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Incunabula collection (15th C.)

Cardiff’s collection of incunabula represents a cross section of European publishing for the period of the 1470s to 1500, and gives evidence of key subjects of importance in the 15th century.

The collection comprises a large number of works on theology such as: the Catena Aurea of Thomas Aquinas, a commentary on the four Gospels constructed on numerous citations from the Fathers; St. Augustine’s famous De civitate Dei in Italian; and the Dominican Girolamo Savonarola’s Compenium revelationum also in Italian. A copy of Opus trivium (Lyon, 1500) written by the Dominican theologian John Bromyard (d. 1352) is unusual as the copy is bound in a medieval manuscript musical score. A tract on moral theology by Johannes Watton (fl. ca. 1360-1370) is a seemingly unique copy in the UK; only one other complete copy is known to exist in the world. Works on philosophy include Summa angelica de casbus conscientiae by Angelus de Clavasio and De ingenuis moribus by the humanist scholar Petrus Vergerius. Literary works, such as a 1492 copy of Macrobius’ In Somnium Scipionis exposito, are also held. Trionfi, or Triumphs by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374) was an extremely popular series of vision poems after the manner of Dante’s Divine Comedy, based on the triumphs of ancient Rome. Evidence indicates the collection’s copy is the only copy in the UK. Other works of note include Fasciculus temporum (Cologne, 1474) by Werner Rolewinck, which was, in the late 15th century, an indispensable reference work on world history. It employs a distinctive and original graphical design. The text is not arranged in columns; instead, multiple chronologies are arranged in parallel, horizontally across the pages - a noteworthy achievement in the history of printing and a pivotal development in historiography. In addition, there are two herbals, works on law and canon law, grammar and oratory, poetry, geography and hagiography.

These works range across all the major early printing centres in Western Europe (including Venice, Lyon and Nuremburg). Many examples of marginalia are to be found, ranging from just a few words to extensive notes. Some of the volumes contain hand-written pages or pieces of manuscript used in the binding. Other features include pen and ink illustrations and illuminated pictures and lettering.

Date range: 15th century.

Significance: Of significance in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Strengths: The incunabula collection is one of only three such collections in Wales. Around 90% of these incunabula are not held anywhere else in Wales, and the annotated copies make them totally unique.

Size: c. 182 items.

Languages: Latin and Italian.

Keywords: Incunabula, Europe, early printing, theology

Notes: The incunabula collection does not include English imprints, (although Cardiff University Library holds facsimile editions of Caxton and De Worde, including an indulgence printed by Caxton).