4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

1400 to 1450 Timeline


The First 15th Century Illustrated Treatise on Technology 1402 – 1405

This drawing, from Kyeser's 'Bellifortis,' depicts Alexander the Great holding a rocket. The legend of Alexander was a personal facination for Kyeser. (View Larger)

German physician and military engineer Konrad Kyeser wrote Bellifortis, an illustrated book on mechanical machinery, weapons, instruments, and techniques for attack and defense, mainly of towns.

Though he originally conceived the work for King Wenceslaus, Kyeser dedicated the finished book to Rupert III of Germany. Bellifortis summarized material from classical writers on military technology, including Vegetius' De re militari and Frontinus' anecdotal stratagems or Strategemata, emphasizing poliorcetics, or the art of siege warfare, but treating magic as a supplement to the military arts.

"Konrad Kyeser wrote his treatise between 1402 and 1405 when he was exiled from Prague to his hometown of Eichstätt. Many of the illustrations for the book were made by German illuminators who were sent to Eichstatt after their own ousting from the Prague scriptorium. The work, which was not printed until 1967, survived in a single original presentation manuscript on parchment at University of Göttingen, bearing the date 1405, and in numerous copies, excerpts and amplifications, both of the text and of the illustrations, made in German lands" (Wikipedia article on Bellifortis, accessed 10-31-2010).

The catalogue of the Niedersächische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen lists various facsimiles and editions of Bellifortis

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Guild of Stationers is Founded 1403

The seal of the Guild of Stationers.

In 1403 the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London approved the formation of a fraternity, or Guild of Stationers. This guild consisted of booksellers who copied and sold manuscript books and writing materials, limners who decorated and illustrated them, and bookbinders. Each group appointed a warden to regulate their trade.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Yongle Encyclopedia in 11,095 Volumes, Organized Following a Rhyming Dictionary; No Complete Set Survived 1403 – 1408

A page of the Yongle Encyclopedia. (View Larger)

The Yongle Encyclopedia (simplified Chinese: 永乐大典; traditional Chinese: 永樂大典) literally “The Great Canon or Vast Documents of the Yongle Era”) was a Chinese compilation commissioned by the Chinese Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor in 1403 and completed by 1408. "9169 scholars"  took part in its compilation, of which "2180 were student scholars" at Nanking (Nanjing) University, then located south of Qintian Mountain (欽天山), near Xuanwu Lake (玄武湖). Totaling 11,095 volumes, the Yongle Encyclopedia remained the world's largest general encyclopedia for many years.

"Two thousand scholars worked on the project under the direction of the Yongle Emperor (reigned 1402–1424), incorporating eight thousand texts from ancient times up to the early Ming Dynasty. They covered an array of subjects, including agriculture, art, astronomy, drama, geology, history, literature, medicine, natural sciences, religion, and technology, as well as descriptions of unusual natural events.

"The Encyclopedia, which was completed in 1408 at Nanjing Guozijian (南京國子監; the ancient Nanjing University - Nanjing Imperial Central College), comprised 22,877 or 22,937 manuscript rolls, or chapters in 11,095 volumes occupying roughly 40 cubic metres (1400 ft³) and using 50 million Chinese characters. It was designed to include all that had ever been written on the Confucian canon, history, philosophy and the arts and sciences. It was a massive collation of excerpts and works from the mass of Chinese literature and knowledge.

"Because of the vastness of the work, it could not be block-printed, and it is thought that only one other manuscript copy was made. In 1557, under the supervision of the Emperor Jiajing, the Encyclopedia was narrowly saved from being destroyed by a fire which burnt down three palaces in the Forbidden City. Afterwards, Emperor Jiajing ordered the transcription of another copy of the Encyclopedia.

"Fewer than 400 volumes of the three manuscript copies of the set survived into modern times. The original copy has disappeared from the historical record. The second copy was gradually dissipated and lost from the late-18th century onwards, until the roughly 800 volumes remaining were burnt in a fire started by Chinese forces attacking the neighboring British legation, or looted by the Eight-Nation Alliance forces during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The surviving volumes are in libraries and private collections around the world. The most complete of these surviving later Ming Dynasty copies of the Yongle Encyclopedia are kept at the National Library of China in Beijing" (Wikipedia article on Yongle Encyclopedia, accessed 10-26-2009).

In 2014 a two-section manuscript volume of the Yongle Encyclopedia was discovered at the Huntington Libary in San Marino, California. The volume, which dates from about 1562, is section 10,270 and 10,271 of the encyclopedia. The volume includes a part of the Book of Rites — one of the five Confucian Classics— writing attributed to Confucius’ disciples. This volume was one of only 419 surviving worldwide, and the only volume of the encyclopedia preserved in the western United States.

On January 8, 2015 Duncan Campbell posted a blog on the Huntington Verso site entitled Organizing an Encyclopedia, Chinese Style, from which I quote:

"To modern readers, one of the most fascinating elements about this work is the method used to organize such a gargantuan quantity of text—the rhyming categories of the Chinese language. In a classical Chinese world, arranging the book in this manner made perfect sense.

"Chinese is not alphabetic. The order of the entries followed a rhyming dictionary, the Hongwu zhengyun, authorized by the Yongle emperor’s father in 1375. The dictionary divided the monosyllabic sounds of the Chinese characters into 76 rhyming categories, distributed among the four tones of the spoken language. Every educated Chinese person knew the categories and their sequence by heart. Rhyme was an exceptionally effective search engine.

"For instance, our volume contains the partial text of a chapter from the Book of Rites (Li ji), one of five books constituting the revered Confucian Canon. This particular section, entitled “King Wen as Son and Heir” (Wen wang shizi), deals with how to educate a prince who was both son to the ruling emperor and heir apparent. This created complications in terms of etiquette and ritual because the son, by virtue of his relationship with his father, would also become the Son of Heaven. The last character of the title means “son” and is pronounced “zi.” Anyone looking for information on the topic of “son” would immediately go to the second of the rhyming categories in the rising tone, under the category headword meaning “paper,” pronounced “zhi,” a sound with which it rhymed. The logic of this arrangement was crystal clear to Chinese thinkers in a traditional world. In their circles, the ability to write a good poem and effective prose was vital, and rhyme was critical to both."

(This entry was last revised on 01-09-2015.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Voynich Manuscript: Uncrackable Code or Great Written Hoax? Progress in its Deciphering Circa 1404 – 1438

Several pages from the indecipherable Voynich Manuscript. (View Larger)

The Voynich manuscript, a mysterious illustrated manuscript book written in what long appeared to be an indecipherable text, has been the subject of much research and speculation for centuries. However, its author, script and language remain unknown, and for centuries it was believed that the manuscript might have been intentionally meaningless. The mysteries involved with this manuscript have resulted in various videos of which the following appeared to be the best in February 2014:

"Over its recorded existence, the Voynich manuscript has been the object of intense study by many professional and amateur cryptographers, including some top American and British codebreakers of World War II fame (all of whom failed to decrypt a single word). This string of failures has turned the Voynich manuscript into a famous subject of historical cryptology, but it has also given weight to the theory that the book is simply an elaborate hoax — a meaningless sequence of arbitrary symbols" (Wikipedia article on the Voynich Manuscript).

The book is named after the Polish-American book-dealer Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912. Since 1969 it has been preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, having been donated by the American rare book and manuscript dealer, H.P. Kraus.

Progress on the deciphering the manuscript was made in the 21st century:

♦ In 2011 scientists, using carbon-14 dating, were able to date the vellum on which the manuscript was written to between 1404 and 1438. This pushed its origin back perhaps 50 years.  However, the meaning, if any, of the circa 250,000 characters and the many diagrams in the manuscript, remained unknown.

In June 2013, Marcelo Montemurro, a theoretical physicist from the University of Manchester, UK, published a study which he believes shows that the manuscript was unlikely to be a hoax. Using a computerised statistical method to analyse the text, Montemurro and Zanette found that it followed the structure of "real languages":

Montemurro MA, Zanette DH (2013) "Keywords and Co-Occurrence Patterns in the Voynich Manuscript: An Information-Theoretic Analysis," PLoS ONE 8(6): e66344. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066344

In issue no. 100 of the American Botanical Council's HerbalGram, published in 2013, Arthur O. Tucker, and Rexford H. Talbert identified some of the plants illustrated in the manuscript and suggested that manuscript possibly originated in Mexico:

Tucker & Talbot, "A Preliminary Analysis of the Botany, Zoology, and Mineralogy of the Voynich Manuscript," herbalgram.org, Issue 100, 70-84 (reprodcuing numerous color illustrations, and with a bibliography of 74 citations.

In January 2014 Stephen Bax, an expert in applied linguistics from Bedfordshire University, reported that he had deciphered 10 words in the Voynich manuscript and was optimistic that using his methods more words would be deciphered:

"A proposed partial decoding of the Voynich script," Version 1, January 2014.  http://www.academia.edu/5932444/A_proposed_partial_decoding_of_the_Voynich_script#

In January 2014 Bax also produced a video on the issued involved:

In January 2015 palaeographer Judith Fagin Davis posted an exceptionally interesting and well-illustrated account of the Voynich Manuscript in her blog, Manuscript Road Trip: The World's Most Mysterious Manuscript. Highly recommended!

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Dated Example of Poggio's Humanistic Script 1408

The first dated example of the humanistic script invented by the Italian scholar, writer and humanist, Poggio Bracciollini, is the copy of Cicero's Epistles to Atticus written in formal "antiqua" and preserved in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berol. Hamilton lat. 166). This carries the subscription "Scriptsit Poggius anno domini MCCCCVIII a mundi vero creatione VI mil. et DCVII." 

Regarding the origin of Poggio's humanistic script, Ullman (p. 59) mentioned the manuscript of De verecundia that appears to have been written by Poggio between 1402-03 for its author, the humanist and man of letters Coluccio Salutati.  Thus, this manuscript is "the very first datable example of humanistic script" (Morison, Politics and Script. . . . Barker ed. [1972] 267). Unlike the Cicero, however, the date of De Verecundia is based on scholarly argument rather than concrete evidence.

Ullman, The Origin and Development of Humanistic Script (1974)  27, 59.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Largest Primary Source for Music of the Trecento Circa 1410 – 1415

A facsimile version of the Squarcialupi Codex. (View Larger)

The Squarcialupi Codex, an illuminated manuscript produced in Florence, Italy, is one of the few contemporary sources for the study of non-religious, i.e. "profane" music between the 13th and 14th centuries, and the largest primary source for music of the Trecento, also known as the "Italian ars nova."

