Sermo de gloriosa virgine Maria. BERNARDINUS SENENSIS.
Sermo de gloriosa virgine Maria.
Sermo de gloriosa virgine Maria.
Sermo de gloriosa virgine Maria.
First edition of the quattrocento preacher’s sermon on his ideal woman, from the first press of Cologne

Sermo de gloriosa virgine Maria. [Cologne: Ulrich Zel, before 10 October 1470].

 Chancery half-sheet 4to (210 x 146 mm). Collation: [a-e8 d2] (without e2 blank). 25 (of 26) leaves, unfoliated. Contemporary manuscript quiring preserved on 2 leaves (a1 and d1). 27 lines. Type 1:96 (leaded to 109).  Watermark: two keys (Briquet 3819). No visible pinholes. Three- and four-line initial spaces. Initials supplied in alternating red and blue, opening initial in blue with red filigree infill and extenders; paragraph marks in red and blue, underlining in red, explicit by the rubricator, Jhs maria ([d]1r); the blue ink faded in places, two of the blue initials offset. Formerly in a Sammelband, later (18th-century?) foliation 165-188. An unpressed, large copy, somewhat soiled and with occasional stains, last leaf (4/1) detached. 19th-century flexible pasteboards covered in brown speckled pastepaper (wrinkled and worn), ms. paper label on spine and later label with the number 17 (tears to backstrip). Provenance: scattered contemporary marginal annotations and corrections in two or three different hands, a few words crossed out by the annotator on [a]3r, a few manicules and bracketed passages; early inscription on final verso (deleted); Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), armorial bookplate, sale, Evans, 1844, possibly lot 2476?; John Fuller Russell, sale, Sotheby's, 26 June 1885, lot 108, lot label preserved on upper cover, (O’Brien’s?) pencil note inside front cover, “#18 from the Russell library”; William O'Brien (1832-1899); bequeathed to: the Jesuits at Milltown Park, 20th-century book-label.

First Edition, and the earliest surviving edition of any work by Bernardino da Siena, printed at the first press of Cologne. The greatest Italian preacher of the quattrocento, Bernardino travelled throughout Italy preaching directly to the people. The performative aspects, both verbal and non-verbal, of his spell-binding sermons were recorded by contemporaries, while the written records of his sermons show the immense preparation and depth of scholarship that underpinned them (DBI 9:222).  The first part of the present sermon on the glory of the Virgin describes the 12 stars of her crown, which include her nobility, her merit, her power, etc. The second part explores her role in the realm of God. Bernardino held up the Virgin as a model to be followed by all women. This is the only incunable edition of the sermon.

Ulrich Zel’s prolific career commenced with the production of a series of editions in quarto format, nearly all undated. These approximately 85 quartos, printed between 1466 and 1472 in his first type (Proctor’s Type 1), most in 27 lines per page, were part of an “evidently well-defined publishing programme, aimed at sales to a primarily pastoral and monastic market, the center of gravity of the texts being some thirty treatises of Jean Gerson. In these early years Zel possessed only a modest printing equipment, yet no other printing shop in the period of the later 1460s and very early 1470s had so prolific and closely focused a programme” (Needham, p. 11). Various attempts to order these editions chronologically, based on states of the type and number of pinholes, were made, by Proctor (silently adopted by BMC), Voullième, Francis Jenkinson (librarian of Cambridge University, whose analysis was spelled out in his Sandars lecture in 1908), and, much later, Severin Corsten. A full review of these previous efforts, with his own updated analysis of paper stocks, is provided by Paul Needham in the cited article. The present edition is from approximately the middle period of the Zel quarto series; it can be dated from a purchase note in the copy at Besançon, dated 10 October 1470.

The British Museum’s nearly comprehensive holdings of Zel quartos owed much to the Duke of Sussex (1773-1843), George III’s sixth son, at the 1844-45 sales of whose library the Museum acquired a number of editions. Their purchases did not include the present copy; they had to wait until 1856 to purchase their copy.

This copy was in a tract volume, apparently until it passed through the library of John Fuller Russell, dispersed in 1885 and 1886. The 1844 Evans sale of the Bibliotheca Sussexiana lists several tract volumes of Zel quartos (lots 2446, 4329, 4352, etc.) without identifying the contents. Lot 2476 contains a copy of the present edition, bound with a copy of Gaguinus, De puritate conceptionis B.V.M., “Paris, 1498” (possibly GW 10460 or 10461); but that work is a pamphlet and the foliation of this copy testifies to its inclusion in a much larger tract volume.

ISTC ib00348000; GW 3884; Goff B-348; HC 2833; BMC I:183 (IA. 2781); Bod-inc B-166; CIBN B-245; Walsh 325; cf. Paul Needham, "Ulrich Zel's early quartos revisited," Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15 (2012), 9-57.

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