A Typographical Monument

Aurelius Augustinus (354-430).

De Civitate Dei. Rome, Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz, in the house of Petrus de Maximo, 1468.

Aurelius Augustinus (354-430) De Civitate Dei. Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz, in the house of Petrus de Maximo, 1468.

Folio (400x280 mm). Collation: *8, **8, a-m10, n12, 710, cum8, rum8. 273 of [274] leaves, lacking the last blank. Complete with the other blank leaves, fols. *1, **8, and rum7. Text in one column, 46 lines. Type: 115R. Fine illuminated white vinestem border on fol. a1r, including two large initials 'I' and 'G' illuminated in gold, and in lower panel the arms of Cardinal Niccolò Fieschi, with the manuscript inscription 'nic. car. de flisco.'. Twenty-one illuminated initials in gold on white vinestem panels; capital letters touched with red in text, and with yellow in the Tabula. In the first half of the volume the numbers and headings of the chapters have been supplied in contemporary script, in the second half the numbers only have been written in the upper margins. Nineteenth-century English vellum over pasteboards; covers within double border of gilt fillets, with yapp edges. Spine richly gilt tooled, title in gilt on hazel morocco lettering-piece. Vellum pastedowns and flyleaves. A large and fine copy.

Provenance: Cardinal Niccolò Fieschi (1456-1524; coat of arms and ownership inscription on the recto of fol. a1, 'nic. car. de flisco'); from the library of the St. Wenceslas cathedral in Olomouc, North Moravia (ownership inscription on the recto of the first leaf); the British publisher John Murray III (1808-1892), from the London booksellers Frederick Startridge Ellis & David White in 1882 (their letter offering the book to Murray is inserted); Murray's sale at Sotheby's London, Catalogue of Valuable Printed Books Autograph Letters, Literary and Musical Manuscripts comprising... a finely illuminated Copy of St. Augustine, De Civitate Dei, Sweynheym and Pannartz, 1468, London 1963; sold to John Francis Fleming (1910-1987); the collector and bookseller Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach (1876-1952).

Remarkable wide-margined and illuminated copy of the rare second edition of De Civitate Dei – the first printed in Rome –, one of the most influential works of Western thought, completed by the bishop Augustine of Hippo in the year 426.

The book was printed by the German clerics Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz, who had worked for Johann Gutenberg in Mainz and had introduced printing to Italy in 1465 through their first press at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, some forty miles east of Rome.

The first edition of the treatise appeared on 12 June 1467 in Subiaco by the two proto-typographers, who in the same year moved to Rome at the behest of Cardinal Bessarion and the bishop of Aleria and papal secretary Giovanni Andrea Bussi. The De Civitate Dei is one of their first printed books, issued from the new press in Rome – 'In domo Petri de Maximo', as stated in the colophon – established in the house of Pietro de' Massimi near Piazza Navona. In Rome, Sweynheym and Pannartz published a long list of classics and Church Fathers, handsome folio editions with a print run of 250-300 copies. Fifty-one editions, including a third edition of the De Civitate Dei in 1470, are recorded from this Roman press, which remained active until 1473. The volumes are set in a new roman type, replacing the gothic font used by the German printers in Subiaco.

The exquisite white vinestem decoration in the present copy is in a style often seen in manuscripts and incunabula produced in Rome in the late 1460s, and would thus appear to have been executed by a Roman artist, possibly working in the same atelier that often collaborated with Sweynheym and Pannartz. As shown by the coat of arms painted on the opening leaf of text, the earliest recorded owner of this volume was Niccolò Fieschi (1456-1524), who came from a prominent Genoese family. He was appointed Cardinal by Pope Alexander VI in 1503, and died as Archbishop of Ravenna in 1524. In 1882, the volume was bought by the renowned British publisher John Murray.

A letter from the London bookseller Ellis to Murray, dated 20 January 1882, is inserted in the volume:

Dear Sir
As you said some time ago that you would like to secure from time to time fine specimens of Early Typography I send a volume for your inspection. It is a magnificent specimen of the Early Roman press being the 4th book printed in that city by Sweynheym & Pannartz the introducers of printing there. By the Arms on the 15th leaf you will see that it belonged to Cardinal de Flisco, who was Cardinal during the Pontificate of Paul II.
Subsequently it belonged to the Cathedral of Olmutz in Bohemia, whence it was lately purchased. The illumination of the first page & the initial letter of each book will I think commend themselves to you as extremely beautiful examples of Italian design. At the Sunderland sale a very inferior copy sold for £ 101 - & is since priced by Quaritch at £ 150 – and some years since the late M.r Huth gave for a copy in fine old binding no less than £ 400. You can give this volume for £ 80. [...] P.S. I have ascertained that not only is it perfect, but it contains two more leaves than Brunet describes and one more than mentioned in Hain's Repertorium, besides the two original blank leaves.

HC 2047; GW 2875; BMC IV, 5; IGI 967; Goff A-1231; M. Palumbo - E. Sidoli (eds.), The Books that Made Europe, Bruxelles 2106, pp. 24 25; M. Miglio - C. Frova, “Dal ms Sublacense all'editio princeps del De Civitate Dei di sant'Agostino (Hain 2046)”, C. Bianca, P. Farenga et al. (eds.), Scritture, biblioteche e stampa a Roma nel Quattrocento. Aspetti e problemi. Atti del Seminario 1-2 giugno 1979, Città del Vaticano 1980, pp. 245-273; E. Hall, Sweynheim & Pannartz and the Origins of Printing in Italy, German Technology and Italian Humanism, McMinnville, OR 1991; P. Farenga, “Le vie della stampa: da Subiaco a Roma”, Subiaco, la culla della stampa. Atti dei Convegni Abbazia di Santa Scolastica, 2006-2007, Roma 2010, pp. 39-52; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 9.

$ 240.000