JOHN CHRYSOSTOM and BASIL THE GREAT
Ai theiai leitourgiai (with) ApostolosVenice, Antonio Pinelli (with) Gian Pietro Pinelli, 1626; 1633
4to, two works in one, 1): A-D8, ff. ; 2): – 8, +2, ff. . Black-and-red Greek letter; large woodcut border on both titles, including vignette of the Last Supper; large printer’s device to the verso of the final leaf; marginal paper flaw to 2 viir, original paper crease to viiir affecting a few letters; clean tear in the margin of oiir. A very good copy, almost untrimmed, slightly browned due to poor quality of paper, in elegant tree calf; gilded border to covers; small repairs to the corners; skilfully rebacked; original spine with morocco label remounted, elegant decoration in gilt; inscription on the title verso ‘Caesaris De Missy Berolinensis: Londini: A. D. 1754’.
Rare seventeenth-century specimens of these characteristic devotional booklets for Greek Catholics and Orthodox believers. In early modern Italy, one can find a considerable number of minority groups using the Byzantine rite, from the Albanian and Greek communities in the Southern part of the peninsula, to the settlements of Eastern Greeks in Venice and the main harbours, like Livorno. Greece and the Oriental Mediterranean Sea also represented an appealing marketing area, with very few competitors, given the reluctance of the Ottoman Empire in exploiting printing as a means of communication. Since the Renaissance, Venice had been traditionally the main centre for this kind of publication. A century later, Antonio Pinelli tried to set up in the city a business exporting Greek books to Constantinople. He acquired Greek fonts from earlier publishers specialised in modern Greek printing (such as Cristoforo Zanetti and Giacomo Leoncini) and established a family publishing house. His firm acted as the official press of the Republic until the early nineteenth century.
Since religious books for Greeks were meant for daily use, they were printed in cheap editions and only very few copies survive to the present day. The liturgies by Chrysostom and Basil, the most commonly celebrated forms of the Divine Liturgy, were published for the first time in Rome by Demetrios Ducas in 1526 and then frequently reprinted. The Apostolon is a compendium of exemplary abstracts from the Acts of the Apostles and their letters, to be read throughout the year. The editio princeps was published in 1525 by Nicolini brothers, at the initiative of Damiano Santa Maria for the Greek Venetian community. This appears to be the only known copy of the issue of 1633.
This apparently unique copy bears a remarkable provenance. César de Missy (1703–1775) was the Prussian chaplain of George III. A prominent collector and Biblical scholar interested in religious Greek books, he spent his life gathering early manuscripts of the Bible and dreaming of publishing a new edition of the New Testament. His stunning collection was acquired by the Scottish physicians William Hunter (1718-1783) and Matthew Baillie (1761-1823) and reached Glasgow University Library in 1807.