"It consists of 216 parchment folios, richly illuminated and in good condition, so complete pieces of music are preserved. Included in the codex are 146 complete pieces by Francesco Landini, 37 by Bartolino da Padova, 36 by Niccolò da Perugia, 29 by Andrea da Firenze, 28 by Jacopo da Bologna, 17 by Lorenzo da Firenze, 16 by Gherardello da Firenze, 15 by Donato da Cascia, 12 pieces by Giovanni da Cascia, 6 by Vincenzo da Rimini, and smaller amounts of music by others. It contains 16 blank folios, intended for the music of Paolo da Firenze, since they are labeled as such and include his portrait; the usual presumption by scholars is that Paolo's music was not ready at the time the manuscript was compiled, since he was away from Florence until 1409. There is also a section marked out for Giovanni Mazzuoli which contains no music.

"The manuscript was almost certainly compiled in Florence at the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, probably around 1410–1415. Paolo da Firenze may have had some part in supervising the effort, though it cannot be proven, and the omission of his music has been a puzzle for musicologists. The manuscript was owned by renowned organist Antonio Squarcialupi in the middle of the 15th century, then by his nephew, and then passed into the estate of Giuliano di Lorenzo de' Medici, who gave it to the Biblioteca Palatina in the early 16th century. At the end of the 18th century it passed into the ownership of the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.

"The first folio in the codex states: "This book is owned by Antonio di Bartolomeo Squarcialupi, organist of Santa Maria del Fiore." Illumination is done in gold, red, blue and purple.

"All of the compositions in the codex are secular songs: ballata, madrigals, and cacce: there are 353 in all, and they can be dated to the period from 1340 to 1415. The other substantial collection of music from the period, the Rossi Codex (compiled between 1350 and 1370), contains some earlier music" (Wikipedia article on Squarcialupi Codex).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Bedford Hours and its History Circa 1410 – 1430

The Bedford Hours, a late medieval book of hours, was probably produced in Paris for John, Duke of Bedford to celebrate his marriage to Anne, daughter of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Production was was in several stages from about 1410 to about 1430, with new material added as the manuscript passed from owner to owner. Some of its miniatures have been attributed to the Bedford Master (possibly Haincelin of Hagenau, who was working in Paris at the time), or to the Chief Associate of the Bedford Master, or simply to the "Bedford Workshop".

The work of the Bedford Master and the Bedford Workshop have been identified in other manuscripts from the period, including the Salisbury Breviary (Bibliothèque nationale de France MS.lat. 17294), also owned by the Duke of Bedford. The style and quality of the illumination in the Bedford Hours is also related to that in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry illuminated by the Limbourg brothers. It is also possible that some of the miniatures in the Bedford Hours were based on images in the Très Riches Heures.

"The origins of the manuscript are not known with certainty, nor is there agreement on its initial patron. The inclusion of certain heraldic symbols in its decorative programme may suggest an original patronage in the French royal family, perhaps the dauphinLouis of Guyenne (d. 1415). Or this first stage in production might have taken place later, after Louis's death, the heraldic symbols having no immediate reference to patronage, but simply being part of the standard iconographic programme of the workshop.

"In the early 1420s the manuscript was in the possession of John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford and regent of France on behalf of his nephew Henry VI from 1422 until his death in 1435. In 1423, he gave the manuscript to his wife Anne of Burgundy as a wedding present. Personalizing additions to the manuscript's illumination that commemorate its ownership by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford include two large portrait miniatures (ff. 256v and 257v), showing John kneeling before St George and Anne of Burgundy kneeling before St Anne.

"In 1430 Anne gave the manuscript as a Christmas present to the nine-year-old Henry VI, who was staying with the Bedfords in Rouen before his coronation as king of France. This gift was memorialized in the manuscript itself, on f. 256r, in an inscription made at the duke's request, written by John Somerset, Henry's tutor and personal physician. It is possible that it was in preparing the book as a gift to Henry that the portrait miniatures of the Bedfords were added, along with other additions to the programme of illumination.

"Later owners include King Henry II of France and his wife Catherine de' Medici (identifiable by their coats of arms, added to the manuscript), and Frances Worsley (1673-1750), wife of Sir Robert Worsley, 4th baronet of Appuldurcombe. Edward Harley probably purchased the manuscript from Frances Worsley, but he did not will it to his widow with the rest of the Harley collection, instead bequeathing it directly to his daughter, Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland...." (Wikipedia article on Bedford Hours, accessed 11-07-2013). 

After the death of the Duchess of Portland, on May 24, 1786 the English bookseller James Edwards purchased the Bedford Hours for £213.3s. at the sale of her collections. Edwards commissioned the antiquarian and writer Richard Gough to prepare a monograph on the manuscript. This work entitled An Account of a Rich Illuminated Missal Executed for John Duke of Bedford, Regent of France under Henry VI, and afterwards in the Possession of the Late Duchess of Portland, was printed by John Nichols and published by T. Payne in London in 1794. A work of 86 pages in quarto format, with 4 black and white engraved plates depicting full-page illuminations in the manuscript, this was the first monograph on an illuminated manuscript published in English, and may be considered the beginning of English scholarship on illuminated manuscripts. Most of its text was devoted to explaining details in each of the 59 full-page miniatures, and discussing details of its prior owners. My copy, which bears the bookplate of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, contains pencil notes on p. 82 tracing later owners of the copy from which I quote:

"Subsequently belonged to the 5th Duke of Marlbourgh (£687.15.0). John Milner (£800) & Sir John Tobin of Liverpool (£1250), & in Jan. 1852 it was sold by the Rev. John Tobin, son of the last-named, with five other MSS to the bookseller William Boone, who ... transferred all six MSS... to the British Museum for £3000 (2 Feb. 1852)."

The Bedford Hours is preserved in the British Library (Add. MS 18850). In February 2014 a digital facsimile of all aspects of the manuscript was available at this link.

Backhouse, "A Reappraisal of the Bedford Hours" (1981).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Medieval Mappa Mundi, Stolen during an Auction 1411 – 1419

The De Virga world map. (View Larger

The De Virga world map, drawn by Albertinus de Virga, contained a mention in small letters:

"A. 141.. Albertin diuirga me fecit in vinexia"
"Made by Albertinius de Virga in Venice in 141.."

(the last number of the date is erased by a fold in the map)

The map was "discovered" in a second-hand bookshop in 1911 in Srebrenica, Bosnia by Albert Figdor, a map collector, and it was analysed by Franz Von Weiser of the Austrian State University in Vienna. Authenticated photographs were taken at the time, which are preserved in the British Library. Regrettably the original map was stolen during an auction in 1932, and has never been recovered.  It may have been a source for the Venetian Fra Mauro map (circa 1450), with which it is generally consistent.

"The map is oriented to the North, with a wind rose centered in Central Asia, possibly the observatory of astronomer, mathematician and sultan, Ulugh Begh, in the Mongol city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, or the western shore of the Caspian sea. The wind rose divides the map in eight sectors.

"The map is colored: the seas are left white, although the Red Sea is colored in red. Continental land is colored in yellow, and several colors are used for islands. The mountains are in brown, the lakes are in blue, and rivers are in brown.

"The extension shows a calendar with depictions of the signs of the zodiac and a table to calculate lunar positions"  (Wikipedia article on De Virga world map, accessed 01-12-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry Circa 1413 – 1416

Folio 64v of Les Très Riches Heures, for the month of June. (View Larger)

About 1413 to 1416 artists Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg, working for their patron, Jean, Duc de Berry created the paintings for the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It is a very richly decorated book of hours containing prayers to be said by the lay faithful at each of the canonical hours of the day.

This book, with its spectacular miniature paintings, has been called the most important illuminated manuscript of the late 15th century, and "le roi des manuscrits enluminés." It remained unfinished at the death of the Duc de Berry in 1416; the artists died the same year, leading to the suggestion that the deaths of artists and patron were caused by plague.

"The Très Riches Heures consists of 416 pages, including 131 with large miniatures and many more with border decorations or historiated initials, that are among the high points of International Gothic painting in spite of their small size. There are 300 decorated capital letters. The book was worked on, over a period of nearly a century, in three stages, led by the Limbourg brothers, Barthélemy van Eyck, and Jean Colombe....

"The writing, illuminated capitals, border decorations, and gilding was most likely executed by other specialists who remain mostly unknown. The Limbourg brothers left the book unfinished and unbound at their, and the Duke's, death in 1416. The work passed to the Duke's cousin, the royal art lover and amateur painter René d'Anjou, who had an unidentified artist, the so-called Master of the Shadows, who was probably Barthélemy van Eyck, work on the book in the 1440s. Forty years later Charles I, Duc de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the paintings between 1485 and 1489.The paintings of Colombe are easy to distinguish, as are those of the Master of the Shadows (Barthélemy d'Eyck)" (Wikipedia article on the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, accessed 11-22-2008).

The manuscript is preserved in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

A detail from folio 14v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

John of Valois, the Magnificent, "Jean, Duc de Berry", Duke of Berry and Auvergne and Count of Poitiers and Montpensier, has been called the greatest patron of illuminated manuscripts of his age. His library was probably the most artistically significant of all private libraries collected during the late Middle Ages. The third son of King John II of France and Bonne of Luxemburg; his brothers were Charles V, King of France, Louis I of Anjou, King of Naples and Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.

Jean maintained numerous estates, including vast collections of art works of many kinds. He also died heavily in debt. Even though his library was much smaller in number than other collections it is far better preserved and accounted for since, for example, items with precious metal may have been melted down, and gemstones dispersed.

Numerous inventories of Jean's library were preserved, the earliest from 1402. Ironically perhaps, because of the many debts that Jean left at his death, aspects of his estate had to be liquidated, and the inventory of his books in the Chateau de Mehun prepared for Jean Bourne, "contrôleur de sa maison," was preserved, including appraised values of the 162 manuscripts, the greatest of which were recognized to be of immense monetary value at the time. This inventory, preserved at the Bibliothèque de Saint-Geneviève, Paris, was published completely for the first time by as La librairie de Jean, duc de Berry, au château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre, 1416, publiée en entier pour la première fois des notes by Hiver de Beauvoir (1860). 

