early-printed books it is often the examination of minutiae which opens up the most fruitful paths for research. The smallest, most easily-ignored feature of any book can inform about book use, trade, movement, distribution or production.

[1] Oates, J.T.C. A Catalogue of the Fifteenth-Century Printed Books in the University Library Cambridge (Cambridge: 1954) vol. 1, p. 2.

[2] Oates, J.T.C. A Catalogue of the Fifteenth-Century Printed Books in the University Library Cambridge (Cambridge: 1954) vol. 1, p.3, footnote 4.

[3] See Inc.1.B.3.17[1419], sig. t10r.

[4] I am grateful to Laura Nuvoloni, Satoko Tokunaga and John Goldfinch for their views on both the rubrication and its explanation.

[5] See Ford, M.L. ‘Importation of printed books into England and Scotland’ in Hellinga, L. and Trapp, J.B. (eds.) The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain volume III 1400-1557 (Cambridge: 1999), pp. 179-201.

[6] McKitterick, D. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge: 2003), pp.107-108.

[7] McKitterick, D. Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order, 1450-1830 (Cambridge: 2003), pp.144-145; Jensen, K. Revol.ution and the Antiquarian Book (Cambridge: 2011), pp. 164-165.

Donations and rarities

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By , 19 May 2011 10:42 am

One of the very first books to be donated to the University of Cambridge bears a very personal note.  The book is a copy of Bartolus de Saxoferrato, Super secunda parte Digesti novi, printed in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira in 1473, Inc.1.B.3.1b[1341]. As testified by the inscription “… My lord chawnceler” in the lower right corner of leaf [a1] recto, it was previously in the possession of Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England. The book has some marginal annotations that may be attributed to Rotherham himself. Particularly intriguing is a note beside a passage relating to unlawful killing on leaf [x5] recto: the note records the name “Ricardus grey” and it seems to refer to the execution of Richard Grey, the half-brother of King Edward V, carried out on the orders of King Richard III at Pontefract Castle on 25 June 1483. The note must therefore be nearly contemporary to the event, as the bishop donated the book to the University around 1484.

With the same donation came a companion volume of Bartolus’s commentary, i.e. Vindelino’s princeps of the commentary Super Secunda parte Digesti veteris, now Inc.1.B.3.1b[1340]. This imperfect copy of the book is the only one to be found in Britain among the eleven exemplars of the edition listed in ISTC (ISTC ib00225900).

Many other incunable books that are rare or unique, i.e. the only recorded surviving copy of a specific edition, can be found among the library holdings.  This is the case for Columella’s De re rustica, Liber X, De cultu hortorum, attributed to the Printer of the Silius Italicus in Rome around 1471, Inc.5.B.2.5[1147]. Bought of the London dealer Uriah Maggs in 1894, the book bears extensive marginal and interlinear manuscript notes written by an Italian owner in humanistic cursive hand on the first two leaves, [a1] recto – [a2] recto in the late 15th century.

Some of these rare books are beautifully illustrated by woodcuts.

A recent addition to the online catalogue is an incomplete copy of a rare edition of the Mirabilia Romae vel potius Historia et descriptio urbis Romae published in Rome by Stephan Plannck on 7 September 1500, now Inc.7.B.2.26[1270]. The incipit on leaf [A3] recto is illustrated with one woodcut initial and a half-page vignette with the imperial, papal and Roman arms, tiara and crowns: the papal arms are those of Pope Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503). The book bears nine other full-page woodcuts with decorated borders including the fourth device of Johannes Besicken “I.H.I.S.” (see Sander 4550). The full-page woodcuts represent: Rea Silvia and the Capitoline wolf with Romolus and Remus on leaf [A2] verso; the Veronica on leaf B8 verso; St John on leaf C2 verso; St Peter on leaf C5 verso; St Paul on leaf C7 verso; Virgin and Child on leaf D1 recto; St Laurence on leaf D2 verso; St Sebastian on leaf D3 verso; and the Crucifixion on leaf D5 verso. Only one other copy of the edition is known to survive in the Ambrosiana Library of Milano. The book was given to the library by Charles Fairfax Murray, artist and art connoisseur, in September 1918. An early 16th-century inscription on leaf [A3] recto reads “Fr[ater] Archa[n]gelus de Creme [?] o[rdinis] S[ancti] franciscj”. We have been unable to identify Frate Arcangelo da Crema and therefore any further information on the identity of this Franciscan friar would be gratefully received.

