GILBERT of Hoyland.

GILBERT of Hoyland. Sermonum super cantica canticorum liber

Florence, Nicolaus Laurentii, 1485


FIRST EDITION. 4to., ff. [CLX]. Roman letter, large red illuminated first initial. Tiny wormhole to blank margin of three initial ll. and couple interlinear at end. A very good, generously margined copy on thick paper, crisp and clean, in C16 vellum, a few small wormholes to covers, early repair to lower cover. C19 ex-libris “Dalla Libreria del Signor Medico Lorenzo Sciorelli à Dogliani” and “Dr. Ferd(inand)o Fracchia” to verso of fly, early ms. “Magi(ste)r Fr(ater) Franc(iscu)s Maria Ferragatta Carmagnol(ensi)s” above incipit, contemporary 8-line ms. inscription in Italian vernacular commenting the beginning of Sermo II (fol. V), early ms. alphabetical index in columns (cropped at head) to final blank, couple of short ms. notes under (missing) letters A and I, empty columns for letters B, D, F, H, L.

A very good copy of the first edition of Gilbert of Hoyland’s sermons on the Song of Songs. Beautifully printed in Florence by the German Nicolaus Laurentii (fl. 1475–1486), this is a most fascinating witness of the great interest, among Italian Renaissance humanists, for this remarkable medieval commentary by an English author. Very few English authors were published in the 15th century and this is the only incunable edition of this author. The present copy has an early Italian provenance and interesting manuscript annotations.

Gilbert of Hoyland (d. c. 1172) was abbot of the Cistercian monastery of Swineshead in Lincolnshire. This area was known as ‘Holland’ or ‘Hoyland’. Gilbert is most famous for his ‘Sermonum super cantica canticorum’ (here), a continuation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s sermon commentary on the Song of Songs. When St. Bernard died in 1153, his commentary remained unfinished: Gilbert took on the task of writing 47 additional sermons, beginning from where St. Bernard had left off (the beginning of the third chapter), and reaching the fifth chapter before his death in 1172. Though written in the style of Bernard, these sermons are infused with Gilbert’s personal spirit and contemplative insight, and reveal a profound knowledge of the Scripture and the classics. The Song of Songs is one of the most poetic texts in the Bible, describing the erotic encounters of two lovers  – in his exegesis, Gilbert embraces and articulates the Church’s allegorical interpretation of the Canticle as a celebration of the mutual love between God and mankind, containing teachings on doctrine and spiritual union.

An early owner of this copy was Master Francesco Maria Ferragatta (17th century) of Carmagnola, a small village not far from Turin (Piemonte, Italy). Ferragatta was an Augustinian friar, teacher of theology, and Secretary General of the Augustininan Order under Father General Gerolamo Valvassori of Milan. Ferragatta was praised by his contemporaries as an excellent preacher, and he is the author of numerous sermons, orations and panegyrics. A quite extensive manuscript annotation and a few more brief notes scattered throughout the volume are in a different hand – likely belonging to another Augustinian friar of the monastery in Carmagnola. This second anonymous reader was particularly interested in Gilbert’s discussion concerning the bride’s “little bed”, described in the Song: the author remarks that a little bed has to be preferred, as there is no space for adulterers. In his notes, the commentator points out that “the beds in the houses of the great [presumably the rich and noble] are very large, not made for resting but to give space to more than one (person)…so large and so wide, that there is plenty of space for adulterers and concubines”.

In the 19th century, this was in the hands of Italian doctors of Dogliani, another village in Piemonte not far from Carmagnola: Lorenzo Sciorelli (see his thesis, ‘De Gravidarum Regime’, 1809) and Ferdinando Fracchia (see ‘Annuario d’Italia, per l’anno 1892’, 1892, p. 435).

The present is one of some copies in which the first words of a2 verso read ‘taturcui sic videt[ur]’ (see BMC VI, p.630).  


USTC 994707; istc ig00304000; Goff G304; BMC C15 Vol. VI, p. 630; GW 10921; Shaaber G293. On Ferragatta, see G. Casalis, Dizionario geografico storico-statistico-commerciale, 1848, p. 727
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