Glasgow Incunabula Project update (9/10/13)

As discussed in earlier blogs, coats of arms painted into the scheme of decorated pages can often provide tantalizing clues about the original owners of early printed books. In many of our incunabula cases, we have been frustrated by failing to identify the person (or family) represented by the arms. However, in this batch, I am happy to report that we have a coat of arms in a book that we can at least tentatively identify – thanks to flickr and a little help from our friends.

Decorated opening page

Decorated opening page (Sp Coll Hunterian Be.2.3)

The book is the first printed edition of works by Caesar (including the history of the Gallic wars), produced in Rome by Sweynheym and Pannartz in 1469. Our copy of this handsome volume has been copiously annotated throughout  in a humanist hand – the same hand supplying headings in manuscript for each book. Furthermore,  the opening page boasts a seven-line illuminated initial “G” on a square ground of white-vine stem decoration; a blue shield containing a coat of arms is found in the lower margin, similarly surrounded by white vine stem decoration. Unfortunately, the arms – which we may assume belonged to an early if not the book’s earliest owner – have been somewhat rubbed and effaced, making the details hard to decipher. This was perhaps a deliberate act by a later owner, keen to blot out all traces of earlier proprietorship. In initially cataloguing the book, we assigned the arms to an “unidentified owner” and suggested that the scratched out markings within the body of the shield were possibly “scimitars”.

As usual, we posted a sample of images from the book (including the decorated page) on our incunabula flickr set in advance of creating our website record. This was picked up by Dr Martin Davies (former curator of incunabula at the British Library), who has a particular research interest in Sweynheym & Pannartz editions. He suggested that the arms may be those of the Guicciardini family of Florence and kindly supplied the description of it from an Italian online (“i nostri avi”)  genealogical site: “D’azzurro, a tre corni da caccia d’argento, imboccati e guarniti d’oro e legati di rosso, ordinati l’uno sull’altro …”, meaning the coat of arms should be blue containing three silver hunting horns with red strings, the tips of the horns being golden with gold ornamentation. For comparative purposes, he also sent us a link to an image from a Book of Hours in the British Library (Harley 2857) containing the Guicciardini arms.

Guicciardini coat of arms

Guicciardini coat of arms in BL Harley 2857 (image courtesy of British Library)

We looked at the coat of arms in our book again. Even with the aid of a magnifiying glass, it is difficult to see red strings, although we can easily be persuaded that the shield contains horns and not swords. We also took another close up photograph of the arms, as sometimes is it easier to see minute details with the powerful help of digitisation. Again, although traces of gold can be discerned, and there are blotches that could be interpreted as red strings, we are not one hundred percent sure.

Effaced Guicciardini coat of arms

Effaced Guicciardini coat of arms? Sp Coll Hunterian Be.2.3

Tipped off by Martin Davies, we also contacted the Houghton Library, on the trail of another example of the Guicciardini arms, as found in an incunable edition of Petrarch (Florence: 1488, Houghton Library, Inc. 6345.5).  John Overholt generously obliged by sending us an image from their book:

Guicciardini coat of arms

Guicciardini coat of arms in Houghton Inc 6345.5 (image courtesy of Houghton Library)

Again, there are certainly similarities with our coat of arms, but we must conclude that – owing to the damage inflicted on our book – we will never be absolutely sure. I would say, however, that the identification is a definite maybe!

Even though we can’t say definitively that this is the coat of arms of the Guicciardini family, it is still fun to speculate on which of the family members this book may have belonged to. It is tempting to put forward Francesco Guicciardini (6 March 1483 – 22 May 1540) as a contender. Although he was not born until some years after the book was originally printed, if indeed it was a family possession, it was surely known to him. He was a Florentine statesman, friend of Machievelli, diplomat, a prolific political writer and author of an important contemporary history of Italy, the Storia d’Italia.  As a writer, his knowledge and understanding of historical context has been praised. So we turn again to the humanist annotations in our copy of Caesar’s history and wonder: are these the reflections and notes of Francesco?

Humanist annotation

Humanist annotations in Sp Coll Hunterian Be.2.3

Without flickr, the web, email and twitter, none of this (hopefully not too idle) speculation would have been possible. So we are immensely grateful to Martin, John and modern technology for helping us in our quest to identify this coat of arms – and if you have read any of our previous blogs, you will know that there are plenty more where that came from … if you would like to help further!

* for further information on Guicciardini, see Britannica online and wikipedia entries

The latest ten records to be fully indexed on the project website are:

Categories: Special Collections

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1 reply


  1. Glasgow Incunabula Project – University of Glasgow Library

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