Glasgow Incunabula Project update (23/8/13)

A humanist provenance of considerable significance appears in a recent batch of incunables to be loaded onto our incunable website. It is one of two copies held by the Library of Adversus calumniatorem Platonis (Against the slanderer of Plato) printed in Rome by Sweynheym and Pannartz, before 28 August 1469. Its text, a defence of Plato, was the work of Cardinal Johannes Bessarion and was directed against a fellow Greek scholar, George of Trebizond, a vehement Aristotelian.

Lapidary style inscription: a gift from Bessarion to Paruto

Lapidary style inscription: a gift from Bessarion to Parutus

Bessarion was one the greatest humanist scholars of the 15th century, who made it his mission to preserve in the West the cultural heritage of Greek and Byzantine civilization. A score or so copies of the Adversus were destined as gifts to eminent humanists, friends and other influential recipients. Our Ferguson collection copy is one of them (Sp Coll Ferguson An-x.13). At the beginning of the book there is an inscription – in lapidary style within a painted cartouche – recording that the recipient, Lodovicus Marius Parutus, of Ferrara, had received this copy as a gift from Cardinal Bessarion in the year of its publication, 1469.

Donation inscription overwriting the colophon

Donation inscription overwriting the colophon

The gift is noted a second time in an inscription in small capitals written over an erased colophon.

Washed out rubrication

Washed out rubrication

Lodovicus Marius Parutus (Lodovico Mario Paruto/Paruti) was a writer of verse who probably worked as a corrector to the Ferrarese printer, Agostino Carnerio  (see Martin Davies, Some Bessarion owners in ‘A life in bibliography between England and Italy: Studi offerti a Dennis E. Rhodes per i suoi 90 anni’ (La bibliofilía, vol 105(1), p. 42, 2013)). According to M.E. Consenza (from evidence of an ownership inscription in a manuscript in the Library of the University of Bologna), Paruto was a secretary to Bessarion (see ‘Biographical and bibliographical dictionary of the Italian humanists’, vol, 3, p. 2617).

Letter from Filelfo

Letter from Filelfo

The book’s copious manuscript marginalia, written in a humanist hand in Latin and Greek, deserve further investigation; were they added by a member of Bessarion’s household before presentation (several “corrected” copies are known) or are they by Paruto himself or by a close successor?  Paruto’s book also contains, on the verso of the penultimate blank leaf, a contemporary manuscript copy of a letter, dated Milan, 21 Jan. 1469, from the Italian humanist scholar Francisco Filelfo to the Greek scholar and translator of Aristotle, Theodore of Gaza, where the cardinal is mentioned as “sapientissimus pater Bessario cardinalis”. This letter is printed in Book 29 (f. 205r-v) of Filelfo’s Epistolarum familiarum libri XXXVII, Venice: 1502, and also survives in several manuscript collections of his Epistolae – ex inf. Professor John Monfasani (State University of New York, Albany) and Dr Jeroen De Keyser (Seminarium Philologiae Humanisticae, Universiteit Leuven).

By 1495 the Bessarion was no longer in Paruto’s care. We know this from an inscription at the front of the book indicating that in that year it was purchased in Rome for 2 ducats by Nicolaus Uranius Advogarius, a canon lawyer from Ferrara, who also tells us that he was secretary to the Cardinal of Siena (the latter was Francesco Todeschini-Piccolomini, later to reign briefly as Pope Pius III).

Beneath that Latin inscription is a tantalising inscription in Hebrew by an unidentified owner, which (transliterated) reads: “le-yadi zeh sefer refu’ot shyyh […]” = “This is the book of remedies belonging to me”, and which includes a date in the mosaic reckoning(?) 325 = 1564/5 (conjectured reading proposed by David Weston, former Keeper of Special Collections, University of Glasgow Library, and Emeritus Professor Stefan Reif, University of Cambridge).

Ownership inscription of Drudi

Ownership inscriptions  of Advogarius and Drudi

The book’s next staging post is Rimini according to an inscription dated 1790 “Nunc vero Laurentij Ant. Drudi Med. et Ph. Doct. Arimin.” Lorenzo Antonio Drudi was not only a physician, he was also Director from 1797 to 1818 of an important library founded at Rimini in 1619, the Biblioteca Gambalunghiana.

Bookplate of Morante

Bookplate of Morante

In the early 19th century the book came into the possession of Count Dimitrij Petrovich Boutourlin (1763-1829), Director of the Imperial Russian Library in St Petersburg and Russia’s foremost 19th-century book-collector. He had two libraries – the first destroyed during the burning of Moscow in 1812, the second formed after his departure from St Petersburg in 1817 and his move to retirement in Florence. The clue to Boutourlin’s ownership lies in the number “670” written in crimson ink in a distinctive hand on one of the front flyleaves, matching item 670 in a catalogue of Boutourlin’s second library published in Florence in 1831 (Catalogue de la bibliothèque de son exc. M. le Comte D. Boutourlin). Nine years later Boutourlin’s library was sold by auction in Paris when the Bessarion is listed as item 451 in ‘Catalogue de la bibliothèque de feu M. le Comte D. Boutourlin, deuxième partie’ (Paris: Silvestre, 1840).

It next appears in the library of some 120,000 books formed by the 19th-century Spanish nobleman and collector, Joaquim Gómez de la Cortina, Marqués de Morante, who has added his bookplate to a front flyleaf.  The Marqués produced a catalogue of his library in nine volumes (‘Catalogus librorum Doctoris D. Joach. Gomez de la Cortina, March. de Morante, qui in aedibus suis exstant’, Madrid: 1854-70) and the Bessarion appears as item 11142 in volume 6.  An interesting feature of the catalogue is that the Marqués printed alongside each title the price he had paid for it; and so we are informed that the Bessarion cost him 970 reales de vellón.

Washed out annotations resulting in brittle paper

Washed-out marginal annotations on what is now yellowed and brittle paper

After Morante’s death in 1868, his heirs quickly sold his library en bloc to the French bookseller, Bachelin-Deflorenne and the contents of the library were auctioned in Paris in a series of sales spread over several years between 1872 and 1879. Perhaps not the ideal time to sell books in a city which was still recovering from the effects of the Franco-Prussian war and the Commune, and in this dispersal many books sold for derisory prices, some ending up on the Quais in Paris.  As yet, it’s not proved possible to trace the Bessarion in the printed catalogues of the Paris sales – so a piece of the jigsaw remains missing.

At some point the Bessarion crossed the Channel and came into the possession of Professor John Ferguson, Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow – though we do not know how and when, since (uncharacteristically) Ferguson has not on this occasion annotated the book with his date of purchase and details of his supplier.

This is a rather fine example of the wanderings of incunables and highlights the importance of research into copy specific data. It’s also an example of the perils that many surviving incunables have encountered along their journeys: this copy has been subjected to aggressive washing and bleaching by an unknown 19th-century binder with the result that its marginalia are faint (though thankfully still legible) and its pages brittle;  the contrast between the condition of the paper of this and the other Glasgow copy of the Adversus (William Hunter’s copy) could not be more poignant.

Blog post written by Jack Baldwin.

Ten new records added and fully indexed on the project website are:



Categories: Special Collections

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