A detail from folio 147v of Les Très Riches Heures. (View Larger)

The most comprehensive study of Jean, Duc de Berry's library, which collated all extant inventories and listed a total of 297 manuscripts with their references in the manuscript inventories, was by Léopold Delisle. In this comprehensive study Delisle included an index by author and subject, and provided an inventory of extant manuscripts from the Duc de Berry library in French and foreign libraries. This was Recherches sur la librairie de Charles V. Partie II. Inventaire des livres ayant appartenu aux rois Charles V et Charles VI et à Jean, Duc de Berry (1907). The study of the library of Jean, Duc de Berry, appears on pp. 217-331.

When Delisle published nearly all of the Berry manuscripts were in institutional collections, primarily in France. Manuscripts remaining in private hands included some the most important: "Second morceau des Heures dites de Turin", and The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux illuminated by Jean Pucelle, formerly in the collection of Madam la baronne Adolphe de Rothschild, now at The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Les Belles Heures du duc de Berry" in the collection of M. le baron Edmond de Rothschild, and now also at the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The library of Sir Thomas Phillipps contained "Débat sur le roman de la Rose," and Henry Yates Thompson owned "Tomes I et II du Miroir historial, en français", "La Bible historiale donnée par le duc de Berry à Jean Harpedenne", and "Le second volume de la Cité de Dieu en français."

Longnon & Cazelles, The Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duc of Berry (1969) reproduces the manuscript in facsimile with an introduction that includes information concerning the history of the ownership of the manuscript before it was deposited in the Musée Conde by Henri d'Orleans, Duc d'Aumale in 1897.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Portable Medieval English Information Retrieval Device Circa 1415 – 1420

On November 20, 2013 Christie's auctioned an English folding almanac in London.  This they described as a previously unrecorded example in its original embroidered cloth binding.  

A portable compendium of calendrical, computational, medical and astrological material intended to be worn hanging from the body, probably handing from the belt at the waist,  the folding almanac—or vade mecum, girdle book, physician's calendar—was one of the earliest portable information retrieval devices.

"Although the Faltbuch and various livres plicatifs were present in Europe at this time, by all accounts the compression of this specific type of data into a portable format seems to have been an exclusively English phenomenon of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Twenty-nine other such manuscripts survive, ten of which are in the British Library, with only one other in private hands (Talbot private collection, see C.H. Talbot, 'A Mediaeval Physician's vade mecum', Journal of the History of Medicine, 16, 1961). Of these, the present manuscript is the only one to preserve its contemporary, bright, decorative soft binding in a near-original state; the remnants of the Turk's head indicating how it would have been worn hanging from the body, likely attached to a belt at the waist. Hilary M. Carey discusses the importance of the folding almanac as a facilitator for the development of more sophisticated astro-medical practice of the later age and gives a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the twenty-nine other extant folding almanacs in her recent articles on the subject ('A Key Manuscript Source for Astro-Medical Practice', SHM vol. 16, no 3, 2003 and 'Astrological Medicine and the Medieval Folded Almanac', SHM, vol. 17, no 4, 2004" (Christie's Sale 1160, 20 November 2013, Lot 52).

Also in 2013, Rebecca J. Rosen published "Book as Mobile Device: No Really, a Medieval Almanac That Attached to your Belt," The Atlantic, march 6, 2013. This contained several fine illustrations.  Images of another English folding almanac are available in the British Library's digitized version of Harley MS 3812.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One of the Oldest Surviving Collections of English Part Music Circa 1415 – 1421

The Old Hall Manuscript, the most important record of early harmony in England, and one of the oldest surviving collections of English part music, was compiled by a single scribe between about 1415 and 1421. It may have originated in the private chapel of Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence, the second son of King Henry IV. Written in large format, 41 x 26 cm, it was intended to be readable from a distance by a choir.

It "is made up mostly of settings of the Ordinary of the Mass, together with some antiphons and motets. The majority of the music has not survived elsewhere. The book is of incomparable value because it shows us an English repertory for which the names of individuals are given for the first time.

"The manuscript identifies numerous English composers, including one 'Roy Henry', who is most likely to have been Henry V. Two of the motets may be associated with the Battle of Agincourt (1415) and another is one of the most celebrated works by John Dunstable (died 1453) whose music is considered to incarnate the spirit of the Renaissance in England.

"The volume is arranged by sections devoted to particular parts of the Ordinary of the Mass, so that different settings of the Gloria, Sanctus, and so on are grouped together. Some are written in score, others in parts. The manuscript takes its name from a previous owner, St Edmund's College, Old Hall Green, Ware, in Hertfordshire" (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/musicmanu/oldhall/, accessed 11-06-2013).

The manuscript (British Library, Additional MS 57950) was acquired by the British Library in 1973. A digital facsimile may be available from the Digital Archive of Medieval Music

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Earliest Known European Textile Printer 1417

Jan de Printere of Antwerpe is earliest textile printer whose name is documented in Europe.

Carter, History of Printing in China 2nd ed (1955), 198.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Poggio Rediscovers Lucretius's De rerum natura 1417 – 1473

Architectural frontispiece of the illuminated manuscript of De rerum natura produced in 1483 by Girolamo di Matteo de Tauris for Pope Sixtus IV. The Pope's arms are at the foot of the page.


"Lucretius was rediscovered by Poggio in 1417, during the Council of Constance. He found the manuscript, not in one of the local monasteries, but in a 'locus satis loginquus,' [a sufficiently remote place] which he does not bother to name. Poggio sent his only copy to Niccoló Niccoli for him to transcribe and, despite increasingly querulous requests for its return, Niccoli was still sitting on the manuscript in 1429. Niccoli's autograph survives and is now Florence, Laur. 35.30 (L). There are more than fifty extant descendants of Poggio's manuscript and the effort devoted to sorting them out, at times half-baked, has been slow to produce results. It seems to be established at long last that ∏ is derived from O, so that the Itali have no textual value except as a repository of conjectures. But Lucretius passed through such distinguished hands in the course of the Renaissance that the later history of his text can throw a great deal of light on the capacity and cross-currents of humanist scholarship, as a recent and significant contribution to the subject amply demonstrates. . . . "(L. D. Reynolds, "Lucretius," Texts and Transmission, Reynolds [ed] [1983] 221).

Though Niccoli's transcription of Poggio's text survived, the copy which Poggio sent to Niccoli did not.

Because of its scientific rather than religious aspects De rerum natura was not one of the mostly widely printed classical texts during early years of printing. However, there were four fifteenth century printed editions, the first of which was issued in Brescia by teacher, minor author, priest and printer Thomas Ferrandus about 1473-74. Of this edition only 4 copies are recorded. ISTC No. il00332900.

One of the most famous illuminated manuscripts of De rerum natura was produced in 1483 for Pope Sixtus IV, the renowned patron of the arts best known for the Sistine Chapel. The Pope's coat of arms appears at the foot of fol.1 recto  (Vat. lat. 1569)

The story of Poggio's rediscovery of the text of Lucretius, and the consequences of this rediscovery, became the subject of Stephen Greenblat's remarkable best-selling book entitled The Swerve. How the World Became Modern (2011).

(This entry was last revised on 06-14-2015.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Dated European Woodblock Print 1418 – 1423

St. Christopher woodcut, 1423.

The earliest dated European form of xylographic or woodblock prints are religious souvenirs known as "helgen." The earliest recorded helgen is a portrait of the Virgin dated 1418 in the Royal Library of Brussels, however, "there is the probability that it is only a copy, made about 1450, of an earlier print now lost, on which the artist retained the date of the original" (Clair, A Chronology of Printing [1969] 7).

The earliest known dated European woodblock print or woodcut is a portrait of St. Christopher dated 1423 preserved in the John Rylands Library, Manchester, England.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Printing Playing Cards 1418

The Stuttgart Cards. Originally in the collections of the dukes of Bavaria, these are considered amongst the earliest surviving sets of playing cards.  They date from around 1430. A study of the watermarks in the paper revealed that the patper came from the Ravensburg paper mill and was made between 1427 and 1431.

Card makers, who presumably were card printers printing from wood-blocks, are mentioned five times in the city records of Augsburg and Nuremberg by 1418. About the same time the records of the city of Ulm in Germany show that cards were being shipped in barrels to Sicily and Italy.

Carter, History of Printing in China 2nd ed (1955) 186.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Technological Manuscripts by the Sienese Archimedes 1419 – 1449

Between 1419 and 1449 Italian administrator, artist and engineer Mariano di Jacopo detto il Taccola of Siena, sometimes called the "Sienese Archimedes," published the illustrated technological treatises De ingeneis and De machinis. These manuscripts were widely studied and copied by artists and engineers during the Renaissance, but never seem to have gained the attention of printers, and were not published in print until the 20th century. Taccola’s original manuscripts, the style of which was more sophisticated than that of their manuscript copies, were rediscovered and identified in the state libraries of Munich and Florence in the 1960s, leading to revival of interest in Tacola and publication of facsimile editions of his manuscripts.

"Taccola left behind two treatises, the first being De ingeneis (Concerning engines), work on its four books starting as early as 1419. Having been completed in 1433, Taccola continued to amend drawings and annotations to De ingeneis until about 1449. In the same year, Taccola published his second manuscript, De machinis (Concerning machines), in which he restated many of the devices from the long development process of his first treatise. 

"Drawn with black ink on paper and accompanied by hand-written annotations, Taccola depicts in his work a multitude of 'ingenious devices' in hydraulic engineering, milling, construction and war machinery. Taccola’s drawings show him to be a man of transition: While his subject matter is already that of later Renaissance artist-engineers, his method of representation still owes much to medieval manuscript illustration. Notably, with perspective coming and going in his drawings, Taccola seemed to remain largely unaware of the ongoing revolution in perspective painting. This is the more curious, since he is the only man known to have interviewed the 'father of linear perspectivity' himself, Filippo Brunelleschi. Despite these graphic inconsistencies, Taccola’s style has been described as being forceful, authentic and usually to be relied upon to capture the essential" (Wikipedia article on Taccola, accessed 01-27-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Serial Workshop Production of Medieval Manuscripts Circa 1420 – 1470

An image of Moses from the Book of Leviticus: folio 141v of a manuscript bible produced in the workshop of the scribe Diebold Lauber. (View Larger)

The scribe Diebold Lauber of Haguenau, Germany, who produced illuminated manuscripts of vernacular paraphrases of biblical history called "History Bibles", is thought to have employed an early form of organized "mass production" in the production of manuscripts—a kind of precursor of the "mass production" of books introduced by printing.  Around seventy examples of illuminated manuscripts produced by Lauber's shop have been identified.

