MIRABILIA ROMAE -- Historia et descriptio urbis Romae. - pseudo-AEGIDIUS ROMANUS. Oratio de S. Veronica. - Indulgentiae ecclesiarum principalium urbis Romae. [Rome: Andreas Freitag, not before 1485 and not after 1489].
Chancery 8° (140 x 100mm). Collation: [1-98] (1/1 blank, 1/2r history of Rome, 3/6r prayer to St. Veronica, 3/7r description of the 7 principal churches, 5/2r description of other churches in and around Rome, 9/2v stations, 9/7v register, 9/8 blank). Type: 1:86G. 22 lines. Spaces for initials, the first with guide-letter. Four woodcut illustrations: Rhea Silvia, Romulus and Remus (1/2v, full-page); arms of the Empire, Popes and City (1/3r, headpiece); exhibition of the Vernicle (3/5v, full-page); Vernicle supported by angels above 3 shields (5/1v, full-page). 17th-century opening initial in ink, light embellishments to 2 woodcuts. (Small flaw in 3/8 and 9/3 touching a few letters.) Original limp vellum wallet binding with flap and tie (tears at joints); 20th-century calf case and modern brown morocco-backed folding box. Provenance: Krumau, Bohemia, College of the Society of Jesus (17th-century inscription) -- Gottl. Jos. Liebich (19th-century red signature stamp) -- Countess Estelle Doheny (booklabel; sale Christie's New York, 22 October 1987, lot 83).
A REMARKABLE SURVIVAL of the earliest printed guide-book. Any early printed edition of the text is rare, having served its intended purpose as a practical guide to pilgrim sites in the eternal city, but a copy surviving the past half millennium in its first vellum binding in near pristine state is almost as miraculous as the sites it describes. Its wallet style is particularly evocative, being light, flexible and well suited to fit the pocket of a contemporary pilgrim. There was a vast demand for pilgrimage literature, met in manuscript, typographic and xylographic form; contemporary chronicles estimate that 30-50,000 pilgrims travelled to Rome for Easter week of a jubilee year.
The Mirabilia Romae refers to two distinct texts, which have been subsumed under one title, owing to their transmission together in many manuscripts. The Mirabilia proper is on the wonders of Rome, and the Historia et Descriptio is, as its title indicates, a history and guide to the holy city. Although its ultimate aim was devotional in that it facilitated pilgrims' worship in churches around the city, it contains much secular, even art historical, detail in its descriptions of more than 80 churches and the relics contained therein. It "illustrates a new awareness of the signifance of ancient Roman remains and was instrumental in preserving some of them" (PMM 12). Petrarch and Dante are reputed to have known the work.
Some 100 editions, including translations into the major European languages, of the Historia et descriptio urbis Romae are known from the 15th century, beginning in about 1470; all are represented either in unique or, at most, a handful of copies. The present copy is one of six, three of which are imperfect: London, British Library; Cambridge, UL (Fairfax Murray copy, imperfect); Gotha, Forschungsbibliothek; Greifswald UL (imperfect); Venice, Fondazione Cini. The woodcuts used here are cut down from a German-language blockbook edition of c.1475 (Schreiber IV, 396-401). A printed date of 1485 on fo. 52r and a rubricator's date of 1489 in the Gotha copy provide the termini post and ante quem. BMC IV, 144 (IA. 19480); Oates 1604; De Marinis (1925) 119; Sander 4660; Rossetti G-040; Goff M-596.