LARGE PAPER GOSPELS IN ARABIC

Evangelium sanctum. [in Arabic]

Rome, Tipografia Medicea Orientale, 1591 [1590].

£29,500

EDITIO PRINCEPS. Folio. pp. 368. Arabic letter, little Roman and Italic. 149 large, attractive woodcuts (69 repeated), partly by Antonio Tempesta and Leonardo Parasole, of the four evangelists and scenes from the life of Christ, arabesque head- and tailpieces, typographical double-rule throughout. Intermittent light age browning, marginal slight foxing, t-p lightly oil stained, early repair to upper outer corner of last two ll., final ll. a bit spotted. Very good, wide-margined, probably large paper copy, generally uncut, in fine impression on thicker paper, in Italian vellum, c.1800, spine with gilt triple-ruled border and gilt arabesque decoration to compartments, contrasting morocco labels.

Rare Arabic edition of the Gospels and first publication of the renowned Medici Oriental Press, established in Rome in 1584 with the endorsement of Pope Gregory XIII and Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (later Gran Duke of Tuscany). The main aim of this enterprise, run by the famous Oriental scholar Giovanni Battista Raimondi, was to print religious books in the most common Oriental languages (i.e., Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, Ethiopic and Persian) and distribute them in the East so as to encourage the spread of the Gospels. The splendid Arabic font employed in this edition was designed by Robert Granjon, the official type-cutter of the press. In 1591, the Medici press published also the interlinear edition with the Latin original text, also edited by Raimondi. This bilingual version was used in Europe for teaching Arabic and thus survives in a much greater number of copies than the pure Arabic edition, which was distributed (and almost certainly not warmly welcomed) in the Middle East for (literally speaking) evangelisation. It seems likely that the beautiful illustrations included in the book as an aid for readers, were not at all appreciated by Muslims, who, according to the Koran, forbid contemplation of images of God. A large part of the print-run may have been quickly destroyed.

‘The editio princeps of the Gospels in Arabic … The early editions of the Arabic Gospels are all forms of the “Alexandrian Vulgate”’. Darlow, II/1, p. 63.

Not in BM STC It. Adams, B 1822; Brunet, II, 1123; Graesse, II, 531; Darlow, 1636; Mortimer, Italian, 64.

L2831

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