"The wide assortment of products which he advertised suggests that Lauber may have kept a stock of his books. Lauber's workshop is often viewed as a precursor of a printing house, because rationalised methods of production were employed in order to reduce the costs of labour. . . . the quires are composed of individual leaves, and the text is written in simple gothic cursive letters. The text is structured by means of indices, titles and chapter headings.

"Also, the simply coloured pen illustrations drawn directly on the paper, in the most cases without a border or background, reveal a tendency towards serial production. With a limited range of artistic means, a small number of icongraphic types were used for various genres of texts. The illustrations most characteristic for Lauber's workshop were created by the painters of the so-called 'Malergruppe A', a group of artists active between 1425 and 1450. . . ." (Wagner, Als die Lettern laufen lerneten. Medienvwandel im 15. Jahrhundert [2009] No. 1).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

One of the Earliest Surviving Italian Manuscripts on Technology and War Machines Circa 1420

Folio 2r of Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, showing an 'Oriental siege machine.' (View Larger)

The Bellicorum instrumentorum liber, cum figuris et fictitys litoris conscriptus, written and drawn by the Italian engineer, self-styled magus, and physician to the Venetian army in Brescia, Giovanni Fontana, may be the earliest extant illustrated Italian manuscript on technology and war machines.

Fontana accompanied each of his roughly 140 illustrations of siege engines, fountains and pumps, lifting and transporting machines, defensive towers, dredges, combination locks, battering rams, a "rocket-powered" craft, the first ever depiction of the magic lantern, scaling ladders, alchemical furnaces, clockwork, robotic automata, and measuring instruments with a caption that was partially encoded with a substitute cypher system.

♦ You can view a digital facsimile of Fontana's manuscript at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek website at this link: http://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/~db/0001/bsb00013084/images/index.html?id=00013084&fip=, accessed 01-16-2010).

Another manuscript by Fontana, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Nouvelles Acquisitions Latin 635), entitled Secretum de thesauro experimentorum ymaginationis hominum, concerned mnemonic devices and memory: 

"The entire manuscript, excepting the table of contents, title and concluding formula is in cipher; this consists  almost entirely of straight lines and circles. Abbreviation marks are  placed under the script. . . .

"where one sees several projects of combiantorial machines, concentric disks, cylinders, rolls that allow the permutation of isolated elements of writing (letters or words): and engineer's realization of the Lullian dream. However the connection between the theater in the first book and the devices of the second is not one of mere juxtaposition: the Secretum is actually a treatise of mnemotechnics, or, as Battisti put it, "the blueprint for a compact database of the mind (http://www.voynich.net/Arch/2002/09/msg00136.html, accessed 01-16-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Alba Bible, A Spectacular Record of Religious Tolerance April 5, 1422 – June 2, 1430

After a series of anti-Semitic riots centered in Madrid, in 1422 Don Luis de Guzmán, grand master of the ancient Catholic military Order of Calatrava in Castile, believed that he might be able to build a bridge of understanding between Christians and Jews by commissioning a Castilian translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew, with a commentary by Jewish scholars interpreting the text. With this in mind, on April 5, 1422  Don Luis sent a letter to the rabbi Moses Arragel, who lived in the small town of Maqueda in Castile, asking the rabbi to undertake the project. In a letter dated April 14, 1422 the rabbi declined the invitation, believing that it was impossible for a Jew to translate or comment upon the Bible in a way that would satisfy a Catholic. However, Don Luis insisted, and he assigned Friar Arias de Enciena, custos of the Franciscans in Toledo, to convey to the rabbi his particular desires for the translation. How and why Rabbi Arragel agreed to undertake the project is unknown. The translation appeared in the illuminated Alba Bible, completed on June 2, 1430. At the beginning of the volume there are 25 pages of correspondence recorded between Rabbi Arragel and Don Luís Guzmán as well as between the rabbi and various Franciscans in Toledo involved in illustrating the translation, discussing matters related to the collaboration. This translation of the Old Testament into Castilian is one of several which were made at this time, and the cooperation of the Jewish rabbi with Catholic dignitaries in its production is one of the signs of the comparative religious tolerance then prevailing in Castile.

"The work comprises 513 pages and a rich collection of 334 miniatures that illustrate passages from the religious text. Although the text of the Alba Bible was the product of Rabbi Arragel, the elaborate artistic detail is wholly the product of Franciscans of Toledo.

"The Alba Bible contains a series of comments on the writing of both Jewish and Christian theologians, including Abraham ibn EzraMaimonidesNahmanides, R. Joseph Kimhi, R. Asher ben JehielShlomo ben Aderet, R. Ya'acob and Nissim of Gerona. There is also commentary taken from rabbinic literary sources such as the Talmud and the Midrash." (Wikipedia article on Alba Bible, accessed 12-10-2013).

In 1992, on the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, King Juan Carlos I revoked the order of the Expulsion of the Jews, and formally welcomed their descendants, and all Jews, back to Spain. That year Facsimile Editions of London issued a spectacular facsimile edition of the Alba Bible in an edition limited to 500 copies. The facsimile was commissioned by Mauricio Hatchwell Toledano, founder of the Fundación Amigos de Sefarad of Spain. In December 2013 copies remained available from the publisher, priced at $49,500. On the Facsimile Editions website there was a discussion of the history of the manuscript after it left the hands of Rabbi Arragel in 1430:

"After the manuscript left his hands on that Friday in 1430, it was apparently scrutinized by Franciscan censors in Toledo for a considerable time, probably until 1433. From there it was passed to the University of Salamanca, where the Dominican Juan de Çamora carried out a preliminary examination, and it was then submitted to a detailed examination at the Franciscan monastery in Toledo. This culminated in a public disputation at which theologians, knights, Jews and Moors argued their views. Following this, the manuscript disappeared until 1622, when it reached the great library of the Liria Palace, seat of the Grand Duke of Alba and Berwick, where it has been housed ever since."

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Largest and Finest Collection of Greek Texts before Bessarion's December 15, 1423

Having spent four years in Constantinople collecting manuscripts, on December 15, 1423 book collector, scholar, and occasional bookseller Giovanni Aurispa arrived in Venice with the largest and finest collection of Greek texts to reach the west prior to those brought by Cardinal Basilios Bessarion.

"In reply to a letter from Ambrogio Traversari, he [Aurispa] says that he brought back 238 manuscripts. These contained all of Plato, all of Plotinus, all of Proclus, much of Iamblichus, many of the Greek poets, including Pindar, and a great deal of Greek history, including volumes of Procopius and Xenophon which had been given to him by the emperor. Also the poems of Callimachus and Oppian, and the Orphic verses; the historical works of Dio Cassius, Diodorus Siculus, and Arrian. Most of the works were hitherto unknown in the west.

"Further items included the oldest manuscript of Athenaeus; a 10th century codex containing 7 plays by Sophocles, 6 by Aeschylus — the only manuscript in the world of these—, plus the Argonautica of Apollonius; the Iliad, Demosthenes, and many more. A Herodotus was also among the collection; also the Geography of Strabo. The texts are all listed in the letter to Traversari" (Wikipedia article Giovanni Aurispa, accessed 11-26-2008).

(This entry was last revised on April 8, 2014.)

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Aztec Calendar Stone 1427 – 1479

The Aztec Calendar Stone. (View Larger)

The Aztec calendar stone or Aztec Sunstone Calendar, carved in basalt, is 3.6 meters (12 feet) in diameter and weighs about 24 metric tons. Containing images representing Aztec measurement of days, months, and cosmic cycles, the stone was completed during the 52 year period between 1427 and 1479 CE. It was originally placed atop the main temple in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, facing south in a vertical position and was painted a vibrant red, blue, yellow and white.

When the Spaniards conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521 they buried the stone, and built the cathedral of Mexico City on the site. For over 250 years the stone was lost until December of 1790 when it was excavated by accident during repair work on the cathedral. Today it is located in the  Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City.

"The stone was first described by the Mexican astronomer, anthropologist and writer, Antonio de León y Gama in Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras: que con ocasión del empedrado que se está formando en la plaza Principal de México, se hallaron en ella el año de 1790. Impr. de F. de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, 1792. "In it Leon y Gama described the discovery in 1790 of two of the most important pieces of aztec art in the Zócalo, main plaza of the city of Mexico: the sun stone and a statue of Coatlicue, an aztec goddess. Leon y Gama also included in it most of his knowledge and theories on how Aztecs measured time. The work, as opposed to authors of previous centuries, praised Aztec society and their scientific and artistic achievements in line with the growing Mexican nationalism in the late 18th century. It was published by Felipe de Zúñiga y Ontiveros, [scientist and cartographer and] owner of one of the most important printing establishments in America at the time. In addition to print the book had three folded manuscript watercolor drawings [presumably hand-colored engravings.] Thanks to the publication of the book Leon y Gama is considered by many the first Mexican archeologist" (Wikipedia article on Antonio de León y Gama, accessed 01-01-2010).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Aztec Emperor Itzcoatl Orders the Burning of All Historical Codices Circa 1430

According to the Florentine Codex, Itzcoatl, fourth emperor the Aztecs (4th Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan), who ruled from 1427 or 1428 to 1440, ordered the burning of all pictographic codices, in which the early history of the Aztecs was recorded. This allowed the early Aztec state to develop a state-sanctioned history and mythos that venerated Huitzilopochtli. a Mesoamerican deity of war, sun, human sacrifice and the patron of the city of Tenochtitlan.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

A Bronze Type Font of 100,000 Pieces and Later 200,000 Pieces 1434

MS 2923 of the Schoyen collection: the collected works of T'ang Liu, printed in Chinese with moveable type in Seoul, 1438. (View Larger)

In Korea a set of 100,000 copper types were cast by command of the king in 1403. Roughly thirty years later, in 1434 the king of Korea ordered the Publications Office to cast a new and improved bronze font of 200,000 pieces of type named Kabin-Ja (Kabinja). These were used for printing "many books" in Korea until 1544.

"This momentous event in Korean typographical history is recorded in the Yi Dynasty Annals and in the Third Foreword to the Yoktae janggam bakui of 1437. These accounts state the that the king, regretting that the type in use, though beautiful, was difficult to read because of the small size of the characters, suggested that a new font be cast from written characters of a larger size. Within two months more than 200,000 were cast, so clear and exact that it was possible to print more than forty sheets per day" (Schøyen Collection 21. Pre-Gutenberg Printing MS 2923).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Known Treatise on Shipbuilding 1434

Page 145b of A Mariner's Knowledge, by Michael of Rhodes, depicting a completed galley ship.

