A Catalogue of Western Book Illumination in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges, Part Five, Volume One: Books Printed in Italy before 1501.
Since 2003 the Cambridge Illuminations Research Project has issued six volumes of a five-part catalogue of Western illuminated manuscripts and incunabula (books printed before 1501) held in the collections of the Fitzwilliam Museum and Cambridge colleges. The first four parts include illuminated manuscripts (only the volumes on later manuscripts from France and the British Isles await publication) while the fifth part, of which this catalogue of Italian books is the first of two planned volumes, comprises illuminated and decorated incunabula.
The decision to include incunabula in the catalogues follows the now accepted view that manuscript and print were not regarded as separate, distinct genres in the early modern period but were simply different ways of achieving the same end--the book. Incunabula, like manuscripts, were often illustrated and decorated by hand. Of the 2000 incunabula in the Fitzwilliam and Cambridge colleges, 420 are hand decorated to some extent, including the 156 Italian books catalogued in this volume.
The authors of this beautifully presented and thoughtfully conceived catalogue aim to 'erode artificial barriers between those working on illumination in manuscripts and in printed books' (p. 7). Following previous volumes in the series on manuscript illumination, each book is regarded as a unique object and decoration is broadly defined to include almost anything added by hand, such as miniatures, drawings, historiated initials and illuminated borders, marginalia, woodcuts with contemporary added colour (but not unadorned woodcuts), and flourished initials. Also included are books with pasted-in illustrations as well as those with nineteenth-century decoration.
One artificial barrier that remains, probably for good reason, is the modern bibliographic distinction between incunabula and sixteenth-century books. While the other catalogues in the series include illuminated manuscripts from the sixteenth century, this one draws a line at 1501. The huge number of books printed in the first decades of the sixteenth century likely meant that too many would have qualified for inclusion. In addition, while incunabula editions have been well described, many from the sixteenth-century are still incompletely recorded.
It is unusual to catalogue incunabula according to illustration and the authors have organized their material somewhat unconventionally. Books printed and illuminated in Italy are listed according to place of publication rather than place of decoration. Those illuminated outside Italy are then listed according to place of illumination. As the authors note, this method of organization reveals that while most incunabula printed in Italian cities (half in Venice) were also illuminated in Italy, a fifth were sent elsewhere to be decorated: Germany and Austria (nos 113-21), the Netherlands (nos 122-32), France and Flanders (nos 133-44) and England (nos 145-49). Furthermore, the geography and reach of the book trade is highlighted, as well as particular aspects of patronage. The observation is also made that some printers seemed to prefer particular illuminators or styles and that printing 'generated standardisation not only in the format of texts, but also in the illustration and ornamentation applied to them' (p. 10).
The entry for each book includes a description of the ornamentation, decoration or illumination and copy-specific information such as provenance and inscriptions, followed by a commentary. Not included is information common to the particular edition, such as collation and location of other copies, as this can be readily found in the standard bibliographic sources. All 156 entries are accompanied by excellent photographs that include, where relevant, remarkable original bindings.
This approach of treating the incunabula as unique objects has brought to light some wonderful books hitherto hidden away in the Cambridge colleges. Some of these have never been published, such as Newnham College Incunable 3 (no. 85), an imprint of De claris mulieribus printed in Ferrara by Laurentius de Rubeis de Valentia in 1497 and decorated with 172 historiated, hand-coloured woodcuts, the design of which is attributed to the Master of the Pico Pliny. Others of note include Trinity College VI.18.52--Macrobius's Expositio in Somnium Scipionis, printed in Venice by Jenson in 1472 and illuminated by the Master of the Pico Pliny (no. 30)--; and also Trinity College Grylls 3.290--Hyginus, Poetica astronomica, printed and decorated in north-eastern Italy with spirited drawings of the constellations (no. 84). The circle of the celebrated illuminator Attavanti is represented by a copy of Ovid printed in Venice in 1474 and illuminated in Florence for members of the Medici family (no. 37, St John's College Ii.1.7).
While the foremost aim of the volume is to describe illumination and decoration, the detailed indexes of printers, binders, types of books, authors, and provenance will be relevant to anyone interested in the fifteenth-century book. Overall, this superlative catalogue is just as good as its predecessors in the series. It sets a new standard for describing decoration in early printed books and provides fertile ground for further research.
HILARY MADDOOKS, University of Melbourne