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Book of the Month

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January 2008

John Duns Scotus

Quaestiones in quattuor libros sententiarum

Venice: 1477
Sp Coll Hunterian By.2.3

Our 'book of the month' for January 2008 is a handsome incunable with an interesting ownership history. Printed in Venice in 1477, it is a copy of John Duns Scotus's commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a popular medieval scholastic text. It has been decorated by one of the leading Neapolitan artists of the Fifteenth Century.

decorated opening page (folio a2r)

Like many books produced in the early years of printing, this volume has been decorated in the style of an illuminated medieval manuscript. Its opening page has been enlivened by the addition of a white-vine stem border, extending from the illuminated initial 'C' that begins the text. The coat of arms of its first owner, Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon (1456-1485), has been inserted at the bottom of the page.

detail of illuminated initial C (folio c4v)

The book is a copy of the Quaestiones in quattuor libros sententiarum by John Duns Scotus. This theological text book is a commentary on a twelfth century work by Peter Lombard, the Sententiarum libri quattuor (usually referred to as the Sentences). Duns Scotus's commentary was originally written in the Thirteenth Century and survives in many medieval manuscript copies. Its popularity resulted in it also being produced in numerous printed editions in the latter half of the Fifteenth Century, including this one. This book is only part one of the work. The other three parts of this edition were produced separately.


double page opening (folios c4v-c5r) showing the beginning of the commentary on Distinction 1

The author, John Duns Scotus (c.1265-1308), was a Franciscan friar. He was born in Duns, in the Scottish borders, and studied and taught at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Paris. He was famed for his lectures on Peter Lombard's Sentences.

The Italian theologian Peter Lombard (c.1100-c.1160-64) wrote his book of 'sentences' in about 1150. Arranged in four parts, it discusses all aspects of theological doctrine systematically in a long series of questions. His text was later divided into chapters, referred to as distinctiones. It became an important text of scholastic* theology, incessantly studied and read throughout the later Middle Ages: discussion (or 'disputation') of the Sentences was an integral part of the medieval theological University curriculum. Several academics wrote commentaries upon the work, including Duns Scotus.

Duns Scotus's commentary was based upon his University teaching. However, although he had prepared his work for publication, it was still unfinished when he died in 1308. His text was left in a state of confusion; many of his pupils and followers attempted to complete it, filling in gaps and augmenting it with reported versions of his lectures ('reportationes'). Many of these additions were unreliable.

Duns Scotus's writings were very influential. This commentary and his many other works were adopted by the Franciscans and his teaching came to be known as 'Scotism'. His ideas were popular until the growth of humanism in the Sixteenth Century when scholasticism generally began to lose favour. 'Scotism' was then particularly disparaged, and the derogatory word 'dunce' came to be associated with his followers.

This edition of Duns Scotus's commentary was edited by two friars, Thomas Penketh (d. 1487) and Bartolomeo Bellati (d.1479). Penketh (d.1487) was an Augustinian who had taught at Oxford before becoming a reader in metaphysics at the University of Padua in about 1474. This commentary was one of several Scotist works that he edited. According to Jeremy Catto, his principal achievement was to be the first to publish scholarly but usable printed editions of the chief works of Duns Scotus and the Scotist theologian Antonius Andreae. His editions circulated widely and became the standard texts for some time.

Penketh was ideally situated at Padua to have his works published by experienced printers. This edition was produced by the partnership of Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen in nearby Venice in 1477. It is a typical folio volume of the period, well produced with generous margins. Adopting the basic layout of manuscript works, the text is presented in two columns and the rubrics and capitals have been added professionally by hand in the spaces deliberately left for them.

double page opening (folios d5v-d6r) showing part of the commentary on Distinction 2

detail from colophon (folio 2g9v)

The prosperous city state of Venice was the printing capital of the Fifteenth Century. It had an established network for the sale and export of printed books, and paper - the greatest expense in the production of early printed books - was readily available. It is estimated that some 4,500 editions (amounting to a staggering two million copies of books) were produced in Venice alone in the Fifteenth Century. Some 250 editions of Venetian incunabula (ie. those books printed before 1501) survive in Special Collections today.

