Current Issue

May†11, 2011

Vol. 111, No. 12

Notebook

From Princeton's vault: The 542-year-old Virgil

By W. Barksdale Maynard ’88
Published in the May†11, 2011, issue


Rare Books Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library; Photograph: Ricardo Barros
What: Ink on paper may strike many readers today as passť, but here’s a look back to when books themselves were the hot new thing – more than five centuries ago.

The German team of Sweynheym and Pannartz pioneered printing technology in Italy, cranking out copies of Virgil from their press in Rome. This rare volume is from the very first edition (1469) just 14 years after the unveiling of the Gutenberg Bible. Columbus was a teenager; Shakespeare’s birth still a century off. †

Princeton’s prized collection of Virgil came from Junius Morgan 1888 *1896, nephew of J.P. Morgan. He was proud of his Sweynheym and Pannartz, which remains the only copy in the United States. Of the 179 known “incunable” Virgils (printed before 1501), the Princeton University Library houses a remarkable 52, including three found nowhere else. †

The hand-drawn “illumination” is typical of incunables, which were treated like one-of-a-kind manuscripts. “Then a paradigm shift sank in,” says Craig Kallendorf (Texas A&M), who just re-cataloged the collection. “Suddenly people realized the printed book was something different,” and handicraft methods gave way to mass production.

Where: † Junius Spencer Morgan Collection of Virgil, Rare Books Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Post Comments
Tell us what you think about
From Princeton's vault
Enter the word as it appears in the picture below
Send
By submitting a comment, you agree to PAW's comment posting policy.
CURRENT ISSUE: May†11, 2011