Equally unidentified are the two 16th-century English owners of a copy of Johannes Marchesinus, Mammotrectus super Bibliam, published in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson on 23 September 1479, now Inc.5.B.3.2[1363].  John Peers and John Webbe inscribed their names in 16th-century cursive script on the parchment upper endleaf, one under the other. The book is still bound in brown calf over wooden boards, with blind-tooling, traces of leather straps and metal catches at fore edges, and original parchment endpapers. This is one of the many medieval and renaissance bindings that can be found in the library incunable collection. It is datable to the late 15th century and was possibly produced in Cambridge. It came to the library as part of the Richard Holdsworth Bequest, which was adjudged to Cambridge University in 1664, and bears both the old university shelfmark “E-5-50″ and armorial bookplate on leaf a1 recto.

A Greek anthology printed in Florence, a Yiddish subscription and a German binder

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By , 6 November 2010 1:35 pm
The Cambridge University Library copy of the Anthologia Graeca Planudea pubblished by Janus Lascaris and printed by Laurentius (Francisci) de Alopa Venetus in Florence on 11 August 1494 (ISTC ia00765000) comes from the Sandars Collection, which is particularly rich in original and de-luxe bindings (SSS.60.10) .  This book retains its original binding too.

upper cover

lower cover

The cover is made a of quarter blind-tooled pigskin over bevelled wooden boards, with two stubs of fastening pigskin straps at fore-edge of lower board and channeling and nail holes for two lost catches at fore-edge of the upper board.  It is clearly German and datable to the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century.

Upper guard

The parchment guards of the first and last gatherings A and KK are fragments from a 15th-century liturgical German manuscript in Gothic hand with rubrics and initials in red.

B1 recto

The margins bear some marginal manuscript notabilia both in Latin and Greek in cursive hand by a German reader of the early 16th century.

More intriguingly, the book is also inscribed with notes by different hands in Greek and Hebrew on the blank recto of its title page, i.e. leaf [A1] recto: a classical citation [?], an imploration to God, and a partly cropped note written by a less educated hand in the upper margin of the leaf.

A1 recto

This short note turned out to be the most interesting one.  Written in Yiddish in an Hebrew hand datable to the end of the 15th century, it reads “12 grozim Ingolstadt”, providing us with a price and the name of the German town in which the book was at the end of the 15th or the beginning of the 16th century (I am most grateful to my colleagues from the Geniza Project, and Dr Esther-Miriam Wagner in particular, who kindly helped me in reading and dating the Hebrew inscriptions).

Yiddish inscription

The cropping indicates that the note was written before the book was bound.  A quick provenance search for incunables from Ingolstadt in the BSB-Ink website (BSB-Ink, H-372) led to the discovery of another incunable bound in similar style and decorated with seemingly identical tools.  The book is a copy of Horatius’s Opera printed in Venice [by Philippus Pincius partly with Bevilaqua's types] and dated 13 July 1498 (ISTC ih00459000), now in the Bayerische StaatsBibliothek in Munich, 2 3652 m,  which was bound in Ingolstadt in the workshop of Johannes Ewring (for similar bindins in Ingolstadt, see E. Kyriss, Verzierte gotische Einbände im alten deutschen Sprachgebiet, 4 vols, Stuttgart, 1951-1958, no. 170).

The BSB-Ink record provides a link to a German Bindings Database, called Einbanddatenbank, with images and measures of all the tools used in Johannes Ewring’s workshop (EBDB w000030), six of which can also be found on the binding of the Greek anthology in Cambridge (Ewring’s tools).

K2 recto

According to the Einbanddatenbank, Johannes Ewring was active in Ingolstadt between 1475 and 1514.  One of the notabilia added by the German reader in Latin and Greek on the book margins of our anthology is dated “1513 die 2°” (leaf K2 recto), thus providing us with a certain “terminus ante quem” for the binding.

The book was therefore bound in Ingolstadt in the workshop of Johannes Ewring sometime between 1494, its printing date, and 1513, the date of the annotation.

Miriam also came up with an interesting idea: could the Yiddish inscription be a pawnshop remark?  Books were often used as pawn items within the Jewish community, and the Jewish lenders should therefore have been used to take books as pawn items from Christian customers.  If this was the case, the book must have been used as “collateral” in a lending transaction before the bookblock was cropped in preparation for its binding when part of the note in Yiddish was cut away.

It only befits the international nature of this book that international experts in Hebrew and Yiddish languages from the Geniza Project at Cambridge University Library, and international digital catalogues with images available on-line have made possible for me, and Italian incunabula cataloguer, to solve a little but intriguing busillis.

