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Regiomontanus, Johannes (1436-1476)

Kalendarium Venice, Bernhard Maler, Peter Loeslein and Erhard Ratdolt, 1476

€ 83.000
The first book with a title-page
Regiomontanus, Johannes (1436-1476). Kalendarium. Venice, Bernhard Maler, Peter Loeslein and Erhard Ratdolt, 1476

4° (270x203 mm). Collation: [18, 210, 314]. [32] leaves. Text in one column, 37 lines. Type: 109R, 50G (for a few words and the letters in the plates). Title-page printed in red and black, within three-sided woodcut border consisting of symmetrical floral and foliate designs, in this copy lavishly illuminated on gold ground. The shield included in the lower panel of the border filled in with a small coat of arms, a standing lion painted in blue; the same coat of arms in larger size and painted on silver ground in the lower margin, within laurel wreath and flanked by two cornucopias. On the same leaf the large initial 'A' printed in red. Fourteen large illuminated initials with acanthus leaves on gold ground. The twenty-four-page Calendar with initials, names of the saints and figures printed in red. Sixty woodcuts depicting the various stages of lunar and solar eclipses (fols. [2]/6-[2]/8; some repeated), many of which are hand coloured in yellow. Four hand-coloured instruments printed on two double sheets glued together: the 'instrvmentvm horarvm inaeqvalivm' (fol. [3]/1r) and the 'instrvmentvm veri motvs lvnae.minve' (fol. [3]/1v) are lacking two moveable volvelles (only a piece of string with a small black pearl and one of silk survive), while both the 'qvadrans horologii horizontalis' (fol. [3]/14r) and the 'qvadratvm horarivm generale' (fol. [3]/14v) include a brass pointer (a portion is missing). Late seventeenth-century calf, over pasteboards. Covers within blind-tooled border. Spine with five small raised bands, with title 'kal 1476' lettered in gilt. A handsome, wide-margined copy. Minor loss at the outer blank corners of the first leaf and at upper outer corner of the opening border; very tiny holes at the margins of first fifteen leaves, partially affecting the opening border and text, decreasing towards the second half of the volume; the gold illumination showing through slightly on the verso. Traces of red wax seals on four leaves, including the verso of the first plate; some fingermarks. The ninth line of text on the title-page bearing the name of the author – “Hoc Ioannes opus Regio de Monte probatum” – has been censored but is still readable. Early inked foliation in the upper margin. A few contemporary marginalia.

Provenance: Blue lion coat of arms, on the recto of the first leaf, possibly relating to the Sforza family; the Alsatian mining entrepreneur Edouard de Turckheim (1829-1909; his rich library was kept at the Turckheim castle in Dachstein, in the Lower Rhine region).

An extraordinary illuminated copy of the Calendar by Regiomontanus, first issued in Latin in 1474 from the Augsburg press of Erhard Ratdolt, who moved to Venice in 1476. It is the first book he printed there, in partnership with Bernhard Maler, also of Augsburg, and Peter Löslein, of Langencen (in Bavaria), and represents – to borrow the words of Gilbert R. Redgrave – a 'marvellous improvement' upon the Kalendarium printed by Regiomontanus himself in Nuremberg in 1473.

This Venetian publication is rightly famous for bearing the earliest known example of an ornamental title-page in the history of printing: even if in verse, it gives date, place and the names of the printers responsible for the publication:

Aureus hic liber est: non est preciosior ulla / Gema kalendario: quod docet istud opus./ [...] Hoc Ioannes opus Regio de Monte probatum / Composuit: tota notus in Italia. / Quod Veneta impressum fuit in tellure per illos / Inferius quorum nomina picta loco. 1476. Bernardus Pictor de Augusta, Petrus Loslein de Langencen, Erhardus Ratdolt de Augusta.

Further, this Venetian Calendar is the first Italian book to feature extensive use of woodcut initials.

Regiomontanus was one of the first to realize the impact printing would have in disseminating scientific knowledge and in 1472 he established his own private press in Nuremberg for the production of the Calendar and other mathematical and astronomical works. The German astronomer “incorporated in his productions the first solutions to a host of typographical problems: tabula data [...]; pioneering printed geometrical diagrams, illustrations of eclipses and planetary models (some systematically coloured by hand under the supervision of the press); the first volvelles and sundials with built-in brass arms in a printed book” (M. H. Shank, “The Geometrical Diagrams”, p. 27). In Venice, Ratdolt replicated Regiomontanus' pioneering results and simultaneously produced a Latin and an Italian edition of the Calendar for the years 1475-1530, a veritable instrument-book for calculating moon phases, eclipses, and other astronomical events. The publication included charts for daylight hours and seasonal locations of the sun in the sky, phases of the moon, and conversions of planetary hours to equal hours, an essay on the true date of Easter, and a table indicating its incidence for each year up to 1531.

The border framing the title-page is designed in the purest Renaissance style. As Goldsmith states, the floral and foliate motifs recall the ornaments carved in relief by Lombardi in the marble pilasters of the Venetian church Santa Maria dei Miracoli. In the copy presented here, the border is illuminated. In this Ratdolt's Venetian edition “one recognizes an undeniable Italian Renaissance influence in both the borders and initials [...] Here, a new harmony is achieved by Ratdolt's congruous design in both initials and borders, which seem to have been executed by the same cutter, resulting in some of the most beautiful borders ever included in a printed book” (D. Laube, The Stylistic Development of German Book Illustration, p. 54).

In 1476, probably after this Latin edition, the Calendar was also issued in Italian by Ratdolt. The Italian edition omits the disquisition on the true date of Easter and table of its incidence from 1488 to 1531, and thus has thirty leaves instead of thirty-two. Both editions have the same border pieces, and the first ornamental frame bestowed on a title-page.

While the Latin Calendarium is not so rare among public libraries, it is scarcely seen on the market and a copy in this condition is unique. It is extremely unusual to find a scientific book – or, better still, an instrument-book – with illuminations of such high quality, clearly executed for a very distinguished patron: as suggested by the blue lion coat of arms, the as-yet-unidentified original owner of this copy may well have been a member of the Sforza family.

Hain 13776*; GW M37455; BMC V, 243; IGI 5310; Goff R-93; Essling 247; Sander 6400; G. R. Redgrave, Erhard Ratdolt and His Work at Venice, London 1899, pp. 6-9, and no. 1; E. Ph. Goldsmith, The Printed Book of the Renaissance, Amsterdam 1974, pp. 63-66; D. De Simone (ed.), A Heavenly Craft. The Woodcut in Early Printed Books. Illustrated Books Purchased by Lessing J. Rosenwald at the Sale of the Library of C. W. Dyson Perrins, New York-Washington, DC 2004, pp. 54-55; M. H. Shank, “The Geometrical Diagrams in Regiomontanus's Edition of His Own Disputationes (c. 1475). Background, Production, and Diffusion”, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 43 (2012), pp. 27-55; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 20.