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The Old Library has 12 incunabula and 122 sixteenth- and seventeenth-century books printed in Venice. These have now all been catalogued online by Allen Purvis, one of our rare books project cataloguers. The project has revealed a lot of interesting data and has provided a good overview of Venetian publishing activity at that time.

Why Venice?

Venice was an important centre for early printing. The first printers in “La Serenissima” were German and the earliest to be registered was Johann von Speyer in 1469. However, printers of other nationalities were soon established in the city, including many Italian printers. Publishing in Venice expanded rapidly (by 1500 there were over 200 printing presses) and continued to flourish there during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

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Venetian Publishers

According to Brian Richardson in his book “Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy” the Italian city “which offered the best conditions of all was Venice”. Intellectual life flourished there, its government was relatively stable, it had good trading connections and it had wealthy merchants and investors to sponsor publication costs.

“Venice thus soon came to dominate the Italian printing industry, indeed for a while the European printing industry.” It produced nearly three quarters of the editions printed in Italy between 1526 and 1550. The typical print run for Venetian incunabula was 300-400 copies, but during the 16th century print runs increased to between 1,000 and 3,000.

Venetian booksellers’ shops were on the Mercerie and on the Frezzeria. Books were displayed inside the shops and in open shop fronts on the street. Volumes were usually sold unbound, though some bookshops offered binding services. The presses however, were situated away from the bookshops and the crowded streets.

Venice

View of Venice from Hartmann Schedel’s “Liber Chronicarum”, Nuremberg (1493)

Trinity Hall’s Incunabula from Venice

Our 12 Venetian incunabula were all printed between 1493 and 1500. The earliest of these is “Cinus super codice cum annotationibus” by Cino da Pistoia on the subject of Roman law   – very fitting for a College that specialised in law! It was published by Andreas Torresanus de Asula in September 1493. Only two of the incunabula are on the classics (Terence   and Suetonius) and all the others deal with civil or canon law.

Early law books

As we might expect works on law also make up a large proportion of the books printed between 1501 and 1650 (a total of 73 books or 59%). The main law subjects are Roman, civil or canon law and consilia. Other legal subjects include appellate procedure, feudal law, maxims, oaths, suretyship and guaranty, and wills. There are also a handful of books on administrative law, criminal law, commercial law, maritime law and military law. Five of the books cover the law of Naples (civil, criminal or feudal), one book covers the civil law of Genoa and there is a volume of law reports from Piedmont.

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The Catholic Church

Apart from our significant holdings on canon law, we have four books that deal specifically with benefices and simony in the Catholic Church. Added to this are only six books that deal with Catholic theology.  Two of these were given to Trinity Hall by the antiquarian and recusant, Robert Hare:  “Martyrologium S. Romanae ecclesiae” (1578) and “Aurea in quinquaginta Dauidicos Psalmos doctorum Graecorum catena” (1569) on the Psalms.  For a law library, and one that successfully weathered the political changes of the English Reformation, it is not surprising that we have so little Venetian publishing on theology.

A varied collection

The collection also features Venetian publishing on agriculture, astronomy, classics, medicine, military art and science, philosophy, political science and some travel books. A handful of books deal with the more unusual topics of medieval etiquette, marriage, old age and even duelling!

Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester

Binding stamp of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

Italy is also represented, with a book of the correspondence of Claudio Tolomei “Delle lettre di M. Claudio Tolomei, libri VII” (1572), an Italian dictionary of words used in Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio “Della fabrico del mondo” (1560) which belonged to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a book on the social life and customs of Venice itself “Relatione della republica Venetiana” by Giovanni  Botero (1605).

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This is just a brief overview of the fascinating collection of Venetian books in the Old Library. A look at the provenance of these books would make another fascinating story which we hope to tell one day!

