Statuta magnificae communitatis Bergomi…
Brescia, per Angelum & Iacobum fratres de britannicis, 18 December, 1491
FIRST EDITION. Folio. 227 leaves (of 228, without a1 blank). a-c8, d-z6, &6, [cum]6, [rum]6, aa-ff6, gg8, hh6, (1-6)12, [hh6 blank], errata and table of contents at end. 44 lines plus headline. Roman letter, some Gothic, capital spaces with guide-letters; faded manuscript annotations. A good, crisp, clean copy with excellent margins. Small marginal worm holes (2e3-2h6) and occasional splash or spot. In C18th Italian sheep, slightly rubbed, raised bands, gilt spine with green morocco label. Joints slightly cracked, some worm holes on spine.
First and only incunable edition of the first printed statutes of Bergamo. Located in the north of Italy on the top of a foothill which stands out against a picturesque Alpine background, the oldest part of Bergamo is today known as Città Alta (High City). This magnificent fortified city is crowded with elegant palaces and imposing churches. For many centuries, Bergamo was a stronghold of great strategic importance for the domination of the Po valley. The city overlooks the border between Lombardy and the Veneto, once the rich Duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice. Formerly a Milanese dominion, in 1428 Bergamo decided to accept the rule of Venice provided special autonomies and liberties were granted to its citizens, and it definitively passed under the protection of La Serenissima.
This collection of rules and municipal laws evidences Bergamo’s privileged position, compared to other important cities of the Venetian terra firma. Indeed, Bergamo had its own laws. Drafted by a group of experts appointed by the people of Bergamo, the statutes’ aim is pointed out at the beginning of the text: to ensure the comfort and tranquilly of the entire city and its districts for the sake of ‘benevivere’, that is, quiet and peaceful everyday life. This work includes regulations and principles concerning all aspects of life in Bergamo and its countryside, starting from the election of the ruling bodies, such as the council of the elders, to administration, taxation, sanctions, salaries, relationships between citizens, litigation, crime and so on. The preservation of clean and safe water available at the city’s fountains for public use seems to have been a very relevant issue.
One of the previous owners of the book, the great collector Michael Wodhull (1740-1816; his acquisition note on fly. Pinelli Auction 2s 6d April 13 1789), was particularly struck by the cruelty of some of the punishments reserved to those who broke the law. His manuscript annotation on the recto of the rear endpaper (dated Dec. 22nd 1805) tells us: ‘…repeated mention of Torture, cutting out of Tongues & amputation of hands & Feet give a disgustful appearance to these Laws which too much resemble those of Draco…’. The work provides an extremely detailed account of general procedure in matter of criminal accusations, trials, imprisonment, and punishment, with a special attention to cases involving Jews. The list of crimes starts off with ‘minor’ offences: the offence against the authority (the city magistrates), the corruption of public officers, physical assault, street fights (with or without weapons) and riots, shoving or biting someone, throwing stones at people, singing out loud at night within the city walls, walking without carrying a light at night, and riding horses fast through the city. Punishment for these felonies consists either of a jail sentence or the payment of a fine, depending on their gravity. Anybody who swears to God and the Holy Virgin risks the loss of his tongue, while seditious citizens who plot against Bergamo or the state of Venice can face torture. However, nobody who has not yet reached the age of fourteen can be tortured. Incestuous intercourse will be punished with castration, or death. According to this compendium of inflexible laws, in which the echo of the Middle Ages still resounds, not only can sodomites incur the death penalty, but their bodies have to be burnt publicly. Thieves can meet death on the gallows, or suffer flagellation, branding, and the amputation of limbs.