In 1434 Michael of Rhodes, a Venetian galley commander, wrote a manuscript describing his knowledge of mathematics, ships and shipbuilding, navigation, and time reckoning. It contains some of the earliest surviving portolan aids to navigation and the world's first known treatise on shipbuilding.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Known Artist to Produce Copperplate Engravings 1435 – 1455

A rendition of the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by the Master of Playing Cards, preserved at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (View Larger)

The first artist known to produce copperplate engravings, and the "first personality" in the history of printmaking, the "Master of the Playing Cards," was active in Germany from roughly 1435 to 1455. Of this artist about 100 engravings are known. He is associated with playing cards because sixty of his engravings are playing cards— the first cards printed from intaglio plates.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Origins of the Bibliotheca Palatina Circa 1436

A portrait of Louis III by Johann David Werl.

Elector Louis III, Count Palatine of the Rhine, founded the Stiftsbibliothek in the Heidelberg Heiliggeistkirche, a church which has good light for reading.  This was the origin of the Bibliotheca Palatina.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Filed under: Libraries

"The Book of Margery Kempe," The First Autobiography Written in English 1436 – 1438

The earliest autobiography written in English, and one of the earliest English books written by a woman, The Book of Margery Kempe is known in a unique copy preserved in the British Library (MS 61823) The book telts of Margery's life and travels in England and on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Santiago de Compostela. The original was dictated by her to a priest of Lynn. The British Lbrary manuscript, of which a full digital facsimile is available, is probably a copy made from the original, perhaps under Margery's supervision. It includes Initials in red with decoration, including human faces. Nomina sacra, marginal rubrics and highlighting in red.
"The mother of 14 children, Kempe became a chaste pilgrim after experiencing religious visions, travelling to Jerusalem and Santiago de Compostela while expressing her devotion to Christ through weeping and loud cries.
 Only one known manuscript exists of Margery Kempe’s story: its whereabouts were unknown from around 1520 until the 1930s, when it was discovered in the cupboard of a country-house during a game of ping-pong. One of the players stepped on the ball and while searching for another, the The Book of Margery Kempe manuscript fell out of a cupboard."  (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/18/books-by-earliest-women-writers-in-english-on-display-for-first-time, accessed 05-04-2016) .
View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Earliest Grammar of a Romance Language 1437 – 1441

A statue of Leon Lattista Alberti in the Uffizi museum. (View Larger)

Between 1437 and 1441 Italian author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, and cryptographer Leon Battista Alberti wrote Grammatica della lingua toscanaThis was the earliest grammar of a Romance language. Also called the Grammatichetta vaticana, it is known from the only surviving manuscript copy included in the codex Reginense Latino 1370 preserved in Rome in the Vatican Library.

Alberti's Grammatica della lingua toscana was not published in print until 1908.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Description of Textile Printing and Manuscript Illumination as Well as Painting July 31, 1437

Il Libro dell Arte, often translated as "The Craftsman's Handbook," by Italian painter Cennino d' Andrea Cennini of Colle Val d'Elsa, Tuscany

"is a "how to" on Renaissance art. It contains information on pigments, brushes, panel painting, the art of fresco, and techniques and tricks, including detailed instructions for underdrawing, underpainting and overpainting in egg tempera. Cennini also provides an early, if somewhat crude, discussion of painting in oils. His discussion of oil painting was important for dispelling the myth, propagated by Giorgio Vasari and Karel Van Mander, that oil painting was invented by Jan van Eyck (although Theophilus (Roger of Helmerhausen) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Divers Arts, written in 1125)" (Wikipedia article on Cennino Cennini, accessed 01-26-2012).

Cennini's handbook includes a description of methods used by Europeans for textile printing.  The work was first published in print in Italian by Tambroni (Rome, 1821) from a codex dated July 31, 1437 discovered in the Vatican Library by the Italian cardinal and humanist Angelo Mai. It was first translated into English by Mrs. Merrifield and published (London, 1844) as A Treatise on Painting. . . .containing practical directions for painting in Fresco, Secco, Oil, and Distmper with the art of Gilding and Illuminating Manuscripts adopted by the Old Italian Masters. The first English translation contained an elaborately chromolithographed and gilt frontispiece emulating the design of medieval manuscripts.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Gutenberg Begins Experimentation on Printing 1438 – 1444

Johannes Gutenberg. (View Larger)

In StrasbourgJohannes Gutenberg, a goldsmith, working with partners, produced small cast metal mirrors for the "great Aachen pilgrimage." As many as 100,000 of these mirrors were cast from a mixture of lead, tin and antimony—the three basic ingredients that Gutenberg later used in the casting of metal type. The Aachen pilgrimage of 1439-40 was postponed because of an outbreak of plague.

Much of what is known about Gutenberg comes from the collection of 28 legal documents from a court case that mention him by name. These records were transcribed verbatim before the originals were destroyed in a fire in Strasbourg in 1870. The documents were first published in Festschrift zum fünfhundertjährigen geburtstage von Johann Gutenberg, im auftrage der stadt Mainz, 1900. A revision and amplification of two of the texts was published in Gutenbergfestschrift zur feier des 25jährigen bestehens des Gutenbergmuseums in Mainz, 1925. The documents were translated into English in McMurtrie, The Gutenberg Documents. With translations of the texts into English, based with authority on the compilation by Dr. Karl Schorbach (1941).

From these legal documents American printer and historian of printing Theodore Low De Vinne concluded that Gutenberg's key discovery was the invention of the type mold.

"De Vinne's unique contribution to the history of printing was his analysis of what was meant by the 'invention of printing,' printing the Western sense. He concluded that the European invention of printing consisted not in the use of the press long employed for broadsides and indulgences or in the use of moveable type already in occasional use by the Koreans and Chinese, but in the development of the type mold, which permitted the large-scale production of uniform type. He came to this conclusion by examining transcripts of documents from a 1439 court case iin Strasbourg. The testimony at this trial discussed secrets known only to Gutenberg and his partner, Andrew Dritzehen. After Dritzehen's death, Gutenberg asked individuals to go to the work site and disassemble 'the four pieces' so that others would not perceive its function. De Vinne blieved that the object Gutenberg was protecting—consisting of four parts but forming one object—was a type mold. Therfore, as inventor of the type mold, Gutenberg deserved the distinction of being the inventor of printing, no matter who else had previously worked using other techniques. De Vinne's conclusion gradually gained acceptance, although it was two decades before European scholars embraced it" (Tichenor & Koenig, The Dean of American Printers. Theodore Low de Vinne and the Art Preservative of All Arts [2014] 71).

Lehmann-Haupt, Gutenberg and the Master of the Playing Cards (1966) 58-60.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Lorenzo Valla Proves that the Donation of Constantine is a Forgery 1440

A depiction of the Donation of Constantine in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City, by an artist of Raphael's studio. (View Larger)

Italian priest, humanist, rhetorician and orator Lorenzo Valla circulated in manuscript De falso credita et ementita Constantini Donatione declamatio, proving on historical and linguistic grounds that the Donation of Constantine was a forgery.  Because of church opposition the essay was not formally published in print until 1517. It became popular among Protestants, and an English translation was published for Thomas Cromwell in 1534. Valla's case was so convincingly argued that it still stands today, and the illegitimacy of the Donation of Constantine is generally conceded.

Valla showed that the document could not possibly have been written in the historical era of Constantine I (4th Century), as its vernacular style dated conclusively to a later era (8th Century). One of Valla's reasons was that the document contained the word satrap which he believed Romans such as Constantine I would not have used.

The document, though met with great criticism at its introduction, was accepted as legitimate, in part owing to the beneficial nature of its content for the western church. The Donation of Constantine suggested that Constantine I "donated" the whole of the Western Roman Empire to the Roman Catholic Church as an act of gratitude for having been miraculously cured of leprosy by Pope Sylvester I. This would have obviously discounted Pepin the Short's own Donation of Pepin, which gave the Lombards land to the north of Rome.

"Valla was motivated to reveal the Donation of Constantine as a fraud by his employer of the time, Alfonso of Aragon, who was involved in a territorial conflict with the Papal States, then under Pope Eugene IV. The Donation of Constantine had often been cited to support the temporal power of the Papacy, since at least the 11th century" (Wikipedia article on Lorenzo Valla, accessed 01-17-2009).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

From About 1440 -1470 the Production of Manuscript Books Increased; From 1471 to 1490, with the Increase of Printed Book Production, Manuscript Book Production Declined Circa 1440 – 1475

"In the decade before the invention of typographic printing, and then  concurrently with the earliest years of European typography, the production of handwritten books increased considerably. One cause that has been proposed for this increase is the influence of German monastic reform movements, such as in Austria and south Germany, the Melk Congregation. However real and significant, this reason can provide only a local and partial explanation. The increase in bookmaking also occurred in other regions of Europe, notably Italy. The expansion of Europe's papermaking trade in the later fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth lowered the material cost of books for those who were happy to have them written on paper rather than parchment. Yet there remains some hiatus in the link between evidence and explanation.

"Whether we are to think of it as a cause or an effect, one feature of this increase has already been briefly mentioned: the growing number of less formal, 'self-written' books, of which the writer was also the intended reader. This broad phenomenon is examplifed in small by the Latin-German dictionary known as Vocabularius Ex quo, of which about 250 fifteenth-century manuscript copies have been listed, as well as nearly four dozen fifteenth-century typographic editions. A considerable number of the manuscripts, when complete, contain colophons whose writers record that at the time they were students in Basel, Kaufbeuren, Memmingen, Pforzheim, Stendal, Ulm, and so on. We may reasonably imagine that one of the common tasks of a German school student at a certain level was to transcribe for personal use a copy of Vocabularius Ex quo.

"Our best evidence for an increase in book making in this period comes from explicitly dated manuscripts, which is to say manuscripts whose scribes, for whatever varying reasons among a multiplicity of possibilities, felt the urge on finishing their tasks (or occasionally, on beginning them) to set down the date of the work. Because of the progress in recent decades of the Catalogue of Dated Manuscripts project of the Comité international de paléographie latine, we now possess a significant corpus of explicitly dated manuscripts of the fifteenth century, written in many different regions of Europe. From a global total of about 10,400 dated manuscripts of the fifteenth century, the totals for the successive five-year intervals bracketing and including this second period of fifteenth-century print-and bookmaking are as follows:

1426-30: 361

1431-35: 448

1436-40: 583

1441-45: 589

1446-50: 688

1451-55: 822

1456-60: 949

1461-65: 1001

1466-70: 1035

1471-75: 800

1476-80: 531

1481-85: 389

1486-90: 309

"Insofar as dated manuscripts are representative of fifteenth-century manuscripts overall, it thus appears that the two decades 1451-1470 mark a peak, with production almost two-thirds greater than that of the preceding interval, 1431-1450. In the next half-decade, 1471-75, there is a noticeable decline, and in the half decade after that the decline is very marked, the dated total for 1476-80 being less than that of 1436-1440.

