Cristina DONDI
Lincoln College, Oxford

Early Printed Books of Hours:
the bespoke trade in Venice,
a commercial business in Paris

Books, Religion, and Medieval Literacy
APICES Session, 39th International Congress on Medieval Studies
Kalamazoo, 6-9 May 2004

E do not usually associate Venetian printers with books for ordinary rather than scholarly readers, the kind generally prepared for local consumption. Indeed their large output and extensive trade in classical, legal, theological, and also liturgical texts was truly international. However, there is one type of book, regarded as the very exemplar of mass production, that gives us an insight into the interaction of Venetian printers with the local community: and this is the book of hours.

This text was among the most frequently printed works in the fifteenth century, together with schoolbooks such as Donatus or Alexander de Villa Dei and liturgical books, especially breviaries and missals. The Incunable Short-Title Catalogue (ISTC) currently records some 422 distinct editions of books of hours. This is at the high end of the scale. Of other much printed texts the breviaries were numerous with 444 editions, missals with 371; impressive was also the output of grammatical works, such as Donatus, Ars minor (410) and Alexander's Doctrinale (375). These texts however reflected institutional demands, and can be regarded as technical, or functional, if not compulsory, in a way the hours were not. The Ars minor and the Doctrinale were needed for teaching in a period of increasing literacy, while missals and breviaries were the necessity of every church and every member of a religious order. Their content was fixed, if we allow of course for liturgical diversity within the same text structure and for the different geographic appeal of the two and many more grammatical texts. The book of hours was the first book whose success reflects the taste and piety of an ever-widening range of social groups.

My interest in books of hours lies in understanding how printers and publishers met and stimulated the demand of the public for this type of book. Even before this, by looking at the dynamics of production, distribution, and use of this eventually very popular book I have been trying to figure out the circumstances surrounding the production of the earliest exemplars.

What we can recognize as the publishing success, or best-seller, of the fifteenth century, had a relatively modest start. The printing of books of Hours began in a fairly small way in Italy.

After the first isolated example of hours for the use of Rome printed in Rome in [circa 1473] {1}, the first dated edition is that of Nicolaus Jenson, printed in Venice in 1474, the first of five different editions issued in the two years 1474 and 1475 {2}.

All Jenson's editions (except one) {3} present the same calendar: it is Roman based, with a core of Venetian saints only partly shared by the hagiographic tradition of St Mark, with the addition of a very distinctive large group of Oriental and southern Italian saints, unusual enough to suggest, in my opinion, the use as printer's copy of a calendar in use in a specific church at present not yet identified, one among the many parishes or religious institutions of the city {4}. A further clue to the identification comes from the Augustinian character of the calendar, which includes an entry for Monica (4 May), mother of St Augustine, and a number of entries which derive from the sanctoral of the canons of the Lateran {5}. The peculiarity of this calendar has allowed me to identify where Jenson's editions were used as exemplar by other printers, something that was happening very early, in Milan, Naples, Ferrara {6}, Paris, and Valencia {7}.

How did it happen, then, that Venice, leader in the production of liturgical texts for the entire European market, with the cosmopolitan character of its book-trade, lost the international market of the books of hours?

The answer lies, I believe, in the fact that, for the early Italian (or more exactly Venetian) printers, hours were not a wide market, and were not even perceived as a title worth offering to an international market: they were produced to satisfy local communities. The fact that different Venetian calendars were used by other Venetian printers, who over the next few years went into the production of hours, suggests to me either that they were working on commission, or at least that printers were using as printer's copies manuscripts chosen from different religious institutions in the city: parishes, monasteries, convents, even perhaps private citizens (though in this case the calendar would likely be a reflection of their parish tradition). Commissions to reproduce manuscript exemplars for specific communities would explain the great diversity of the hagiographical selection that we find in the calendars of the Venetian editions, and at the same time the restricted, local, market of the Venetian output. This may also explain why in Venice the printing of hours was not seen as a viable commercial enterprise from the beginning.

Production of this type of book in France began rather later, in about 1485, but by the turn of the century some 255 editions had been printed by Parisian printers against the 36 editions printed in Venice alone or the total of 58 editions printed in Italy, and by the end of the fifteenth century Parisian hours were already circulating in Italy, as the substantial number surviving in Italian provincial libraries seems to indicate.

Under the influence of the Parisian hours the contents of the Italian hours expanded in their textual complexity and improved in quality with the adoption of illustration {8}: eventually, though, the overwhelming Parisian production of hours appears to have inhibited the Italian one.

