De Civitate Dei by Saint Augustine (1477)
De Civitate Dei
Saint Augustine (1477)
Printed by Mathaias Moravus in Naples, this contains text by Augustine; one of the most widely read early Christian books.

Johannes Gutenberg first thought of the principles behind movable type in 1439. But it was not until 1452 that he finally brought his magnificent idea to fruition and published a complete book, the Gutenberg Bible, in the typographic style.

Gutenberg changed the way Europe thought of the book and heralded a new era of mass communication.  For the first time in western history it was possible to quickly, and relatively cheaply, produce hundreds or even thousands of copies of a single work. 

Today book collectors also view the invention of the printing press as a major cultural turning point - books made before and after this point are vastly different and so booksellers, collectors and historians dub books printed in this time of transition as ‘Incunabula.’

The term Incunabula (also incunable or incunabulum) refers to a book, pamphlet or other document that was printed, and not handwritten, before the start of the 16th century in Europe.  The first recorded usage of the term incunabula came in 1639 when the noted bibliophile Bernhard von Mallinckrodt issued a pamphlet to mark the bicentenary of the advent of printing by movable type titled De ortu et progressu artis typographicae (“Of the rise and progress of the typographic art”). 

It was within this pamphlet he used the phrase prima typographicae incunabula, “the first infancy of printing” to describe books printed before the date 1500.  The date was chosen arbitrarily, probably because it was a nice round number that followed the invention, but it stuck. 

The new technology caught on fast and Incunabula can be found in more than 15 languages. Today, you will find examples in the world’s most famous libraries.

 

Examples of Incunabula

Liber Sextus Decretalium cum Apparatu Ioannis Andreae by Pope Bonifacius VIII
Liber Sextus Decretalium cum Apparatu Ioannis Andreae
by Pope Bonifacius VIII (1470)

Six Books of Decretals, which are
letters issued by the pope that
influence ecclesiastical law.
Bucolica Cum Commento Familiari by Vergilius Maro Publius (1497)
Bucolica Cum Commento Familiari
by Vergilius Maro Publius (1497)

Title translates as ‘Comments Made
by an Intimate Friend’
De Victoria verbi Dei in Tredecim Libros Diuisum by Abbot of Deutz Rupertus (1487)
De Victoria verbi Dei in Tredecim Libros Diuisum
by Abbot of Deutz Rupertus (1487)

An important book for the time, explaining how people become
good or evil.

 

Epistolae, libri X. De Vocatione; Sermones; Orationes; de Sacramentis; de Virginibus; de viduis. de Helia et Ieiunio by Ambrosius (1490)
Epistolae, libri X. De Vocatione; Sermones; Orationes; de Sacramentis; de Virginibus; de
viduis. de Helia et Ieiunio

by Ambrosius (1490)

Letters and sermons of Bishop Ambrosius of Milan, a key
ecclesiastical figure of the 4th century.
Historiae Florentini Populi by Brunus Leonardus (1492)
Historiae Florentini Populi
by Brunus Leonardus (1492)

History of the Florentine people. Leonardo Bruni of Arezzo has been called the first modern historian.
Joannes Gerson de Immitatione Christi Et de Contemptu Mundi in Vulgari Sermone by Joannes Gerson (1491)
Joannes Gerson de Immitatione Christi Et de Contemptu Mundi in Vulgari Sermone
by Joannes Gerson (1491)

The ‘Imitation of Christ’ is a religious instruction manual – this copy is written in Venice’s vernacular language.

 

Summa Theologica, Pars Secunda: Prima Pars by Thomas Aquinas (1490)
Summa Theologica, Pars Secunda: Prima Pars
by Thomas Aquinas (1490)

Intended as an instructional guide for theologians, the influence of Aquinas’s work continues to this day.
Cirurgia Magistri by Pietro d’Argelata (1487)
Cirurgia Magistri
by Pietro d’Argelata (1487)

Surgical text written by the physician who performed the autopsy on Pope Alexander V in 1410.
Comestorium Vitiorum by Franciscus de Retza (1470)
Comestorium Vitiorum
by Franciscus de Retza (1470)

The title of this book, which deals with the seven deadly sins and their corresponding virtues, translates as ‘Vice Eaters’.

