(Rome: Eucharius Silber, 15 October 1489). 292 x 212 mm. (11 3/8 x 8 3/8").  leaves (Lacking first and last blanks; a2 [dedication] supplied in fine modern facsimile on vellum). Single column, 42 lines, gothic type. FIRST EDITION.
SUPERB CONTEMPORARY ITALIAN ELABORATELY BLIND-TOOLED CALF, covers panelled with frames of plain rules, daisies, stars, and a floral roll with a distinctive bell-shaped flower, central panel semé with rows of alternating X's and crosshatched O's, leafy brass boss at center encircled by palmette tools, matching brass cornerpieces, raised bands, spine panels diapered, with tiny daisy tool at center of each compartment, four brass catchplates and stubs of straps, (perhaps later?) vellum endleaves (leather on lower right quadrant of rear board expertly renewed). Red or blue paragraph marks at the beginning of major arguments, 73 red or blue three-line initials with decorative penwork in blue or violet, and 12 LOVELY INITIALS AND BAR BORDERS IN COLORS AND BURNISHED GOLD, WITH FLORAL EXTENSIONS in pink, blue, red, green, and burnished gold at either end of the bars, these continuing into head and tail margins, running half the width of the text. Verso of r4 with contemporary ink marginalia identifying Garsias as bishop of Barcelona. Thorndike IV, 497 ff.; BMC IV, 110; Goff G-95; ISTC ig00095000. Extremities a little worn, front board with a dozen or so tiny wormholes, k1 with older repair to short marginal tear (not touching text), occasional trivial marginal stains or wrinkles, negligible rubbing to paint on a couple of borders, naturally occurring variations in the color and grain of the vellum, otherwise A SPLENDID COPY, the vellum generally clean, smooth, and bright with generous margins, the illuminations well preserved and shining with gold, and the expertly restored binding solid and extremely attractive.
In beautiful condition, in a very intricately decorated contemporary binding, and with vivid illumination, this is one of three known copies on vellum of the first printing of an important work in the history of the occult. The text is Spanish bishop Pedro Garcia's response, on behalf of Pope Innocent VIII, to Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's arguments regarding the role of magic and the Kabbalah in Christianity. In 1486, the brilliant young philosopher Pico (1463-94) had set forth 900 theological theses, offering to defend them against all comers. Respondents included the pope, who appointed a commission to examine the orthodoxy of these arguments. The commissioners, our author among them, identified 13 heresies; Pico responded with an unapologetic "Apologia," to which the present work is addressed. One of the greatest offenses was Pico's assertion that magic and the Kabbalah were "the best proofs of Christ’s divinity" (Stanford Ency. of Philosophy), and much of Garcia's "Authoritative Determinations" is focused on refuting this. Garcia counters first by claiming that Pico's sources on the Kabbalah are not authentic; then he notes that the Kabbalah was created by heretical Jews and based on the Talmud, which had been banned by the Catholic Church; and he concludes by observing that any absolute proof of the divinity of Christ would obviate the need for faith. As faith is the cornerstone of Christian theology, it would thus be heresy to claim that it is not essential. Thorndike, in a 10-page discussion of the present work, observes that our text continued to be influential into the 16th century. Garcia (d. 1505) was appointed bishop of Barcelona on 14 June 1490; the annotation on r4v referring to him by that title would seem to indicate that our volume had been illuminated and bound by that date. Our printer was a man of distinction: Eucharius Silber was a clerk from Würzburg who set up his press in the sunnier clime of Italy in 1480, and continued printing there until his death in 1509, when he was succeeded by his son Marcellus. He surpassed his most immediate rival and fellow émigré Stephan Planck in both quality and quantity of work, producing around 200 incunabula, some of them running to editions as large as 1,500 copies. This book was clearly owned by someone of high station and considerable means, given the elaborate binding, the printing on vellum, and the lavish illumination (particularly when considering the intently sober subject matter). Its survival in such exceptional condition offers a rare glimpse of the very highest end of book production and the book trade as the incunabular era approached its final decade. The only other vellum copies located by ISTC are at the British Library (lacking the title/dedication leaf, like ours) and at Louviers. It would seem an unlikely coincidence that two of the three known vellum copies lack the same leaf, but beyond very tentative speculation, we cannot propose anything. As one of the vellum copies would almost certainly have gone to the dedicatee Innocent VIII himself, perhaps for some unapparent reason the pope may have somehow prevailed upon the printer to remove the title/dedication leaf from the other vellum copies. (ST15044)
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PJP Catalog: NY19BF.059