It is clear even from the poor rate of survival that the market for these Italian books was local; and given the misfortunes of Venetian book collections, had copies circulated abroad at an early stage, they would probably have had more chance of survival. Still today they are found principally in Italian libraries: eight copies remain in Venice, mainly from the collection of Emmanuele Cicogna (1789-1868) who was purchasing from local book-dealers, 29 in other Italian libraries. Abroad, they can be found in collections that were formed with books coming from Italy at different stages: Giacomo Soranzo (1686-1761); Louis César de La Baume le Blanc, duc de la Vallière (1708-1780); Justin MacCarthy Reagh (1744-1811) (from the Loménie de Brienne (1727-1794) and Maffeo Pinelli (1735-1785) collections); Dimitrij Petrovich count Boutourlin (1763-1829); George John 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834); Victor Masséna Prince d'Essling (1799-1863); Ambroise Firmin-Didot (1790-1876); Charles Louis de Bourbon comte de Villafranca (1799-1883); William Horatio Crawford (1815-1888); Tammaro de Marinis (1878-1969); Philip Hofer (1898-1984). With few exceptions {9}, surviving copies show evidence of early Italian use, either in the decoration, manuscript notes, binding, or earlier ownership. Among manuscript annotations there is no trace of French use. Occasional Spanish use (in the Neapolitan editions), is explicable within the Italian political situation of the time. Therefore, the evidence surfacing from distribution and early use points towards local consumption.

This does not however answer questions about production. What is behind the initial production of printed books of hours? Can we infer what prompted it?

This question has to be investigated with relation to the Italian and the French production if we want to understand the reason of their diversity.
Emmanuele Cicogna, Horatio Brown, and more recently Martin Lowry brought to the attention of the public the fact that Nicolaus Jenson and John of Cologne belonged to the confraternity, or Scuola, of San Girolamo in Venice {10}.

The main purpose for joining a confraternity was that of attaining a spiritual benefit, by showing devotion to a certain saint, by attending masses, processions, and funeral vigils, and of mutual support.

Among the members listed in the still surviving manuscript statutes of the scuola, known as mariegola (from the Lat. matricula) {11}, "Nicolo xanson stampador s. Saluador", is clearly identifiable, and so is the other early printer active in Venice in the 1470s and '80s, John of Cologne ["Çuan da Cologna stampador s. paternia[n]"], recently identified with Johannes Helman, a great Cologne merchant who between 1470 and 1478 was delivering to Cologne 37.4% of the total amount of paper imported by that city {12}. We also find Raffael Zovenzonius (1434-c.1485), ["Raffael Zouenzonio fo de mis[ser] Romeo s. Bo[r]t[olami]o"], the Istrian humanist who worked as corrector and editor for Vindelinus de Spira, John of Cologne, and Jenson during the period 1470-72 {13}. Other printers also listed as such, 'stampador', are "Cristofalo renordi" and Giovanni Bianco; both are unknown to us, probably employed in printing workshops in the 1470s, the time when the membership list was composed.

Jenson is listed as from the parish of San Salvador, sestiere of San Marco; we cannot tell for certain whether San Salvador is where he was living or working. Generally the mariegole are assumed to be simply stating the parish of residence, but we should not forget, on one hand, that San Salvador was and is a central area of Venice where many shops were located and, on the other, that in Jenson's will he is said to be living in the parish of San Canzian, sestiere of Cannaregio {14}. Whatever his connextion with San Salvador, it should be pointed out that there were three other confraternities associated with that same church: the scuole of San Leonardo, of Santa Maria nuova and of San Nicolò {15}.

John of Cologne is listed as from San Paternian, in sestiere of San Marco, where there was no scuola attached to the parish itself, but it was surrounded by the many confraternities of sestiere of San Marco, while Zovenzonius is listed as from the parish of San Bartolomeo, sestiere of San Marco, where also there was a scuola, that of San Mattia.

Now, it is generally remarked that membership of a scuola in Venice bears little connextion with parish affiliation, indeed in every given scuola members are found to be coming from all different parishes. None the less it is a matter of fact that the highest percentage of members for every given school was made up of inhabitants of the same parish where the scuola was located. For this reason it is particularly interesting to notice where individuals chose to belong to scuole in other neighbourhoods, let alone parishes, and why.

It seems that for the three members whose collaboration in later years was to become so influential for the Venetian book trade, the choice of San Girolamo was deliberate. Why so?

