Teaching with Italian Incunabula

Low survival rates render incunabula among any library’s treasures, and indeed Senate House Library included five incunabula in its recent treasures volume. But use is typically low. Using Senate House incunabula to teach students on UCL’s Italian Studies M.A., Dott. Laura Nuvoloni, Incunabula Cataloguer at Cambridge University Library, noted:

These books have been instrumental to illustrate topics relating to the history and the production of printed books in fifteenth-century Italy.  By comparing incunables with manuscripts of similar texts, I was able to pinpoint  the obvious differences, and also highlight the numerous similarities between fifteenth-century manuscripts and printed

Incunabula 99

Incunabula 99

books, such as the different choice of script adopted for Vergerius’s treatise De ingenuis moribus ac liberalibus studiis by the scribe of the humanistic manuscript (MS288) and by the printer of the Milanese edition (Incunabula 11), or the contiguity between the tables and the illustrations in two books that at first sight could not look more different: the edition of Luca Pacioli, Somma di arithmetica, geometria, proporzioni e proporzionalità, elegantly produced in Venice by Paganinus de Paganinis and dated 10-20 November 14[9]4 (Incunabula 99), and MS594, a humble manuscript mathematical notebook in mercantesca cursive hand datable to around 1509. 

I also discussed the costs involved in the printing process and the contemporary

Incunabula 66

Incunabula 66

commercial value of books.  On this respect, the library copy of the 1484 Flavius Blondus offered the tangible evidence of a folio volume made up of 186 paper sheets with a commercial value of about 4 Venetian lire, as we know for a fact that an exemplar of this edition was sold by the Venetian bookseller Francesco de Madiis for 4 lire and 10 soldi on 1 June 1484 (information supplied by Cristina Dondi).  Contemporary penwork initials probably did not add much to the cost of the Senate House Library copy (Incunabula 81).  By contrast, bindings provided by booksellers by the request of buyers added considerably to the cost of individual copies.  The late-fifteenth-century binding of brown morocco with blind-tooled decoration of the Senate House Library copy of Nicolaus de Ausmo, Supplementum Summae Pisanellae, printed  in Venice in 1474 by Franciscus Renner and Nicolaus de Frankfordia (Incunabula 66), could well be an example of a Venetian trade binding.


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