Glasgow Incunabula Project update (17/4/13)

Our beautifully preserved copy of the anonymous Fiore novello estratto dalla Bibbia is one of those satisfying books where we can (unusually!) trace the provenance back to the 15th century. Its decorated opening page incorporates the coat of arms of its first owner, the Aragonese Kingdom of Naples.

Aragonese Royal Library coat of arms

Aragonese Royal Library coat of arms

The book – a rendition of Bible stories in Italian – was produced by an unknown printer, probably in Venice. Our copy first resided in Naples, where the Aragonese Royal Library was situated. This library of over 1000 volumes was confiscated, along with other cultural treasures, by Charles VIII of France (1470-1498)  in 1495 following his invasion of Naples. The books were initially moved to the residence of his consort, Anne of Brittany, at Amboise in France, and our book still bears the numbering that was given to it at this time on its final leaf (“xxxiij”).

Amboise shelfmark

Amboise shelfmark

The confiscated library continued its jaunt around France in the 16th century, being removed to Fountainbleau by King Francis I in 1544. The books were then transferred to Paris in 1567, to form part of the Bibliotheque du Roi. Our book, therefore, can claim to have belonged to not one, but two, royal libraries. A faint washed out number  “897”? (visible only under UV light) in the top margin of the opening page corresponds to a 17th century catalogue of the French royal library, so we know it was still in the Bibliotheque du Roi in 1645.

Decorated page

Decorated page (folio 7r)

The French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Louis XIV’s Controller-General of Finance, directed the Royal Library from 1661-1683. Colbert was a great patron of the arts and literature, and he apparently took a lively interest in the library’s development. He also possessed his own fine private library, and at some unknown point, our book passed into this personal collection. As a librarian, it seems that Colbert was a rather keen de-accessioner of so called “duplicates”, and it seems that a number of these ended up in his private library; other surviving books from the Colbert library bear notes or stamps marking them as Royal Library ‘doubles’ – and although we have not found these on this book, there is a washed out note (again, only discernable via UV) that does confirm ownership as the ‘Bibliothecae Colbertinae’. Following the death of Jean-Baptiste Colbert in 1683, this library was owned successively by Jacques Nicolas Colbert, Archbishop of Rouen (1655-1707) and Charles Eléonor Colbert, Comte de Seignely (d. 1747).

The Colbert library was sold in Paris in 1728 and the next owner of our book (that we know of) was Louis Jean Gaignat (1697-1768), Secretary to King Louis XV. As has undoubtedly been mentioned previously, William Hunter made his name as a book collector at the great sale of Gaignat’s library in 1769, acquiring numerous valuable books and manuscripts, including this volume. It then came to the University of Glasgow in 1807 along with the rest of Hunter’s library and his other collections.

If you have found the journey of this book to Glasgow of interest, another lovely incunable with a royal Aragonese provenance which was acquired by Hunter via the Colbert – Gaignat route has been highlighted in an earlier blog.

Otherwise, the latest ten records uploaded onto the project website are:



Categories: Special Collections

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3 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Cardmon's Blog and commented:
    Excellent piece, a fantastic book.

  2. Reblogged this on The Victorian Librarian and commented:
    Until such time as life calms down – next week – and I can properly write up the rest of my account of all things AAH2013, I have decided to publicise the work of some of my favourite libraries and projects. Today, it’s the turn of the Glasgow Incunabula Project, from Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections department.

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  1. Glasgow Incunabula Project update (17/4/13) | jamesgray2

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