"The striking decline in written book production in the 1470s correlates almost exactly with the strong increase in printed book production. A significant expansion of typographic printing occurred in the years 1469-1471, manifested both by the expansion of places of production—starting in 1469 with the introduction of typography to two cities that became dominant: Nuremberg, and even more preeminently, Venice—and by the increasing pace of production. To judge from physical survivals, both of integral copies and of binding-waste fragments, the surviving output of European printing shops from the early 1450s through 1469 is in the neighborhood of 325-350 editions. In 1470 to 1471, more than 400 new editions were sent to market, and in 1472 and 1473, nearly 800 more editions appeared. The rate of production 1474 and 1475 increased even further. In the crossing lines of book production in the 1470s—the handwritten variety on a descending curve, the typographic variety on an ascending—we have stronger than ordinary evidence for historical cause and effect. As the supply of printed copies of the most-used texts of literate Europe increased—copies for the most part of clear and strongly inked lettering and cheaper than commissioned scribal work—the need to create handwritten copies declined" (Paul Needham, "Prints in the Early Printing Shops," IN: Parshall (ed) The Woodcut in Fifteenth-Century Europe (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2009) 41-42).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Vespasiano da Bisticci, Leading Bookseller of Florence Before the Era of Print 1440

Having begun his career as a cartolaio, a stationer or dealer in paper and parchment, Vespasiano da Bisticci became the leading bookseller in Italy during the decades immediately before the invention of printing, and during the first years of its introduction in Italy. He retired in 1480 supposedly disappointed by the changes in the book trade brought about by printing.

By the 1440s Vespasiano owned a bookshop in Florence patronized by members of Florence's humanist community, through whom he was in contact with local scribes, illuminators and binders. Though he was not particularly well educated and had only a modest knowledge of Latin, he was a very shrewd businessman, and he left valuable memoirs informing us of some of his achievements. These were first published in print as Vite di uomini illustri del secolo xv by Ludovico Frati (Bologna, 1892-93); they were translated by William George and Emily Waters as The Vespasiano Memoirs: Lives of illustrious Men of the XVth century by Vespasiano da Bisticci, Bookseller (1926).

When Federico de Montefelto, Duke of Urbino set about building a library he hired Vespasiano to supply all of its books. Vespasiano's description of its contents is especially interesting for its recitation of the authors and works that the Duke and his advisors felt should be included in his library. As one would expect, after more than five hundred years, some of these remain familiar to scholars; others, of course, have become more or less obscure. I was less familiar with the Renaissance names than the names from antiquity or early Christianity. Out of curiosity I looked up most of the names that were obscure to me in November 2014, and linked to them when a reference was available.

Another element of Vespasiano's comments, written toward the end the quotation below, is his reference to the catalogues of the library of the Pope (then at the Lateran Palace before it was established in 1451 at the Vatican), the library of San Marco (Florence), and those at Pavia and Oxford, which he had obtained in manuscript for comparison with the Urbino library. This is the earliest reference that I recall reading where the holdings of different libraries were compared. It is significant, I think that Vespasiano was aware of, and could obtain the catalogue of the library at Oxford in addition to major libraries in Italy. One wonders whether he was also aware of the much larger library at the University of Paris, and if he could have obtained a catalogue of the holdings there.

The process of creating and collecting Federico's library took fourteen years, especially since Federico resolved  

"to do what no-one had done for a thousand years or more; that is to create the finest library since ancient times. He spared neither cost nor labour, and when he knew of a fine book, whether in Italy or not, he would send for it. It is now fourteen or more years since he began the library, and he always employed, in Urbino, in Florence and in other places, thirty or forty scribes in his service. He took the only way to make a fine library like this: by beginning with the Latin poets, with any comments on the same which might seem merited; next the orators, with the works of Tully [Cicero] and all Latin writers and grammarians of merit. . . . He sought also all the known works on history in Latin, and not only those, but likewise the histories of Greek writers done into Latin, and the orators as well. The Duke also desired to have every work on moral and natural philosophy in Latin, or in Latin translations from Greek.

"As to the sacred Doctors in Latin, he had the works of all four. . . .After the four Doctors, he was set on having the works of S. Bernard and of all the Doctors of old, without exception, Tertullian, Hilarius, Remigius, Hugh de S. Victor, Isidore, Anselm, Rabanus and all the rest. After Latin works came Greek writings done into Latin, Dionysius the Areopagite, Basil, Cyril, Gregory Nazianzen, John of Damascus, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nicea, all the works of Eusebius, of Ephreme the monk, and of Origen. . . . Coming to the Latin Doctors in philosophy and theology, all the works of Thomas Aquinas, and of Albertus Magnus; of Alexander ab Alexandro, of Scotus, of Bonaventura, of Richard of Mediavilla [Richard of Middleton], of the Archbishop of Antoninus and of all the recognised modern Doctors, down to the Conformità of S. Francis; all the works on civil law in the finest text, the lectures of Bartolo written on goat-skin. He had an edition of the Bible made in two most beautiful volumes, illustrated in the finest possible manner and bound in gold brocade with rich silver fittings. It was given this rich form as the chief of all writings. With it are all the commentaries of the Master of the Sentences, of Nicolao di Lira, and of all the Greek and Latin Doctors, together with the literal glossary of Nicolao di Lira. Likewise all the writers on astrology, geometry, arithmetic, architecture and De re Militari; books on painting sculpture, music and canon law, and all of the texts and lectures on the Summa of Ostiensis and other works in the same faculty. In medicine all lthe works of Avicenna, Hippocrates, Galen, the Continenti of Almansor and the complete volume of all the Councils, held since ancient times, and the logical, philosophical and muscial works of Boethius.

"There were all lthe works of modern writers beginning with Pope Pius; of Petrarch and Dante in Latin and in the vulgar tongue, of Boccaccio in Latin; of Coluccio and of Lionardo d'Arezzo, original and translations; of Fra Ambroglio, of Giannozzo Manetti and Guerino; the prose and poetical works of Panormita, and Francesco Filelfo, and Compano; as well as everything written by Perrotto, Maffeo Vegio, Nicolo Secondino (who was interpreter of Greek and Latin at the Council of the Greeks in Florence), Pontano, Bartholomeo Fazi, Gasparino, Petro Paolo Vergerio, Giovanni Argiropolo (which includes the Philosophy and Logic of Aristotle and the Politics besides), Francesco Barbaro, Lionardo Giustiniano, Donato Acciaiuoli, Alamanno, Rinuccini, Cristofano da Prato, Vecchio, Poggio, Giovanni Tortello, Francesco d'Arezzo and Lorenzo Valla.

"He added to the books written by ancient and modern doctors on all the faculties all the books known in Greek, also the complete works of Aristotle and Plato (written on the finest goat-skin); of Homer in one volume, the Ilia, the Odyssey, and the Batrachomiomachia; of Sophocles, Pindar and Menander, and all the other Greek poets; a fine volume of Plutarch's lives and his moral works, the Cosmography of Ptolemy illustrated in Greek, and the writings of Herodotus, Pausanius, Thucydides, Polybius, Demosthenes, Aeschines and Plotinus. All the Greek comments, such as those upon Aristotle, the Physica de Plantis and Theophrastus; all the Greek vocabulists—Greek into Latin; the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Xenophon, S. Basil, S. John Chrystotom, S.Athanasius, S. John Damascenas, S. Gregory Nazianzen, S. Gregory of Nicea, Origen, Dionysius the Areopagite, John Climacus, S. Ephrem the monk, Aeneas the Sophist, the Collations of John Cassanus, the book of Paradis, Vitae sanctorum patrum ex Aegypto, the Life of Barlaam and Josephat, a wonderful psalter in Hebrew, Greek and Latin, verse by verse, and all the Greek works on geometry, arithmetic, and astrology. Finding that he lacked a vast number of Greek books by various writers, he sent to seek them so that nothing in that tongue which could be found should be lacking; also whatever books were to be had in Hebrew, beginning with the Bible and all those dealt with by the Rabbi Moses and other commentators. And besides the Holy Scriptures, there are books in Hebrew on medicine, philosophy and the other faculties.

"The Duke, having completed this noble work at the cost of thirty thousand ducats, beside the many other excellent provisions that he made, determined to give every writer a worthy finish by binding his work in scarlet and silver. Beginning with the Bible, as the chief, he had it covered iwth gold brocade, and then he bound in scarlet and silver the Greek and Latin doctors and philosophers, the histories, the books on medicine and the modern doctors, a rich and magnificent sight. In this library all the books are superlatively good, and written with the pen, and had there been one printed volume it would have been ashamed in such company [emphasis mine]. They were beautifully illuminated and written on parchment. This library is remarkable amongst all others in that, taking the works of all writers, sacred and profane, original and translated, there will be found not a single imperfect folio. No other library can show the like, for in all of them the works of certain authors will be wanting in places. A short time before the Duke went to Ferrara it chanced that I was in Urbino with His Lordship, and I had with me the catalogues of the principal Italian libraries: of the papal library, of those of S. Marco at Florence, of Pavia, and even of that of the University of Oxford, which I had procured from England. On comparing them with that of the Duke I remarked how they all failed in one respect; to wit, they possessed the same work in many examples, but lacked the other writings of the author; nor had they writers in all the faculties like this library" (George & Waters, 102-105). 

Vespasiano was responsible for supplying over half of the thousand volumes in the library of the Duke of Urbino. He also performed the same service for Cosimo de' Medici. For that project Vespasiano engaged fifty-five scribes and illuminators who completed two hundred superb manuscripts in under two years. 

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Card Printing in Venice Has Outside Competition 1441

Eighteen cards from a pack of an early form of north Italian playing cards, with the swords back-to-back and curved outwards. Believed to be Venetian, dated 1462.