Felice Feliciano annotator of Valturio, De re militari, 1472

By , 28 September 2010 12:23 pm
Cambridge University Library holds two copies of Roberto Valturio, De re militari, printed in Verona by Johannes Nicolai in 1472 (ISTC iv00088000).  The first copy, Inc.2.B.19.1[2158], fully rubricated and decorated by puzzle initials in red and blue and beautifully bound for Marie Elisabeth Auguste von Sulzbach, has already been mentioned in the post dedicated to William Mitchell, one of its later owners.

r10 recto

The second copy was donated to the library by Samuel Sandars in 1894 (SSS.4.14).  In rather worse physical condition than the other copy, this second exemplar is in fact more important in the history of the edition itself as the manuscript captions to the woodcut images of war machines are in the hand of Felice Feliciano (1433-ca. 1480), the “antiquarius”, humanist, scribe, artist, binder, alchemist, goldsmith, and typographer from Verona, who was one of the most eccentric and inventive protagonists of the Italian Renaissance.

r9 verso

The captions were added by Feliciano partly in epigraphic capitals and partly in humanistic cursive minuscule.

r9 verso

r10 recto

a1 recto

He also wrote the heading on the first page of the treatise in his characteristic epigraphic capitals of alternating blue and red [my attribution to Feliciano's hand of the manuscript additions was kindly confirmed by Stefano Zamponi in private correspondence].


Feliciano’s hitherto unnoticed contribution to the Cambridge University Library Valturio is less extensive but nevertheless comparable to his rubrications in the Vatican Library copy (Stampato Rossiano 1335), which was first discovered by Augusto Campana, who wrote about it in a famous article published in 1940 (“Felice Feliciano e la prima edizione del Valturio”, Maso Finiguerra, V.3 (1940), 211-222).

In the Vatican copy Feliciano also applied the same system of catchwords or symbols to signal the end of quires, and supplied coloured initials, titles and rubrics to the books and chapters, as well as running titles, whereas he left the rubrication of the Cambridge copy incomplete.

The captions to the woodcut images did not originate with Feliciano: they reproduce the captions devised by Valturio himself to accompany the drawings of the war machines in the seven manuscripts written under his direct supervision by the scribe Sigismundus Nicolai Alemannus, including Vat. Urb. lat. 281, the earliest manuscript signed by Sigismondus in 1462, and Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Pluteo xlvi.3, copied around 1472, i.e. the same year as the Verona edition:

The captions were therefore an essential part of Valturio’s original text.  Consequentially, they were also faithfully reproduced in the fourteen other extant manuscripts of his work signed by or attributed to other scribes, including a manuscript in the Riccardiana Library in Florence, Riccardiano 794 (cf., which has been identified by Teresa de’ Robertis as being in the hand of Feliciano himself and possibly produced in the late 1460s or the 1470s (Teresa De Robertis, “Feliciano copista di Valturio”, in Tra libri e carte. Studi in onore di Luciana Mosiici, ed. by T. De Robertis and G. Savino, Firenze, 1998, 73-97).

In the manuscripts the captions were added in colour, usually light purple ink, next to the technical drawings of the war machines at the same time as the decoration, i.e. after the copying of the text.  It is not surprising, therefore, that they came to be considered as part of the rubrication and, as a result, remained unprinted in the 1472 edition in order to be added by hand at a later stage.  In consequence, they are absent from surviving copies of the edition which were never rubricated.  In other copies, however, it was the rubricators supplying the titles to the individual books and the running titles who omitted them, as in the Sulzbach copy in the Cambridge University Library and in the exemplars held in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (Bod-Inc V-041).

c5 verso

c7 verso

These omissions were regarded as mistakes by Paolo Ramusio, the editor of the second edition of Valturius’s work, printed  in Verona by Bonino Bonini in 1483 (Inc.2.B.19.4[2163]).  In his introduction Ramusio stated that his aim was to restore Valturio’s text to its original form and integrity.  In Ramusio’s edition, therefore, the captions to the illustrations were duly printed as part of the text, as can be seen when we compare the images that illustrate how to measure the height of a tower in copies of the first and secon editions.

r8 verso

s6 verso

Ramusio’s complaints seem amply justified given Feliciano’s occasional carelessness in reproducing the woodcut captions: see the repetition and cancellation of a word on fols [r8] verso and [s6] verso of the incunable SSS.4.14 , and the omission of the letter “T” in the word “INSTRVMENTVM” on fol. 131v of the Riccardiano manuscript 194 .

