(Venice: Lazarus Soardus, 18 December 1504). 305 x 205 mm. (12 x 8").  p.l., 197 leaves. Second Edition.
Modern full polished calf. Title page with elaborate woodcut border and large woodcut of the printer presenting the work to Pope Julius II and receiving his privilege and blessing, opening of Book I with 10-line initial containing a portrait of St. Gregory, printer's device in colophon. With occasional early ink marginalia. Edit16 CNCE 21705; STC Italian, p. 314; not in Adams. See also: BMC V, lxvi; Norton, "Italian Printers 1501-1520," pp. 152-53. Gutter open between second and third leaves (nothing loose), isolated trivial stains, otherwise an exceedingly fine copy, internally clean, fresh, and bright, and in an unworn sympathetic binding.
This extraordinarily well-preserved copy of a rare post-incunabular edition of the Letters of Pope Gregory I (ca. 540-604) is a valuable source of information on the early Medieval world and Church history during a crucial time of expansion for the faith, with added interest in the form of an early and unusual printer's portrait. The latest of the Latin Church Fathers and the first monk to be elected pope, Gregory I founded seven monasteries following the Rule of Benedict, including St. Andrew's on the Caelian Hill in Rome, which he himself joined, and where he became abbot. In 590 he was called to the papacy, and proved to be a dynamic leader in both the spiritual and practical realms. In the estimation of the Catholic Encyclopedia, during his 14 years as pope "he crowded work enough to have exhausted the energies of a lifetime." In addition to his prolific writing (more than any pope before him) and abiding concern for the poorest members of society, it was Gregory who, having noticed captive Angles in the Roman slave market, sent emissaries such as St. Augustine to England to effect the conversion of the land to Christianity. First published ca. 1474-76 by Günther Zainer, the present work attests to the pope's active leadership, containing hundreds of letters about matters both great and small--from day-to-day administrative tasks to questions of clerical duty and issues of larger import. Of particular interest to historians are his letters concerning the organization and management of the Patrimony of St. Peter. Lazzaro de' Soardi was active for almost 30 years--from 1490, when his name first appeared in the colophon of an edition of the minor works of Ovid, until his death in 1517. BMC notes he often took on the role of publisher, overseeing his press but collaborating with printers like De Leure, Benalius, Locatellus, Bevilaqua, and Tacuinus. Soardi’s books were well distributed throughout Europe, and according to Norton, by 1514 they were "in the hands of booksellers in Salamanca, Lyons, and Lisbon, as well as in various Italian cities." Quite the shrewd publisher, Soardi rather cleverly protected the present work against pirating by going a step beyond procuring the usual doge's privilege (which was limited to one geographical region) and directly petitioning Pope Julius II (whose power was universal) for exclusive rights. A twist on the usual patron portrait, the title page here shows the exact moment that the privilege changed hands from the pope to our printer, conjuring an aura of authority, and making it clear to any prospective counterfeiter exactly whom they would be offending. (CEH1921)
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PJP Catalog: 76.144