Humanist incunables

Newberry Inc. 3961, title page, p. 1

Newberry Inc. 3961, title page, p. 1

Newberry Inc. 3961, 1481, p. 17

Newberry Inc. 3954, 1482, front cover

Newberry Inc. 3954, 1482, first page, f. 2r

Newberry Inc. 3954, 1482, f. 8v

One of the Newberry’s strongest collecting areas is that of history of the book and of printing, including over 2,200 incunables, books printed from the onset of movable-type printing in Europe through the year 1500.

The images at left are from two editions of a treatise by the Italian Dominican humanist Filippo de’ Barbieri, Discordantiantiae sanctorum doctorum Hieronymi et Augustini …, or On the Discord between Jerome and Augustine, Settled Using Dicta of the Sibyls and of all the Gentiles, both Prophets and Ancient Poets Who Prophesied Concerning Christ, one printed in 1481 and the other in 1482, both in Rome (remember that you can click on the images to see a larger pop-up version). Only the first two tracts in each volume are by Barbieri himself.

From the Central Middle Ages on, theologians and other thinkers attributed foreshadowing of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection to many pre-Christian myths. In this Renaissance treatise, Barbieri calls on the pagan sibyls to settle inconsistencies in the writings of Jerome and Augustine, in essence equating the sibyls with Old Testament prophets. Barbieri also assumes that the astrological “science of the stars” is rooted in divine revelation. According to one scholar, Barbieri’s work is part of a “trajectory that … would lead to a wave of astrological apocalyptic predictions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as well as to the harnessing of astrology for the defense of the faith in the form of an astrological natural theology, sacralizing science as well as nature.”(1)

I’ve included an image from each edition of the Cumaean sibyl; Barbieri is following a well-known medieval interpretation of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue that maintains the Cumaean sibyl made a messianic prophecy that foretold the virgin birth of Christ.

The 1481 edition (first image, above) begins quite abruptly to modern eyes, with no separate title page, just the beginning of the first tract in the volume. Note also that a space has been left for an ornate capital S, which was never added. These missing capitals occur throughout the book. Illustrations include woodblocks of all the important sibyls included in Barbieri’s treatise; the Cumaean sibyl is shown here.

The 1482 edition was rebound sometime around 1500. A portrait of the physician Matteo Corti, presumably the volume’s owner, was painted on the front cover, with his coat of arms on the back. Corti was himself a Renaissance luminary and author of many medical works. At the time this portrait was made, Corti was still in his twenties, teaching at the University of Pavia. He later taught at Pisa and Padua, then rose to become the personal physician of Pope Clement VII in the 1530s. After the pope’s death he taught for awhile at Bologna, then became the personal physician of Cosimo de’ Medici, who in 1544 appointed Corti to the chair of theoretical medicine at the University of Pisa, where he remained until his death twenty years later.

The first page of text in this edition contains an ornate woodblock border and initial, but subsequent pages are quite plain, with simple all-capital section headings.

Here are the publication information and call numbers of the two incunables:

Filippo de’ Barbieri, Discordantiantiae sanctorum doctorum, (Rome: Joannes Philippus de Lignamine, 1 Dec. 1481). Newberry Inc. 3961.

Filippo de’ Barbieri, Discordantiantiae sanctorum doctorum, (Rome: Georgius Herolt and Sixtus Riessinger, c. 1482). Newberry Inc. 3954.

(1) Laura Ackerman Smoller, “Teste Albumasare cum Sibylla: Astrology and the Sibyls in Medieval Europe,” in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biomedical Sciences, 41:2 (June 2010): 76-89.

Posted by Karen Christianson.

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