References

A Pdf list of the publishers of Venetian books in the Old Library Trinity Hall can be accessed using this link Venetian publishers

Printing, writers and readers in Renaissance Italy” by Brian Richardson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 (ISBN 9780521576932)

The Venetian printing press” by Horatio Brown. London, 1891

Web resource: History of Venetian printing

To read more about our incunabula go to “Gems of early printing

 

 

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The Old Library has a collection of about 7,000 printed books, the most treasured of which have to be our 31 incunabula! These books, also known as incunables, were published at the dawn of European printing, during the period before the start of the sixteenth century.

We are delighted to announce that our project to create online catalogue records for the incunabula of Trinity Hall was completed by our specialist rare-books cataloguer, Allen Purvis, earlier this year. Online records for the books can be found using Cambridge University Library’s LibrarySearch and most of our holdings can also be found in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC).

Our incunabula cataloguing project has had the added benefit of shedding a fascinating light on our early collection!

William Mowse

Inscription of William Mowse

The inscriptions in the incunabula reveal that our early library was built up primarily by generous donation. William Mowse (Master 1552-52 and 1555-1559?) gave us fourteen incunabula, while Robert Hare of Gonville and Caius, who was a great benefactor of the University of Cambridge and friend of Henry Harvey (Master 1559-1585), gave us five incunabula. Unfortunately, we have no record of how the remaining twelve incunabula came into our collection.

Robert Hare

Inscription of Robert Hare

The subject of the majority of the incunabula is hardly a surprise for a College renowned for the study of law! Twenty one of the books deal with law, of which eleven concern canon law, nine cover Roman law and one is on feudal law. The other subjects covered include religion, the Catholic Church, history, classical drama and medicine.

Mowse, an eminent ecclesiastical lawyer, was responsible for the majority of the law books. However, his gift also included a book by Suetonius on the History of the Roman emperors (Venice, 1496). One of Mowse’s volumes has the distinction of being the fattest book on the library shelves! It is made up of eight books on canon law (five of which are incunabula) bound into one huge volume, with a spine measuring 15.8cm wide. It never fails to catch the eye of our visitors!

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The “fattest” book in the library! A collection of Consilia, works on canon law.

However, the true gems of early printing are the five incunabula from Robert Hare. Hare was an antiquarian with Catholic sympathies and the books he donated concern world history, religion and classical drama.

Woodcut image of Nuremberg

Woodcut image of Nuremberg from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Through his generosity we have a magnificent hand-coloured copy of Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) and a copy of Werner Rolevinck’s “Fasciculus temporum” (Louvain, 1475), both of which deal with the history of the world.

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina

Hand-decorated initial, with purple pen-flourishes, Biblia Latina (1472)

His incunabula on the subject of religion are Schoeffer’s “Biblia Latina” (Mainz, 1472), which is the earliest printed book in the Old Library, and Bernardino de Busti’s “Rosarium sermonum” (Hagenau, 1500). Hare also donated a copy of Terence’s dramas translated into French (Paris, 1500).

Twelve of our incunabula were printed in Venice, revealing the importance of the Venetian Republic as a centre of early printing. These are followed by four books from Pavia, three books from Milan and two books each from Strassburg and Lyons. We also have one incunable from the following cities: Basel, Cologne, Hagenau, Louvain, Mainz, Nuremberg, Paris and Siena.

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Illuminated first page of Fasciculus Temporum (1475)

While most of our incunabula look quite plain, a few are hand-coloured or hand-decorated. It is especially pleasing that three of our books from Robert Hare have been selected for inclusion in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Cambridge Illuminations research project on illuminated and hand-decorated incunabula.

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuermberg Chronicle

Foliate decoration at the start of the index to the Nuremberg Chronicle

A project like this always brings surprises and during the course of cataloguing we have discovered three legal incunabula that are not listed for Trinity Hall in ISTC!

References

Early printed books to the year 1500 in the Library of Trinity Hall Cambridge (Cambridge, 1909)

The Incunabula Short Title Catalogue http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/istc/

Wikipedia for biographies of Mowse, Hare and Harvey

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