Basel, [Froben], 1528


Folio. pp. (xx) 692 (xxiv). Roman letter, little Italic, occasional Greek. Large woodcut printer’s device to t-p and verso of last, woodcut initials and ornaments. Slight toning, scattered worming generally at gutter, occasionally touching letters, light water stain at upper gutter of some ll. and to fore-edge of last gathering. A very good, well-margined copy, on thick paper, in near contemporary Swiss calf over wooden boards, remains of clasps, eight brass cornerpieces, double blind ruled to a panel design, outer border with roll of heads within roundels with decorative pendants, inner border with blind-stamped antique urns, tendrils and small figures of standing soldiers, centre panels with roll of heads within roundels and fleurons, each panel flanked by two small gilt acorns and two gilt rosettes, small gilt mudejar design to centre, author and title gilt to upper margin of upper cover, author inked to fore-edge, raised bands, double blind ruled, ancient title label at head, upper joint and spine a bit cracked, sympathetic repair at foot, lower edge a little worn. Ownership inscription ‘Wolfg. Engelb. S.R.J. Com: ab Auersperg Sup. Cap. Cam. Cat. Inser: Anno 1655’ to head of title, several C16 marginal annotations with small sketched drawing reprising text, C19 bookplate of the Auersperg Palace library to front and small label of K.J. Hewett to rear pastedown.

A very handsomely and unusually bound Froben imprint, with fascinating textual and visual annotations, of Tertullian’s complete works. The contemporary binding resembles in style, though we have not found exact matches, those produced at the Franciscan monastery of Freiburg (Horodisch, ‘Buchbinderei’). In particular, it is reminiscent of the work of the bookbinder Peter Gay (fl.1560-1592), mixing solid blind-tooling with sparse gilt single tools and a gilt title, as in BL IA38479. In 1655, it was added to the library of Wolfgang Engelbert von Ausperger, a Lutheran aristocrat from Carniola, Slovenia, whose extremely rich family library stayed more or less intact until the second half of the C20. Based on two mss from the monasteries of Peterlingen and Hirschau, edited by the German humanist and reformer Beatus Rhenanus (1485-1547), due to numerous errors in the sources, this edition was revised using a third ms. (Graesse VII, 69). Tertullian (155-240AD), of whom little is known, was born in Carthage and was probably a lawyer and priest. He became one of the earliest defenders of Christianity against pagan cults like Gnosticism; he was also the first writer in Latin to use the word ‘trinity’. This edition includes his sermons on patience, Christ’s flesh, its resurrection, martyrs, penitence, wives and monogamy. It also features his ‘adversus’ against the Jews and the Valentinians, as well as his most famous ‘Apologeticus’, which discusses key theological questions like the nature of Christ and the devil, the kingdom of God, the Roman religion, and why pagan deities should not be considered ‘gods’. One early annotator of this copy was especially interested in heretics (with numerous references to St Augustine’s work on the subject), and in the ‘Adversus Marcionem’, against the errors of the Marcionites, a middle eastern movement often identified with a strand of the Gnostics. The annotator also had a strong visual imagination. Where Tertullian quoted from Cicero the phrase ‘naso agere’ to address the ‘fools’ who rate the same wisdom divine and human, he drew a face with a long nose. In ‘Ad Martyres’, he drew the portrait of Lucretia stabbing herself after being raped by an Etruscan king’s son. He was also interested in the sections on confession and ‘ecclesia’ in ‘De Poenitentia’, as he portrayed passages from the text: a priest confessing a crying man and a deer pierced by an arrow seeking to heal himself by eating chelidonium, an allegory of the repentant sinner (an image repeated in the index). He also annotated the two sermons on ‘the cult of women’ (esp. sections on ‘pudicitia’ and even the style of hair), and ‘the wife’ (esp. bigamy and trigamy). In ‘Apologeticus’, he illustrated with the words ‘blasphemia cornelii taciti’ the famous statement by Tacitus, reprised by Tertullian, that Christians were said by pagans to worship ‘the head of an ass’.

Graesse VII, 69 (mentioned); BM STC Ger., p. 853; Dibdin I, 207-8 (mentioned). A. Horodisch, ‘Die Buchbinderei des Franziskanerklosters zu Freiburg (Schweiz) im 16. Jahrhundert’, Rivista svizzera d’arte e d’archeologia 9 (1947), 157-80.
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