The mass production and diffusion of texts undoubtedly changed the intellectual face of the world. At the time, however, printing was regarded more as a good business opportunity by entrepreneurs rather than as a cultural venture. The printers of this work, Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen, are named in the colophon at the end of the book. This tells us that they completed work on the volume on the 26th of July, 1477. They had begun publishing books together in 1474, and after producing more than a dozen editions, merged with another firm of publishers (the renowned Nicolas Jenson and 'socii') in about 1480. They were businessmen rather than hands on printers.

Johannes de Colonia had earlier provided the capital to the prolific Vindelinus de Spira to help finance the printing of several books, and it was Vindelinus' establishment that the two Johannes took over. Vindelinus was the brother of Johannes de Spira, who had been granted a monopoly to print for five years in Venice in 1469. This exclusive privilege died with him in 1470, allowing other printers to set up - including Vindelinus, who went on to produce about 60 different editions of books. His business foundered following a trade crisis in 1473; this was brought on by the over production of texts - to which glut in the market Vindelinus himself had undoubtedly contributed! The relatively short lived lifespan of many printing establishments and the subsequent amalgamation of enterprises was typical of this early, precarious, period in printing.  


colophon (detail from folio 2g9v)

detail of text from folio d3r

The output of Johannes de Colonia and Johannes Manthen has been dismissed as being unremarkable, but this book is a fine example of an incunable. It was printed utilizing two gothic typefaces, based on scribal models. Although as the Fifteenth Century progressed there was a move to using clearer, Roman typefaces, gothic remained as the font favoured for standard use in legal and theological works, such as this. Gothic fonts have not received as much praise as Roman types, but - as can be seen from the illustration here - this is a clear and easily readable typeface. Its clarity is admittedly somewhat obscured by the frequent use of abbreviations, a typical feature of books from this period and another hangover from scribal tradition.

As is the case for most early printed books, this volume has its idiosyncrasies. Careful examination of the pages reveals typical signs of five hundred years of wear and tear in occasional staining, with the residue of past insect damage in worm holes in the pages at the beginning and the end.

folio g8v: page with offsetting (from opening page?)


More intriguing is the evidence of some offsetting in a leaf found in the middle of the text. From the impression left on the page, this was obviously at some point in contact with the page that is the opening leaf, decorated with a border and coat of arms, as can be seen in the ghostly markings left here. Perhaps this page was misbound at the beginning of the book at some point in its history.

table of contents page (folio 2f1r)

detail of entry from table of contents page (folio 2f1r)

Other puzzling features are a reflection of early printing practises. As we have already seen, early printed books were closely modelled on manuscripts. Some features of books that we now take for granted had yet to be introduced. For example, title-pages were not yet universally used (the title of this book is found only in the colophon) and page numbering or foliation was still not generally provided. The need for easy navigation of the text has been acknowledged in this book as a rudimentary table of contents has been supplied at the end of the volume; however, its use is limited. Although references to folio numbers are given, these numbers have not actually been printed on the pages: it was up to the early reader to go through the book and add the correct numbers in for himself. This has not been done in this case.


Unusually, we have a fairly clear picture of the ownership history, or provenance, of this book. Its illustrious first owner was Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon (1456-1485). He was the son of King Ferrante I of Naples and was created a cardinal by Pope Sixtus IV in 1477. Although he died of the plague at the age of 29, he collected many impressive books during his lifetime, forming a substantial library. As might be expected from a book collector living in the latter half of the Fifteenth Century, he acquired both printed and manuscript books.

Other books that have survived from his library include works by Plutarch, Horace, Ovid and Eusebius. Research has demonstrated that some of his manuscript texts (written out by the best Florentine scribes) were copied from early printed editions: as A. C. de la Mare has pointed out, Giovanni did not mind "if the exemplars used for copying his manuscripts were the very printed books which were making such manuscripts obsolete. In this he was not alone; indeed he may have thought it very up to date to have his texts copied from the latest edition". She goes on to suggest that Giovanni's chief concern in accumulating his library was as an "artistic patron and a bibliophile rather than a scholar.

detail of illuminated initial 'C' from opening page (folio a2r)

coat of arms of Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon (in lower margin of folio a2r)

