Glasgow incunabula project update (29/10/14)

An illustrated edition of two works by the Roman Neoplatonist author Macrobius features in our latest batch of incunabula. It was printed in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson in 1472.

Globus terrae

Globus terrae


The hemispheres

The hemispheres

The book  includes the Saturnalia, a work on Roman religious lore, mythology and history. It also includes Macrobius’ commentary on Cicero’s ‘Dream of Scipio’ (In Somnium Scipionus expositio), a text that discusses the nature of the cosmos and earth’s place within the universe (at its centre, naturally). This was a popular work throughout the medieval period, surviving in many manuscript copies. Jenson’s edition of 1472 is the first printed version of it (ie. the ‘editio princeps’).

Jenson’s edition follows in the tradition of many of the earlier manuscript versions of the Dream of Scipio by leaving spaces for the insertion of explanatory diagrams. Skilful pen-and ink drawings of the planetary orbits and zodiac, the earth (‘sphera terrae’) and hemispheres are all supplied in our copy. Epigraphic decorated initials have also been added throughout.

That the book was finished with such care and attention (and expense!) indicates that it must originally have belonged to a fairly wealthy owner. Unfortunately, we do not know who this might have been, although there is a tantalizing clue in an unidentified coat of arms in the lower margin of the opening page of text.

Unidentified coat of arms

Unidentified coat of arms

Woodcut map from later edition (Sp Coll KTf1)

Woodcut map from later edition (Sp Coll KTf1)

It is interesting to compare this book with a later edition of the same text, which appeared in an earlier batch of our incunabula (Sp Coll KT f1).

Also printed in Venice, Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis’s edition of 29 June 1492 consists of the same combination of texts by Macrobius. However, twenty years on, the expected diagrams have been supplied by woodcuts rather than by hand. The inclusion of woodcuts – whether for explanatory illustrations or for the large initials that helpfully break up sections of the text  – was fairly standard by the 1490s. Having said that, proof that print technology had not yet totally supplanted the efforts of the scribes  even by 1492 is seen in this same book: all the initials are still added in by hand…


The latest ten records to be added to the project website are:

Categories: Special Collections

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