 

Theokritou Eidollia by Theocritus (and others) (1495)
Theokritou Eidollia
by Theocritus (and others) (1495)

A collection of classical Greek poetry,
in Greek, produced by famed Venetian printer Aldus Manutius.
Epistolae and Lupus de Oliveto by Hieronymus (1497)
Epistolae and Lupus de Oliveto
by Hieronymus (1497)

This copy comes complete with nearly two hundred woodcut illustrations.
Commentatorium Grammaticorum de Orthographia Dictionum E Graecis Tractarum by Johannes Tortellius (1477)
Commentatorium Grammaticorum de Orthographia Dictionum E Graecis Tractarum
by Johannes Tortellius (1477)

This secular work in orthography focuses on how the Roman alphabet should be used to represent the spelling and pronunciation of Greek words.

 

Glosa Psalterii. [expositio super toto psalterio] by Johannes de Turrecremata (1487)
Glosa Psalterii. [expositio super
toto psalterio]

by Johannes de Turrecremata (1487)

A work on the significance of the
Psalms, written by a Spanish
Dominican monk.
Rudimentum Novitiorum (1500)
Rudimentum Novitiorum
(1500)

An early history of France and especially its links with the Catholic church.
Sententiarum libri IV by Petrus Lombardus (1491)
Sententiarum libri IV
by Petrus Lombardus (1491)

Printed by Anton Koberger, an
important religious text with illuminations.

 

Blondi Forlivie[n]sis viri praeclari Romae instauratae by Flavius Blondus (1482)
Blondi Forlivie[n]sis viri praeclari Romae instauratae
by Flavius Blondus (1482)

Flavio Biondo’s two major works in a single volume: Rome Restored, considered the foundation of archeology, and Italy Illuminated, considered the foundation of historical geography.
De Bello Judaico by Flavius Joseph (1480)
De Bello Judaico
by Flavius Joseph (1480)

An important insight into 1st century Jewish history.
Scriptores Rei Militaris by Various (1493)
Scriptores Rei Militaris
by Various (1493)

Works by five Roman and Greek military authors.
Decretales cum summariis suis et textuum divisionibus ac etiam rubricarum concinnationibus by Pope Gregory IX (1500)
Decretales cum summariis suis et textuum divisionibus ac etiam rubricarum concinnationibus
by Pope Gregory IX (1500)

The first papal law book, the heart of the Codex Iuris Canonici until 1917.
The Nuremberg Chronicles by Hartmann Schedel (1493)
Das Buch der Chroniken un Geschichten
by Hartman Schedel (1493)

A book of woodcut illustrations. The first edition of The Nuremberg Chronicles is in German.
Sermones Quadragesimales de Legibus Dicti by Leonardus de Utino (1479)
Sermones Quadragesimales de Legibus Dicti
by Leonardus de Utino (1479)

Leonardus de Utino was a popular 15th century Dominican preacher whose work was influenced by the scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas.
Imitatio Christi by Johannes Gerson et al (1501)
Imitatio Christi
by Johannes Gerson et al (1501)

The ‘Imitation of Christ’ is a work of spiritual devotion, designed as a religious instruction manual.
Supplementum Summae Pisanellae et Canones Poenitentiales Fratris by Nicolaus de Ausmo (1481)
Supplementum Summae Pisanellae et Canones Poenitentiales Fratris
by Nicolaus de Ausmo (1481)

An encyclopedia of canon law.
De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius (1491)
De Consolatione Philosophiae
by Boethius (1491)

Boethius wrote his great philosophical work in prison, while awaiting trial and ultimate execution for treason.
Opuscula by Saint Anselm (1497)
Opuscula
by Saint Anselm (1497)

Works of a philosopher, theologian & employee of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 11th century.

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