Bible in Latin. Venice: Franz Renner, de Heilbronn and Nicolaus de Frankfordia, 1475.
The finely illuminated opening page illustrated here belongs to the Library's oldest printed Bible, a Latin Vulgate and the first Bible to be printed in the burgeoning mercantile centre of Venice. Continuing the tradition of medieval book construction most early printed books did not possess title pages, and were not in fact identified by their titles. Most books were identified and catalogued by their incipit (the first words of the text). Information about the printer, the date of publication and sometimes a title was supplied in the colophon at the end of the text, a practice which developed from the signing of a manuscript by its scribe. Although Peter Schoffer and occasionally other printers experimented with introducing a title page, it was not until 1476, the year after this volume was printed, that Erhard Ratdolt, another German active in Venice, fully realized the marketing potential and added value for the buying public of this innovation. By the end of the 15th century the title page had been generally adopted. In the absence of a title page illuminations, like the example shown, acted as navigational devices, as a means of adding illustrations to help convey the meaning of a text, and as a means of marking ownership.
The Vulgate was first brought together in the 6th century, and consisted mainly of the Latin translations of St Jerome made in the 4th century, and it is Jerome who appears here in the illuminated initial at the start of the text.
Bequest of John Newcome.