A Jenson Folio with Two Glorious Illuminated Initials


(Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 15 December 1479). 310 x 210 mm. (12 18 x 8 1/8"). [254] leaves. Double column, 55 lines to the page, plus headline, gothic type. Part I of four separately printed parts. Second Printing.

Excellent retrospective dark brown sheepskin tooled in blind, covers with plain rule and floral roll frame, central panel diapered, with rosette stamps within the lozenge compartments, raised bands. Capitals struck with red, hand-painted initials and paragraph marks in red or blue, TWO VERY FINE LARGE (12-line and 15-line) ORNATE INITIALS in red, blue, and green, with descenders running the length of the text, that on the larger initial extending across the tail edge, THE INITIALS AND DESCENDERS HIGHLIGHTED WITH BURNISHED GOLD. Goff A-872; BMC V, 179; ISTC ia00872000. A couple of openings faintly browned, minor worming to last few quires (with solitary marginal wormhole going through about two-thirds of the text), isolated trivial stains, but all of these imperfections trivial, and, in all, a nearly fine copy--clean, fresh, well-margined, and mostly bright internally, and in a scarcely worn sympathetic binding.

This is a very appealing copy of an early printing (following the original edition by one year) of the first part of the principal work by a great Medieval churchman; it is printed by one of the two or three most celebrated of incunabular printers; and, as a bonus, the volume boasts two beautiful illuminated initials. As a whole, the "Summa," the work upon which the theological fame of Antoninus (1389-1459) rests, is, in the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia, "probably the first--certainly the most comprehensive--treatment from a practical point of view of Christian ethics, asceticism, and sociology in the Middle Ages. It gives to Antoninus the place of honor in moral theology between St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus Ligouri." Our first part addresses the soul and its faculties, the passions, sin, and the law. As was the case with other expansive 15th century printings, the individual parts of this work were treated by their early printers (and have ever since been similarly treated) as distinct works. Andreas de Paltascichis, for example, printed the third tome only, and Heilbronn, Drach, Marinus Saracenus, and the partners Colonia and Manthen each printed only the first or second part. Although he was at work for only a decade, Nicolaus Jenson (1420-80) was one of the greatest printers of the 15th century. Operating as many as a dozen presses at one time, he is thought to have produced some 100 or more editions, and all of them touched with beauty. Like his other legal and theological texts, the "Summa" is printed in Jenson's rounded and readable gothic type, made even more pleasing to the eye by the spacious margins here. While he is known for his elegant roman letter forms, as early as 1474 Jenson had cut a gothic typeface that was widely imitated, coming into common use throughout Italy, Germany, and Switzerland in the 1480s. The beauty of Jenson's type and printing is enhanced here by the unusually elaborate and altogether striking painted and burnished gold initials that open the prologue and main text.

Keywords: Nicolaus Jenson

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PJP Catalog: 75.102