Humanae Salutis Monumenta (‘HSM’) is a book of poems on Biblical subjects by the Spanish humanist Benito Arias Montano, richly illustrated with engravings. A copy of this work is in the Bodleian Library, at the shelfmark 4o Rawl.209. It bears on its frontispiece the date 1571 and, until recently, was dated as such by the Bodleian catalogue. Without knowing more about the book’s fortune, you wouldn’t think to doubt the date printed in the book. However, as we shall see, all is not what it seems.
HSM is a revolutionary work which fused the popular genres of books of hours, illustrated Bibles and emblem books. Its popularity can be seen in the number of editions it went through. Two early editions were an octavo with lavish borders in 1571, a smaller borderless octavo in 1581. The plates of these early editions are more Northern European in character; some bear strong resemblances to engravings by Dürer, and others contain windmills and typical Northern European houses in their backgrounds.
A quarto edition with new engravings was published in 1583. By contrast with the 1571 and 1581 editions, the larger engravings of the 1583 edition are much more Italianate and monumental. A good example of this phenomenon occurs in the engraving of the Visitation (Tabula XXXVI) where the size of the figures increases and the background changes from one containing houses reminiscent of Dutch landscapes to one of Italianate buildings with columns:
The 1583 edition also seems to be more geared towards a Roman Catholic audience through the religious content of the images. In particular, whereas the plates of the editions from 1571 and 1581 show a preoccupation with fidelity to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, those from the 1583 edition are more faithful to the Vulgate, declared the authoritative translation of the Bible in the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent. This more orthodox Catholic view is particularly clear in the treatment of Moses: for example, the 1571 Tabula II shows him with two rays coming out of his head, whereas the 1583 version shows him with two wisps of hair in the shape of horns, a nod to the Vulgate translation of Exodus 34.29, ‘Moses ignorabat quod facies sua cornuta esset’. (The confusion resulted from the similarity of the Hebrew words qeren, ‘horn’ and qaran, ‘ray’.) The 1583 engraving is also less sympathetic to the Israelites, since in the background it portrays the idolatrous worship of golden calf instead of the neutral tents of earlier editions. What’s more, the Ten Commandments on the tablets held by Moses are written in Latin in the 1583 edition, rather than in Hebrew as in earlier editions.
But hang on. Bodleian 4o Rawl. 209 is, as its shelf-mark suggests, a quarto (4o). And if we turn to the Moses plate, we can see horns on his head. This must be the 1583 edition! But what about the date 1571 which appears on the frontispiece? Well, bibliographers point out that the same frontispiece was used for both the 1571 and 1583 editions. The reason for this may also be religious: Antwerp, where the book was printed, was under Calvinist rule when the 1583 edition was published. This made it risky to print a book written by a prominent Catholic theologian like Montano, and it was safer to give the impression that this was actually an earlier publication rather than a new edition. So, by causing the printer to hide the real date of publication, religious fervour was the culprit of the confusion in the dating of 4o Rawl.209, if the date alone were taken as evidence; but in inspiring the engravers to make some major iconographical changes, it helped us solve the problem.
Maria Czepiel is a DPhil candidate in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages working on Spanish literature, and wrote this blog post as coursework for the MSt Method Option ‘Palaeography, History of the Book and Digital Humanities’ with Henrike Lähnemann. The catalogue record for 4o Rawl. 209 has been updated thanks to her research.