An edict of the Council of Venice indicated that the card printing industry in this city was being interfered with by outside competition.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

"The Imitation of Christ" 1441 – 1473

In 1441 Thomas à Kempis (Thomas van Kempen or Thomas Hemerken or Haemerken), a monk of the Augustinian Canons at Mount St. Agnes, near Zwolle, Holland, wrote Imitatio Christi. This work was

"the classic expression of the Devotio Moderna, or 'modern devotion,' a movement that responded to the widespread need for deepened spiritual life in the years before the Reformation. The ideals of the Devotio Moderna grew out of the Windesheim Congregation, a religious community of Augustinian Canons established in the Netherlands in 1387. This congregation admitted groups of devout laymen, known as the 'Brethren of the Common Life,' who were followers of Geert Groote of Deventer (1340-1384). While the canons lived a reformed monastic life according to the Rule of St. Augustine, the brothers and sisters of the Common Life lived by an informal code of Christian self-discipline that relentlessly promoted personal devotion, simplicity, and humility, ideals that are expressed fervently in the Imitatio Christi" (http://www.smu.edu/Bridwell/Collections/SpecialCollectionsandArchives/Exhibitions/ImitatioChristi/1473, accessed 06-09-2012).

Imitatio Christi was widely copied during the Middle Ages, and approximately 400 manuscripts of the text survived, including, remarkably, Thomas's autograph manuscript dated 1441, which is preserved in the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels.

The work was first published in print in Augsburg by Günther Zainer, [before 5 June 1473.] ISTC No. ii00004000. In June 2012 a facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the website of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München, at this link:


One of the most widely published of all texts, Imitatio Christi was, in later centuries, translated into hundreds of languages and published in more than 10,000 editions.


View Map + Bookmark Entry

Origins of the Three-Period Framework of History: Ancient, Middle Ages, and Modern Circa 1442

In 1442 the three-period framework of history— Ancient, Middle Ages, and Modern— was pioneered by humanist historian Leonardo Bruni (Leonardo Aretino, Leonardus Brunus Aretinus) of Florence in his Historiae Florentini populi. Roughly simultaneously with Bruni, humanist historian Flavio Biondo (Flavius Blondus) of Rome published Historiarum ab inclinatione romanorum imperii —a history of Europe using the same three-period framework.

"Bruni's most notable work is History of the Florentine People, which has been called the first modern history book. Bruni was the first historian to write using the three-period view of history: Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Modern. The dates Bruni used to define the periods are not exactly what modern historians use today, but he laid the conceptual groundwork for a tripartite division of history. While it probably was not Bruni's intention to secularize history, the three period view of history is unquestionably secular and for that Bruni has been called the first modern historian. The foundation of Bruni's conception can be found with Petrarch, who distinguished the classical period from later cultural decline, or tenebrae (literally "darkness"). Bruni argued that Italy had revived in recent centuries and could therefore be described as entering a new age" (Wikipedia article on Leonardo Bruni, accessed 01-31-2013).

Bruni's Historiae florentini was first published in print by Jacobus Rubeus of Venice on February 12, 1476 in the Italian translation by Donatus Acciaiolus. ISTC No. ib01247000.  In January 2013 a digital facsimile of this edition was available from Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

Between 1439 and 1453 Flavio Biondo published Historiarum ab inclinatione Romanorum imperii (Decades of History from the Deterioration of the Roman Empire), a history of Europe in thirty-two books, from the plunder of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, to contemporary Italy.

"As a historian he [Biondo] was the first to devise a general history of Italy, showing a continuity since the fifth century, and to conceive a 'media aetas' standing between Antiquity and his own times" (Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 66).

Like Bruni, Biondo used a three-period framework building up to the revival of Italy in his own time, breaking free of medieval constraints.

"The Decades embodies a model of historical writing recently established by Leonardo Bruni, notably in his Florentine History. Although Bruni was writing as offical historiographer of the city of Florence, his new concept of historiography can be characterized as more objective as it involved the exercise of critical judgment upon a variety of sources. Unlike Bruni, whose history of Florence involved a highly national view but one which is Florentine, not Italian, Biondo expanded the frame of reference and took in his Decades a national view of Italy. Whereas Bruni believed that decline started with the end of the Republic, Biondo originated the treatment of the medieval period as a historical epoch, and we still use his term. He developed the concept that decline began at the end of the Roman Empire. In Historiarum Decades Biondo intended to continue Italian history from the point 410 A.D., at which earlier writers had stopped. The scope of his history was the fall of empire and the ensuing disasters, as well as the origins and vicissitudes of modern peoples (partciuarly in Italy) down to his own time (1441). His history demonstrated as well the emerging awareness of modern Italy as distinct from its ancient past, as the Plinian sense of Italy as a geographical entity gives way to an utlimately political sense of Italian identity." (Catherine J. Castner, Biondo Flavio's Italia Illustrata. Text, Translation and Commentary, Vol.1: Northern Italy [2005] xxiii).

Biondo's work was first published in print by Octavianus Scotus of Venice, with additions by Johannes Antonius Campanus, on July 16, 1483. ISTC No. ib00698000.  A second edition with the additions of Pius II: Abbreviatio supra Decades Blondi was issued also in Venice by Thomas de Blavis, de Alexandria, 28 June 1484. (ISTC No. ib00699000). In January 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1484 edition was available from the University of Koelhn at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Theoretical Work on Architecture Written During the Italian Renaissance 1443 – 1452

Between 1443 and 1452 Italian author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher, cryptographer, and general Renaissance humanist polymath, Leon Battista Alberti wrote De re aedificatoria. This was the first theoretical work on architecture written during the Italian Renaissance.

When De re aeficatoria first appeared in print in Florence at the press of Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus on December 29, 1485 it was the first printed book on architecture. It was followed in 1486-87 by the first printed edition of Vitruvius.  The first printed edition of Alberti's work was edited by Alberti's brother, Bernardus. It also contained Politianus, Epistola ad Laurentium Medicem, and Baptista Siculus, Carmen ad lectorem. ISTC no.  ia00215000. MS Laurentiana 89 sup. 113 was used (among others) as printer's copy; Leon Battista Alberti. La biblioteca di un umanista' [catalogue of an exhibition at the BML Firenze], Firenze [2005] no. 54.

No illustrated edition of De re aedificatoria appeared until 1550 when the translation into Italian by Italian diplomat, mathematician, philologist, and humanist Cosimo Bartoli was published in Florence by the Dutch-Italian humanist, typographer and printer Lorenzo Torrentino.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 28.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First "Public" Library in Renaissance Europe 1444

The library at the Dominican Convent of San Marco, designed by Michelozzo. (View Larger)

Foundation of the library at the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence by Cosimo de' Medici, designed by Michelozzo.

This has often been considered the first "public library" in Renaissance Europe.

"The ideal of a public library was one treasured by humanists and their patrons. Yet the term public library meant something very different to Renaissance scholars than it does today. It did not designate a library open to all comers. First and oldest of the available meanings of the term public library was that of a common library. Many libraries and colleges of the late medieval period had public libraries in this sense, usually meaning a collection for the collective use of the institutional community. Second was the notion of a library that served the public utility or was used for the public benefit, largely in a political sense; an archive, for example, or a library meant to support the jurisdictional and diplomatic activities of the ecclesiastical or secular political body it served. Third, a library might be in a public building or within the public space of a house or palace.

"Perhaps the best early expression of the modern concept of the public library is to be found in the establishment of the San Marco library, the first public library at Florence. The foundation of the library was Niccoli's collection. Niccoli's intentions were for his library to be brought 'to the common good, to the public service, to a place open to all, so that all eager for education might be able to harvest from it as from a fertile field the rich fruit of learning.' Eventually, the executors of Niccoli's estate permitted Cosimo de' Medici to place the books in the library of the Dominican convent of San Marco, which Cosimo was then on the verge of constructing. The library opened in 1444 and was the first public library in Florence, containing 400 volumes laid out across 64 benches. The San Marco library embodied three different Renaissance concepts of a public library: It was the common library of the Dominican convent in which it was housed, a collection made available to a circle of humanist investigators, and an institution supported by the public patronage of an eminent ruler" (P. Nelles, "Renaissance Libraries", Stam, (ed.) International Dictionary of Library History [2001] 151).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

Flavio Biondo Writes the First Guidebook to the Ruins of Ancient Rome, Launching the New Archaeology of the Renaissance 1444 – 1471

Between 1444 and 1446 humanist and historian Flavio Biondo (Flavius Blondus) of Rome wrote and published Roma instaurata, the first systematic and well documented guide book to the ruins of ancient Rome, or any other ancient ruins, launchingh the new archaeology of the Renaissance. 

". . . Roma instaurata launched a new archaeology. No one before Biondo had attempted so comprehensive and through a survey of ancient Rome nor tried to explain so much nor did it so acutely. Digressions are by no means rare in Biondo's treatise and some of them are really short dissertations on some antiquarian point. His section on the 'Velabrum', for instance, strives to explain this rather obscure name. This he starts to do by rejecting the medieval  corruption 'velum aureum', whence he passes on to examine and discuss the evidence offered by Varro, Ovid, Livy, Tacitus and the inscriptions still left in the locality. The whereabouts of the 'Aerarium' gave him an excuse for a historical dissertation on Roman coinage, mainly drawn from the Elder Pliny. Naturally enough Biondo relied constantly upon the ancient writers, but this did not mean that he accepted them invariably as infallible witnesses. Thus when faced with a statement of Cassiodorus that Pompey had been the first builder of theatres in Rome, he set against it one of Pliny, sayiing that the first had been Marcus Scaurus, while against another remark of Cassiodorus, attributing to the Emperor Titus the building of the first amphitheatre in Rome, he set a passage of Tacitus, showing that this was not so.

"Altogether, with the Roma instaurata, it was now possible to have a reasonable idea of ancient Rome, not only from a topographical standpoint, but also as far as its growth and the functions of its buildings were concerned. Here, in this work, the historian reveals himself side by side with the archaeologist, the student of ancient institutions with the humanist who has the classics at his fingertips, though without the help of the Teubner series and Pauly-Wissowa's encyclopaedia" (Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 69-70).

Roma instaurata was first published in print with additions by Franciscus Barbarus, Porcellius, and Petrus Oddus Montopolitanus, and De Romana locutione in Rome by the "Printer of Statius," before 26 July 1471. The city in which it was printed, the unidentified printer, and the date of the first edition were all inferred by bibliographers. The edition is printed in Roman type that appears in only one other known book, an undated edition of Statius, Thebais et Achilleis. The date is based on a purchase note in the Bibliothèque nationale de France copy dated August 6, 1471, and a contemporary marginal note in the Cambridge copy stating that Pope Paul II was currently reigning (making the date prior to the Pope's death on July 26.

