PLATINA, Bartholomaeus de

PLATINA, Bartholomaeus de In vitas ponti cum ad Sixtum IV

Nuremberg, Anton Koberger, 1481, 12 August


Folio, 128 ll. unnumbered and unsigned [*2 a -2 b c-r s t v ] plus additional leaf inserted before a1. Gothic letter, double column, spaces blank. Most of blank paper of first leaf cut away (as in BL copy) and replaced, probably at time of binding, 16 line text on verso rubricated, monogrammed ‘S-C’ in red and mounted, detailed C16 ms index on verso of next and following inserted blank, extensive contemporary and C16 scholarly marginalia throughout in at least two Germanic hands, slightly trimmed in places, extensive bibliographical notes of J. Niefert, 1807 on blank prelims. Slight age yellowing, a good, clean, wide margined copy in Northern European polished calf, spine in eight compartments richly gilt, c1700.

Third edition and first printed north of the Alps of Platina’s classic ‘Lives of the Popes’ from St. Peter up to the accession of Sixtus IV, in the form of individual biographies arranged chronologically. It became on of the great bestsellers of the 16th century. Elegantly written and full of remarkable information not easily found elsewhere, Platina’s was the first systematic handbook of Papal history, undertaken at the behest of Sixtus who had suggested the work and who subsequently appointed Platina Prefect of the Vatican Library (the subject of a great fresco by Melozzo da Forli). Somewhat surprisingly therefore the ‘Lives’ is far from constituting a general Papal hagiography. It is venomous about Paul II, who had made Platina redundant from his position in the College of Abbreviators (“cruel and an enemy of science”) and had him imprisoned for the authoring of a defamatory pamphlet, responsible for the ridiculous story of Calixtus XIII excommunicating Halley’s comet, and often disparaging about the conditions in the Church, all of which contributed to its demand in Catholic and Protestant Europe alike. Nevertheless the ‘Lives’ remains of value as the first and for some time only work of its kind and if Platina was inconsistent in his verification of historical detail, he was not ignorant of the value of critical research.

The particular value of the present copy lies in the consistent ms glosses through which we can still discern the reaction of a contemporary reader, at first hand.

BMC II 420. Goff P769. HC13047. ISTC
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