The Scuola di San Girolamo had been founded in 1367 in sestiere of Cannaregio, attached to the convent of the same name run by Augustinian nuns, within the parish of San Marcuola (a contracted form of SS. Hermagoras and Fortunatus) {16}.
The convent of San Girolamo was adjacent to the area known from at least the fourteenth century as the Ghetto.

This is the very area where the foundries were, and it is surely no coincidence that among members coming from a large variety of professions, a number of them were metal workers, either goldsmiths, jewellers, workers in the mint.

Martin Lowry seemed to believe that Jenson, in possession of the tools and tecnique to cut and cast his own types, would not have needed outside help. But that he owned all the necessary tools it is said in his will, at the end of his life. It seems to me that the choice of San Girolamo points towards the desire to mix within an environment which would have been able to provide help, if needed. The second noticeable characteristic among this scuola is the substantial number of foreigners, from Bruges, Antwerp, Augsburg, active in Venice as merchants at the Fòndaco dei tedeschi: they include members of some of the greatest German mercantile families, such as Welser and Stameler of Augsburg Paumgartner of Nuremberg. Finally, the membership list includes booksellers such as Alexandro Calcedonia liberer; Polo dai libri in San Salvador, Jenson's parish; Symon da Fiorenza libraro.

An investigation conducted on similar documents, still extant, belonging to other confraternities has shown that no printers or booksellers are listed among their members and that the foreign component is also much more limited. Certainly in the 1470s, while many scuole were active, it is in this one that we find the two Venetian proto-typographers in the company of booksellers and northern European traders.

It should be seen as no coincidence that Jenson printed between 1471 and 1476 devotional literature in vernacular and between 1474 and 1475 hundreds of books of hours. A genre that he will leave behind in later years. What I am suggesting here is that Jenson might well have joined that specific confraternity very early after his arrival in Venice, in a desire to find support for his activities and possibly even customers. In fact it seems to me a likely possibility that the printing of the first Venetian hours was requested or inspired to Jenson by his confraternity: a book of hours, inclusive of the office of the dead, is a very fitting type of book for members of pious confraternities.

A tangible element in support of this hypothesis is the Augustinian aspect of his calendars. As a Frenchman he should have been rather familiar with this kind of devotional book and aware of its popularity, at least in his country of origin. The format and lay-out of his first editions, on the other hand, seem to reflect the Italian style of manuscript books of hours circulating at that period, where priority is given to the portable pocket size and consequent relative simplicity of contents and decoration {17}. Certainly practically all editions of hours printed by Jenson are in 16°, a format widely associated with Jenson's hours. These small formats will continue to be the characteristic of books of hours printed in Italy. The adoption of the small format can be taken as further evidence of Jenson's attention and response to the local demand for this kind of book. When asked to produce small books for private devotion by his own scuola and later by other local institutions, it must not have occurred to Jenson that such books might have an international circulation.
We should also remember that Hours were never popular books in Italy during the period preceding the introduction of printing. The survey that a young French scholar is conducting on manuscript books of Hours clearly shows that there are today 1307 books of hours in France against 199 in Italy.

This case of printing for guilds would not be an isolated case: from the Incunable Short-Title Catalogue can be extracted similar evidence.

This as far as the initial Venetian production is concerned, but what about Paris? The larger evidence available to us (the many editions surviving in many more copies than the Italian ones) depicts a very different picture. Like in Italy the early editions rely on the manuscripts exemplars circulating at the time, however the Parisian ones presented very different characteristics. As a consequence, the earliest editions of Hours printed in Paris, dating to c. 1485, are more sophisticated in content, use more the vernacular language, are much larger generally in size (smallest size is 8°, never a 16°), and present borders decorated by using woodcuts, first with only floral or grotesque decoration, then, from 1489 onwards, these borders host parallel narrative text, an ingenious innovation of the Parisian printers, well studied by Mary Beth Winn {18}. Their calendars, however, are much more homogeneous, basically all the same. The variation in the contents therefore is more likely to be attributed to the Parisian printers and publishers, eager to offer to their market innovative products, than to specific commission, as in the Venice cases.

But the Parisian editions are many and their classification and cataloguing presently in an appalling state: until the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke will have published its survey of the incunable Hours, in the making for the last five years, it will be quite difficult to apply to the Parisian printed Hours the systematic approach that has allowed us to clarify the historical circumstances surrounding the publication of the Venetian hours: hopefully rescue is in sight.