A visual record of unidentified coats of arms in Bodleian incunables

From Marie-Eugénie Lecouffe (Enssib / CSB intern)

The importance for a library such as the Bodleian Library of making provenance information more available for its users, with the aim of helping provenance research, was already mentioned on this blog in a previous post. Indeed supplying images of provenance evidence was described as the easiest way to allow comparison between several unidentified monograms or coats of arms, for example. Displaying the pictures on Flickr was also presented as one simple possibility for sharing them, organizing them in sets and receiving corrections and comments from any person interested in provenance research.

A family or institutional coat of arms is a very good example of provenance evidence that might be helpfully identified by a picture.  The Provenance Index of the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue registers more than 80 unidentified coats of arms.  For each of them an extended blazoning is provided in the text of the catalogue. But heraldic language is so specific that it could be difficult for non-specialists to imagine what these really look like. Supplying  photos allows visual connections… and perhaps identification!

Now almost all of the unidentified coats of arms registered in the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue (Bod-Inc) have been imaged. A few examples of these pictures are shown in the slideshow below.

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But you’ll find much more on Flickr. Indeed all (or almost all) the pictures of those unidentified coats of arms have been put with their descriptions in the set called “Unidentified coats of arms in Bodleian incunables“. A caption for each picture includes:

  • the location of the coat of arms in the incunable;
  • its blazoning (verbal description), as it is provided in Bodleian Incunable Catalogue;
  • a short notice of the incunable: shelfmark, author, title, publisher details and publication date;
  • the link to the online PDF version of the incunable catalogue with the Bod-Inc number.

Tags have been added as well:

  • Bodleian shelfmark;
  • Bod-Inc number;
  • keywords (“coat of arms”, unidentified and incunables).

There are other types of unidentified provenance evidence noted in the Bodleian Incunable Catalogue which might usefully be imaged and put on Flickr for the same purpose: bookplates, monograms…

Identifications, if any are forthcoming, can be made in comments to this blogpost.

Re-reading the 15th century in digital images

Digitization of a number of inscriptions on Bodleian incunables has captured some of the evidence for the early use and ownership of pre-1500 printed books. Under the direction of Cristina Dondi, who contributed to the catalogue of incunables in the Bodleian Library (published in 2005), several pages and bindings bearing marks of ownership have been photographed and are accessible via the library’s Special Collections Images page, in the collection “Early Printing in Europe”. It’s now possible to share the copy-specific qualities of these books much more widely than before.

Link to images of provenance evidence in Bodleian incunables.

Looking at the high-quality images available via the Luna browser, early books scholar Martin Davies was able to read an inscription in a book, Scriptores rei militaris ed. Philippus Beroaldus, (catalogue reference Bod-inc S-121) that named the earliest owner. He corrected an earlier reading of the person named — not Anthonius Vieris, as Dr Dondi had originally thought, but Anthonius Urceus, or Antonio Urceo (1446-1500), who was himself a humanist author. The inscription is now recorded as: ‘1496. Kl. martijs hos libros emi e[g]o Anthonius Vrceus de Platone librario sol. .xij.’

See the Bodleian Incunable catalogue (Bod-inc) online

Rubrication : articulation, not decoration

‘Rubrication’ can refer to several types of coloured (usually red) elements added to a printed page in order to articulate the text. This practice carried a tradition of handwritten emphasis from the manuscript period into the 15th century and the age of print — but this tradition was later overtaken by typographic innovations.

Dr Margaret M. Smith opened the fifteenth year of the Seminar on the History of the Book, 1450-1830 (convened at All Souls College, Oxford) with a paper presenting observations from her research in progress on ‘Hand rubrication: the mid-fifteenth-century method of textual articulation’.

Was rubrication part of the publication process? Examination of many copies of the same edition suggests that hand rubrication was not done in the printer’s shop and is not uniform across a given edition or text. It was not uncommon, however, for the printer to leave spaces in the printed text for the addition of rubricated elements such as paragraph signs or larger initials at the beginning of major text divisions. Similarly, the existence of printed tables providing the wording for rubricated headings indicates that the printer expected some texts to be rubricated as part of the process of completing the book. The rubrication would have been done by a professional or by a knowledgeable owner.

Dr Smith showed two leaves from 15th-century books bearing five main types of rubrication: large initials, paragraph signs, underlining, initial strokes (single penstrokes that highlight a printed initial), and headlines at the top of a page.

In the page reproduced here (a leaf of Gregory the Great’s Moralia in Job, printed by Kesler in Basel in 1496, part of Book 14, ISTC ig00432000.), large Lombard-style initials mark the beginning of chapters; paragraph signs mark the beginning of extracts from the book of Job (lemmas); underlining highlights chapter numbers, the marginal cue for ‘Tex.’ and some marginal references to other Biblical books; initial strokes mark upper case letters; and the running titles at the top of the page are underlined. In each of these instances the rubrication helps the reader orient themselves in a way that Dr Smith observed is analogous to punctuation.

Dr Smith’s quantitative research suggests that just under 50% of extant incunables received rubrication and that hand rubrication declined from the 1470s to the 1490s. Many of the functions of hand rubrication were taken over by changes in page design and by typographical signals, such as today’s use of italic type to distinguish particulars words in a text.

Finally, cataloguers of antiquarian books were urged to note the presence of hand rubrication in copy notes, to make available the kind of quantitative evidence on which Dr Smith’s work was based. — Julia Walworth

Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job, printed by Kesler in Basel in 1496
Gregory the Great's Moralia in Job, printed by Kesler in Basel in 1496

Fantastic alphabet from the 15th century

I visited the Ashmolean Museum print room today and saw an engraved animated alphabet, by the Master E.S. These are very large letters, and each has a theme; sometimes real but exotic animals (a leopard–a chimpanzee — how did this German fellow see these?) or fantastic animals, or human beings of various occupations and types. It was made about 1460. Apparently no single museum has a complete alphabet, but you could see all the letters if you travel to Oxford, Berlin, and Dresden. The letters are large — too large for a book, which makes you wonder what they were meant for. Also, what was the fascination with letters, such that they provide the theme for a cycle of prints, like the seasons? Anything to do with printing presses?