Many of Giovanni's books were written out in elegant scripts and beautifully decorated. The decoration was added in the south by the best Neapolitan artists. Matteo Felice, who embellished the opening page of our book, was one of the artists most frequently employed by Giovanni. Felice was responsible for the coat of arms shown here; it is illuminated by the addition of both gold and silver, although the silver has oxidised and tarnished over the years to a greyish black that does not reflect its original brilliance. Other books owned by Giovanni and decorated by Felice survive today in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and Cambridge University Library (including, incidentally, a manuscript copy of Bonaventure's commentary on Lombard's Sentences: CUL Ms Gg.3.22). Felice trained in the workshop of Cola Rapicano which provided the kings of Naples and Aragonese court with many fine manuscripts. According to De Winter, "his colourful miniatures are eclectic with characteristic boldly outlined, childlike figures".
After he died, Giovanni's books passed into the Aragonese Royal Library. In most other surviving copies of his books (including our MS Hunter 47), the cardinal's hat in his coat of arms has been overpainted by a crown to reflect this change in ownership.

The splendid library of the Angevin kings at Naples had been in existence since the reign of Charles I (1265-1285). It was confiscated, along with other cultural riches from the Aragonese kingdom, following the invasion of Naples in 1495 by King Charles VIII of France.

The library of over 1000 volumes, including this book, was initially moved to Anne of Brittany's residence at Amboise "for the decoration and use of the said castle". All the confiscated books were marked by a shelfmark in a French hand, probably while they were still at Amboise. This fifteenth century shelfmark, as identified by Ursula Baurmeister, is found on the same page as the colophon in our book.

King Francis I had the books moved to Fontainebleau in 1544 and in 1567 the library transferred to Paris. 

fifteenth century pressmark (detail from folio 2g9v)

manuscript annotation on front flyleaf (folio a1v)

Our book remained in the library of the Kings of France (the Bibliothèque du Roi) until at least 1645. The library was catalogued in 1622 by Nicolas Rigault and again in 1645 by Jacques and Pierre Dupuy: another early shelfmark ('MDCCCLII') that corresponds to the entries for the book in these catalogues can be found crossed out at the top of the title-page.

The French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Louis XIV's Controller-General of Finance, directed the Royal Library from 1661-1683. Colbert was a great patron of the arts and literature, and he apparently took a lively interest in the library's development. He also possessed his own fine private library, and at some unknown point, our book passed into this personal collection. Ursula Baurmeister has suggested that this may have occurred in 1671 when 1200 "duplicates" were removed from the Royal Library. According to histories of the library, these de-accessioned books were stamped "double vendu". Although this stamp cannot be found anywhere on our book today, there is a manuscript note "Double" on the front flyleaf that may possibly refer to this seventeenth century weeding exercise. 

detail of Colbert's stamp on front cover of binding

The traces of Colbert's ownership of the volume are clearly evident. The head of the opening page is inscribed "Bibliothecae Colbertinae" while its seventeenth century red morocco binding is stamped in gold with the arms of Colbert on the front and back boards; furthermore, his monogram ('JBC' surmounted by a crown) is stamped in four compartments on the spine.

Colbert's enormous library was augmented by his descendants but eventually sold in 1728. The sales catalogue describes over 18,000 lots, although many of these consist of several items grouped together. The first volume of the catalogue lists folio volumes of which lot no. 618 is the work by Duns Scotus "In primum Sententiarum Ven 1477".  According to our annotated copy of the catalogue, this book was purchased together with five other items for 12 livres, 10 sous.

detail of the spine stamped with monogram of Colbert

front cover of book

manuscript inscription of Colbert's library; earlier Royal Library pressmark crossed out (detail from folio a2r)


Although we do not know who bought the book at the Colbert Library sale, we do know that William Hunter (1718-1783) acquired it at the sale of the library of Louis-Jean Gaignat (c.1697-1768) in 1769 in Paris, along with numerous other books (including the magnificent Hunterian Psalter and around 180 incunabula). It then came to the University of Glasgow in 1807 along with the rest of Hunter's library and his other wonderful collections.

This book is on exhibition in the showcase in the foyer of Special Collections (level 12 of the library) until May 2008. It forms part of a small display celebrating fifteenth century Venetian printing, and is accompanied by a 1485 edition of Puerbach's treatise on the planets (a scientific work illustrated by coloured woodcuts) and a copy of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, arguably the most beautiful book of the Venetian Renaissance (see February 2004 book of the month).