ISTC No. ib00701000. In January 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link. The second edition was published in Verona by Boninus de Boninis, de Ragusia, 1481-82.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Yates Thompson MS 36 of Dante's Divine Comedy 1444 – 1450

One of the very greatest of the illuminated manuscripts of Dante's Divina Commedia is Yates Thompson MS 36, preserved in the British Library. In 1993 John Pope-Hennessy proposed a date for the manuscript of between 1444 and 1450, partly depending on the representations of the dome and cupola of Florence Cathedral, which was under construction during these years. This manuscript, which originated in Tuscany, has a very interesting provenance:

"Alfonso V, king of Aragon, Naples and Sicily (reigned 1416 to 1458): his arms (f. 1r). Ferdinand (Fernando de Aragón), Duke of Calabria (b. 1488, d. 1550): his donation to the convent of San Miguel, Valencia in 1538. The monastery of San Miguel de los Reyes, Valencia, 1613: inscribed 'Ex commissione dominorum Inquisitorum Valentie vidi et expurgavi secundum expurgatorium novum Madriti 1612. et subscripsi die. 14. Septembris 1613. ego frater Antonius Oller' (f. 190v). Bought by Henry Yates Thompson from Señor Luis Mayans, Madrid, May 1901. Henry Yates Thompson (b. 1838, d. 1928), collector of illuminated manuscripts and newspaper proprietor: with his book-plate inscribed '[MS] CV / £blee.e.e [i.e. £1900.0.0] / [bought from] Harris / Madrid / May 29 / 1901' (inside upper cover). Bequeathed to the British Museum in 1941 by Mrs Yates Thompson."

In March 2014 a digital facsimile of Yates Thompson MS 36 was available from the British Library at this link.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First European Civic Library; The Only Completely Preserved 15th Century Library 1447 – 1452

The entrance to the Biblioteca Malatestiana. (View Larger)

The Biblioteca Malatestiana (Biblioteca Malatesta Novello) was commissioned by Malatesta Novello, Lord of Cesena and brother of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, in Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy. The library which Novello founded was the first European civic library, belonging to the commune, and open to everyone. 

The Malatestiana Library, which I visited in September 2010, is the only monastic humanist library of which the structure, fittings and original collection of codices in their original bindings chained to the original desks, have survived almost completely intact. The main doorway was the work of the early Italian Renaissance sculptor Agostino di Duccio. The splendid walnut door carved by Cristoforo da San Giovanni in Persiceto was installed in 1454.

"The fittings are composed of 58 desks, with coat of arms at the sides. The light comes in through the 44 Venetian style windows, which were perfectly designed for reading. Inside are conserved 340 precious codexes. The 340 books concern: religion (among them, the oldest codex, an Etimologie by St Isidoro), Greek and Latin classics, sciences and medicine" (Wikipedia article on Malatestiana Library, accessed 10-30-2010).

To equip his library Malatesta Novello commissioned certain scribes to produce copies of many of the standard classics. These scribes included Jean-Epinal, Jacopo della Pergola, Brother Francesco di Bartholomeo, and Mathias Kuler. After Malatesta's death the library remained static--fixed in time.

The survival of the original library and its fixtures was probably due to the way that Malatesta Novello entrusted its care to both the Franciscans and the city of Cesena. The Franciscans originally had the idea for the library and received permission from Pope Eugene IV in 1445, and began construction in 1447. In 1450 Malatesta Novello adopted the friars' project and constructed his own library in their monastery. The inspiration for the architecture was the library of the Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence, designed by Michelozzo, which had been founded in 1444.

From 1797 to 1804 the Franciscan monastery associated with the library was used as a dormitory for Napoleonic troops occupying the city, and the library itself was stripped of its furnishings and also used as a dormitory. After Napoleon's forces left the library was restored to its original medieval condition and regained its original collections, less two incunabula which were kept by the French: the Ortographia dictionum of Tortelli and Cosmographia of Ptolemy.

Among the many distinguishing characteristics of the decoration of this library are the numerous inscriptions created at the time of its completion stating in Latin that the library was the gift of Malatesto Novello. On 1812 the remains of Malatesta Novello were moved from the church of St. Francis, already in poor condition and destined to destruction, to the middle of the back wall of the library, accompanied by this marble epigraph:

"D (IS) M (ANIBUS) S (ACRUM) / principum / Malatesta (UM) / SENIORIS NOVELLIQUE / CINERES Quosa DOMI / ET Foris / Clarissa (IMA) VIRTUS / CAEL DICAVIT."  

Clark, The Care of Books (1902) 193-98.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Concordance of the Hebrew Bible 1448

In 1448 French Jewish philosopher and controversialist of Arles and perhaps Avignon Isaac Nathan ben Kalonymus published Meïr Netib, a concordance to the Hebrew Bible on which he worked from 1437 to 1447, with a philosophico-exegetical introduction, Petiḥat Meïr Netib.

"The Meïr Netib was the first Bible concordance in Hebrew, and was distinguished from the similar Latin work of Arlotus of Prato in that its vocabulary was arranged in the order of the roots. In the introduction the author says that his work aimed to facilitate the study of Biblical exegesis and to prevent Jewish converts to Christianity from making, in their religious controversies, incorrect quotations from the Bible, as was often the case with Geronimo de Santa Fé. The 'Meïr Netib,' with its complete introduction, was first published at Venice (erroneously under the name of Mordecai Nathan) in 1523; in 1556 it was published at Basel by Buxtorf, but with only a part of the introduction" (Wikipedia article on Issac Nathan ben Kalonymus, accessed 05-09-2012).

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First Historical Geography 1448 – 1458

Between 1448 and 1458 Italian humanist, historian and proto-archaeologist Flavio Biondo (Flavius Blondus) of Rome published Italia illustrata. Based on Biondo's personal travels through eighteen Italian provinces, this was the first historical geography.

"Unlike medieval geographers, whose focus was regional, Biondo, taking Strabo for his model, reinstated the idea of Italy to include the whole of the peninsula. Through topography, he intended to link Antiquity with modern times, with descriptions of each location, the etymology of its toponym and its changes through time, with a synopsis of important events connected with each location. This first historical geography starts with the Roman Republic and Empire, through 400 years of barbarian invasions and an analysis of Charlemagne and later Holy Roman Emperors. He gives an excellent description of the humanist revival and restoration of the classics during the first half of the fifteenth century." (Wikipedia article on Flavio Biondo, accessed 02-02-2013).

Italia illustrata was edited by Gaspar Blondus and first published in print by Johannes Philippus de Lignamine of Rome "[not before 10] December 1474." ISTC No. ib00700000.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The First English Patent for an Invention 1449

Henry VI. (View Larger)

Henry VI of England granted the earliest known English patent for invention to Flemish-born John of Utynam through an open letter marked with the King's Great Seal called a Letter Patent.

The patent gave John a 20-year monopoly for a method of making stained glass that had not previously been known in England,  for creating the stained glass windows of Eton College.

Though English patent system is the world's oldest continuously operating system of patents, the first English patent was not the oldest patent, as Venice was granting patents to glass makers in the 1420s.

View Map + Bookmark Entry

The Most Extensively Portrayed Late Medieval Scribe and Author Circa 1449 – 1472

Detail of painting showing presentation by Jean Miélot to "Philip the Good," Duke of Burgundy, of his translation of the Traité sur l'oraison dominicale. Miniature by Jean le Tavernier, 1454-7, Brussels.  Please click to see entire image.

Detail of grisaille style painting of Jean Miélot writing in his scriptorium. Please click to see entire image.

Detail from a fine portrait of Miélot, by an unknown miniaturist.  Please click to view entire image.

During his employment from 1449 to 1467 as secretary to Philip the GoodDuke of Burgundy, the Burgundian author, translator, manuscript illuminator, scribe and priest Jean Miélot (Miéllot) was primarily engaged in the production of deluxe illuminated manuscripts for Philip's library. Miélot translated many works, both religious and secular, from Latin or Italian into French, and wrote or compiled books himself; he also composed verse. Between his own writings and his translations Miélot produced some twenty-two works while working for Philip, the leading bibliophile in Northern Europe at the time. In the years after his death in 1472 many of Miélot's works appeared in print, influencing the development of French prose style. 

While Miélot usually personally wrote out Philip's copies of his various writings, and was responsible for creating a "minute" or dummy of the planned book showing the subject and location of the various miniatures and illuminated letters, Miélot would not have had the time to produce the miniatures for so many manuscripts, and it is likely that he was influential in allocating commissions to various miniaturists who created the manuscript illuminations. Because the miniaturists were indebted to him for the work, and because of the Burgundian fashion at the time for presentation miniatures, in which the author is shown presenting the book to the duke or other patron, an unusually large number of portraits of Miélot as author and scribe appear in the ducal copies of Miélot's works. 

"Philip the Good was the leading bibliophile of Northern Europe, and employed a number of scribes, copyists and artists, with Miélot holding a leading position among the former groups.... His translations were first produced in draft form, called a 'minute', with sketches of the images and illuminated letters. If this was approved by the Duke, after being examined and read aloud at court, then the final de luxe manuscript for the Duke's library would be produced on fine vellum, and with the sketches worked up by specialist artists. Miélot's minute for his Le Miroir de l'Humaine Salvation survives in the Bibliothèque Royale Albert I in Brussels, which includes two self-portraits of him richly dressed as a layman. The presentation portrait to La controverse de noblesse, a year later, shows him with a clerical tonsure. His illustrations are well composed, but not executed up to the standard of manuscripts for the court. His text, on the other hand, is usually in a very fine Burgundian bastarda blackletter script, and paleographers can recognise his hand" (Wikipedia article on Jean Miélot, accessed 11-04-2013). 

In Miélot's translation of the Traité sur l'oraison dominicale produced for Philip between 1454 and 1457, and preserved in the Bibliothèque Royale, Brussels (Ms. 9082 fol. 1r) there is a miniature by the Flemish painter Jean Le Tavernier showing Miélot presenting the manuscript to Philip. An excellent reproduction of this appears in Wilson & Wilson, A Medieval Mirror (1984) p. 49. About 1456. Miélot completed his manuscript compilation of the Miracles de Notre Dame for Philip. In this manuscript, preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Flemish artist Jean Le Tavernier, an expert in the grisaille technique of manuscript illumination, included a splendid grisaille portrait of Jean Miélot writing in his scriptorium, probably in the ducal library. The portrait, which appears on folio 19r, includes very detailed renderings of the room's furnishings, and the writer's materials, equipment, and activity. Still another fine portrait of Miélot, by an unknown miniaturist, appears in Brussels Royal Library, MS 9278, fol. 10r.

View Map + Bookmark Entry