The discovery of Feliciano’s hand in the Cambridge exemplar of the 1472 edition adds this book to the number of his known manuscripts.  However, we are still left with the open question whether he actively collaborated in the making of the printed edition and its illustrations.  Our knowledge of Feliciano’s life is still sketchy, but it seems that around 1471-1472, at the time the book was produced, he was not residing in Verona but in Bologna and Ferrara. It is of course possible that Feliciano was simply requested to annotate some copies of the edition during a short visit to his home town.  We do know, however, that in 1475 and again in 1476 he was directly involved in the production of printed books: in the autumn of 1475 he collaborated with the typographer Severino da Ferrara in the publication of Baldassare da Fossombrone’s poem Il menzognero ovvero Bosadrello, Albertus Trottus’s De vero et perfecto clerico, and  Angelus de Gambilionibus’s Tractatus de maleficiis, and Benevenutus Grassus’ s De oculis eorumque aegritudinibus et curis (ISTC ib00034200, ISTC it00478000, ISTC ig00060500, ISTC ig00352000).  He was also apparently involved in the printing of an antisemitical text in Verona on 22 May 1475.  Finally, on 1 October 1476, he and Innocente Ziletti put their joint names on the edition of Petrarch’s De viris illustribus in the Italian translation by Donato degli Albanzani (ISTC ip00415000).

Feliciano’s printing ventures are perhaps unsurprising when we consider that in 1460 he had been identified as aurifex, i.e. goldsmith, in his brother Andrea’s will:  it is a well known fact that goldsmiths, such as Gutenberg, Ratdolt and Jenson, played a pivotal role in the development of the printing industry in 15th-century Europe.  Nevertheless, no documentary evidence of his involvement in the production of the 1472 Valturius edition has surfaced so far.  The two rubricated copies in the Vatican and Cambridge University Library, are too small a sample to confirm this hypothesis and the question must remain for the moment unanswered.  Only a long overdue complete survey of all the 76 extant copies of the edition, possibly combined with a critical edition of the printed text in comparison with the manuscript tradition, and an analysis of Feliciano’s copy in particular, may provide us with an answer.

For the time being, I can only say with confidence that Feliciano’s hand is not present in the two Oxford exemplars, Douce 267 and 289, whose rubrication has been described as “in the style of Felice Feliciano” in the catalogue of the Bodleian incunables (Bod-Ink V-041; reproductions of the two books were kindly provided to me by Irene Ceccherini, courtesy of the Bodleian Library).  The illuminated initials in Douce 289 are very close in style to those found in the copies of the edition held in the Biblioteca Civica in Verona (Inc. 1084) and the Biblioteca Universitaria in Padova (Sec. XV. 677), where we also find the same rubricator, giving the impression that these copies were rubricated and illuminated “in series”.


Augusto Campana, “Felice Feliciano e la prima edizione del Valturio”, Maso Finiguerra, V.3 (1940), 211-222.

Daniela Fattori, “Spigolature su Felice Feliciano da Verona”, La Bibliofilia, XCIV.3 (1992), 263-269.

L’ ‘Antiquario’ Felice Feliciano 1995:  L’ ‘Antiquario’ Felice Feliciano veronese. Tra epigrafia antica, letteratura e arti del libro. Atti del Convegno di Studi, Verona 1993, ed. A. Contò and L. Quaquarelli, Padua, 1995 (Medioevo e Umanesimo, 89), in particular Agostino Contò, “Non scripto calamo. Felice Feliciano e la tipografia”, 289-312.

Agostino Contò in Mantegna e le Arti a Verona 2006:  Mantegna e le Arti a Verona 1450-1500, [exhibition catalogue], ed. S. Marinelli and P. Marini, Venice, 2006, 455-6, no. 188.

Donatella Frioli, “Per la tradizione manoscritta di Roberto Valturio. Appunti e spunti di ricerca”, in Roberto Valturio, De re military. Saggi critici, ed. by Paola Delbianco, Rimini and Milan, 2006, 69-93.

Agostino Conto’, “Da Rimini a Verona: le edizioni quattrocentesche del De re militari”, in Roberto Valturio, cit., 95-104.

Donatella Frioli, “Da Rimini a Verona: Roberto Valturio, Domenico Foschi e Felice Feliciano”, in Virtute et labore. Studi offerti a Giuseppe Avarucci per i suoi settant’anni, ed. by Rosa Maria Borraccini and Giammario Borri, II, Spoleto, 2008, 1073-1109.