*scholasticism: the doctrines of the Schoolmen; the predominant theological and philosophical teaching of the period A.D. 1000-1500, based upon the authority of the Christian Fathers and of Aristotle and his commentators (definition from Oxford English Dictionary)

[Super Primum Sententiarum] [Venice]: [1472] Sp Coll BD7-c.3

In quartum librum Sentenciarum, opus Anglicanum [Strassburg]:1474 Sp Coll BD12-a.10

[Scriptum super IV libros Sententiarum, per magistrum Phillipum de Bagnacavallo maxima cum diligentia emendatum. Et Quaestiones quodlibetales ...] [Venice]:[1497] Sp Coll Ea7-x.8

[Quaestiones in quartum Sententiarum ...] [Paris]: [1512] Sp Coll Bm4-h.9

Quaestiones quatuor voluminum scripti Oxoniensis super Sententias. A Salvatore Bartolucio ... recognitae, collationeque multorum codicum emendatiores ... redditae ... Venice: 1580 Sp Coll Veitch Eg6-e.16-19

In [quatuor libros] Sententiarum quaestiones subtilissimae ... Per P.F. Hugonem Cavellum ... Accesserunt per eundem, vita Scoti, apologia pro ipso contra P. Abrahamum Bzouium, et appendix ... de immaculata conceptione Antwerp: 1620 Sp Coll Bh6-c.4-5

Quaestiones reportatae seu repetitae in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi. Quaestiones item quodlibetales, nec non collationes seu disputationes subtilissimae. Nunc noviter recognitae ... per Hugonem Cavellum ... Cologne: 1635 Sp Coll P.D.L. 57

Petri Lombardi Sententiarum libri quatuor [Basel?]: [1480?] Sp Coll Hunterian Bg.3.21

[Liber Sententiarum magistri Petri Lom. Vna cum conclusionibus magistri Henrici Gorichem ... variis in punctis acuratissime emendatus] [Basileae]: [1487] Sp Coll BD7-b.5

[Libri sententiarum: cum conclusionibus Henrici Gorichem: ac subtilissimis Sancti Thome problematibus ... cuivis librorum seriatim annotatis. Additis insuper quibusdam articulis ... erroneis et ... condemnatis] [Venice]: [1489] Sp Coll Veitch Eg7-a.13

Jean Baptiste Colbert, Marquis de Torcy Bibliotheca Colbertina: seu Catalogus librorum bibliothecae, quae fuit ... J.B. Colbert ... Paris: 1728 Sp Coll Hunterian Add. 49-51

Quintus Curtius History of Alexander the Great Italy: c.1480 Sp Coll MS Hunter 47 (T.2.5)

Cornelia C. Coulter 'The Library of the Angevin Kings at Naples' Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association Vol. 75. (1944), pp. 141-155 [via JSTOR:]

Alfred Franklin Précis de l'histoire de la Bibliothèque du Roi, aujourd'hui Bibliothèque nationale Paris: Willem, 1875. Edition Deuxième édition, corrigée et très-augmentée Sp Coll Mu30-c.10

Leonardas Vytautas Gerulaitis Printing and publishing in fifteenth century Venice Chicago/London: 1976 Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog B56:1 1976-G

J. De Ghellinck (Transcribed by Herman F. Holbrook) 'Peter Lombard' The Catholic Encyclopedia  Volume XI New York: 1911 [ page accessed 11 Dec 2007]

A. R. A. Hobson Great libraries London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970 Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog A25 1970-H

Gordon Leff, 'Duns Scotus, John (c.1265-1308)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 11 Dec 2007]

A. C. de la Mare 'The Florentine Scribes of Cardinal Giovanni of Aragon', in Il libro e il testo (Atti del convegno internazionale, Urbino 1982) ed. C. Questa and R. Raffaelli Urbino: 1984 pp. 245-46 Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog B140 1982-C

University of Glasgow. Library. The glory of the page: medieval & renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Glasgow University Library Introduction & catalogue by Nigel Thorp. London:1987 Level 11 Main Lib Bibliog B162 1987-U & Sp Coll Hunterian Add. f59

Wikipedia article Jean-Baptiste Colbert From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaIn art and literature [page accessed 11 Dec 2007]

Patrick M. de Winter 'Felice, Matteo [Mazzeo]' Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press [, accessed 11 Dec 2007]


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Julie Gardham January 2008