Incipit Sermo Sancti Bernhardini. Or- | dinis fratrum minorum. De gloriosa vir- | gine Maria. [Cologne: Ulrich Zel, not after 10.X.1470]
The Franciscan friar St. Bernardine of Siena was so well known as a preacher in early fifteenth-century Italy that at least three biographies and hagiographies were composed by friends and admirers immediately following his death in 1444, and more than a dozen had been written by 1480. St. Bernardine sermonized against witchcraft, sorcery, gambling, and vice, but was most tireless in his admiration of the Virgin, whom he preached as not only divine perfection, but as an earthly role model whose unassailable goodness and probity should be followed by all women. Our book is the only incunable printing of his sermon on the Glory of the Virgin, which was to be preached on the Wednesday after Easter. It was probably composed between 1430-36. The sermon was inspired by the second part of Psalm 45:09 (Vulgate 44:10): "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir," or in St. Bernardine's words, "The queen stood on your right hand in gilded clothing surrounded with variety." Bernard preaches that one may meditate on three aspects of the Virgin Mary: Her crown of graces with twelve stars, her exalted glory, and her unmatchable honor. The first part of the sermon discusses Mary's crown, whose first eleven stars represent, in order, Nobility, Preservation, Merit, Power, Excellence, The Rule of Service, The Glory of Kingdom, Completion, Adornment, and Retribution. The twelfth star is beyond understanding: how incomprehensible and ineffable are the perfections of the glorious Virgin, particularly the miracle of miracles—that a woman could conceive and give birth to God. The sermon continues with a discussion of the Virgin in the "triple heaven," and her role as a model to be imitated, and concludes with a vociferous call to the most wicked to admire the five stones in her crown so that those who have sinned may be delivered. The Virgin stands above sinners quasi luna sub pedibus, like the moon under her feet.
St. Bernardine's sermon is one of the earliest printed works devoted to the Virgin. A survey of 632 imprints not dated after 1470 mentions five works with Mary as the cardinal subject—a 1470 bull, three works printed by Ulrich Zel (including ours), all undated but about 1470, and a 1462 illustrated almanac known in a single copy. De gloriosa virgine Maria is undated, but the copy held at Besançon bears a manuscript purchase note dated 10 October 1470. Between 1466 and 1472 Zel printed at least 85 quartos, which, according to Paul Needham, was “evidently [a] well-defined publishing programme, aimed at sales to a primarily pastoral and monastic market, the center of gravity of the texts being some thirty treatises of Jean Gerson. In these early years Zel possessed only a modest printing equipment, yet no other printing shop in the period of the later 1460s and very early 1470s had so prolific and closely focused a programme.” Since almost all in the quarto series are undated, efforts at a chronology have preoccupied bibliographers since at least the early 20th century, beginning with Ernst Voulliéme and Robert Proctor, and concluding with Severin Corsten and Paul Needham in the 2010s. The present work, one of the few whose terminus ante quem is known, falls somewhere in the middle of the series. Zel, the first printer of Cologne and once a colleague of Gutenberg, was well positioned to state, without equivocation, in the Cologne Chronicle of 1499, that the first printed book was a Vulgate Bible, produced by Johann Gutenberg in 1450: the dawn of incunabula studies. Our copy of On the Glory of the Virgin—one of the earliest printed books on any subject presently on the market—is a very good, pleasing exemplar with compelling annotations and corrections. It retains generous margins, has never suffered the bibliographical indignity of washing, and has a palpable punch to the type.
Cologne: Ulrich Zel, 1470.
Quarto, 210 x 146 x 7 mm (binding), 210 x 144 x 6 mm (text block); [A-C]8, [D]2 [-D2 blank] = 25 [of 26] ff., wanting final blank leaf D2. Unsigned, foliated at head fore-corners 165-188 in ink at an early date. 27 lines per page, Proctor's rounded gothic type I (I:96, with leading to 108), capital spaces supplied in vermilion and lapis with tracery and infills, graf openings rubricated. Mid-19th-century paper-covered pasteboard, titled vertically in manuscript on paper lettering piece: Bernardinus de Virgine Maria. Covers worn and cockled with some loss of paper to spine. Interior: Leaves toned, some fingersoiling, offsetting and fading of manuscript initials, pale damp to last three leaves, final leaf D1 invisibly guarded with archival Japanese tissue.
Signed by the rubricator in vermilion on [D]1r, "Jh's Mariá"; this could be a Christogram but is more likely to be a name (presumably "J[o]h[anne]s"), though we have located no other incunabula of the period with this explicit; contemporary manuscript quiring evident at tail fore-corners of several leaves; early custodial inscription to d1v, struck out and now illegible, even under uV light and digital filters, though it appears to begin "Johannes—"; early marginal annotations, fingerposts, underlinings, corrections, strikeouts, and bracketings in three hands; engraved armorial ex-libris of the Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), sold at the Evans auction in 1844, perhaps lot 2476, a Sammelband, from which our quarto was likely subtracted and rebound; then acquired by John Fuller Russell at Sotheby's sale of 26 June 1885, lot 108, which label is preserved on upper cover; penciled note inside upper cover reading “#18 from the Russell library”; then acquired by William O'Brien (1832-1899), who bequeathed the book to the Jesuits' Society at Milltown Park (Dublin), whose modern ex-libris is pasted to inside front cover, and which collection, including our book, was dispersed at Sotheby's in 2017; recent penciled bibliographer's notes to inside covers; unidentified shelfmark "17" to spine. Acquired by W. S. Cotter Rare Books from Nina Musinsky of New York, November 2021.
GW 3884 (which mentions the dated Besançon copy) ; ISTC ib00348000 (finding three copies in US libraries, LoC, Harvard, and Detroit Public Library); Goff B348; BMC I:183; Saint Bernardine of Siena, Eleven Sermons on the Blessed Virgin Mary (tr. Campion Murray, OFM), Phoenix: Tau, 2013. Also please see Paul Needham's essay on Zel's quartos in Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society, Vol. 15 (2012), pp. 9-57. Full bibliographical citations on request. All translation in the description above ©Campion Murray, 2013.
Status: On Hold