Mirabilia Romae: Historia et descriptio urbis Romae, in German: In dem puechlin stet geschrieben wie Rom gepauet wart. [Rome: Ulrich Han?, c. 1475].
Chancery half-sheet 8° (145 x 106mm). Collation of complete British Library copy: [12(-1) 212 312(12+1) 4-512 64(4+1) 7-812 912(12+1)]. 48 (of 92) xylographic leaves printed on both sides: 4/1-12, 5/1-12, 8/1-12, 9/1-12, the remaining leaves supplied from Berjeau's lithographic facsimile (1864), which was printed in 12 copies only. Paper: Briquet 8355, dated to 1477, Catania. 3 full-page illustrations (here in facsimile): the first (Romulus and Remus with Rhea Silvia praying in the background) printed on verso of first text page, a singleton; the other two (Exhibition of the Vernicle, and the Vernicle upheld by angels above the arms of Sixtus IV) printed as single-leaf cuts and inserted after quires 3 and 6. Fo. 2/1r headed by arms of Rome and with outline initial with extensions (here in facsimile), historiated initial on 4/1r with extensions; additional, unrelated prints mounted on pastedowns, facsimile woodcut of Pope Joan bound between fos. 65-66. 20 lines (variable). Printed in two-page formes, for example, fos. 4/4v.9r are uniformly skewed towards bottom left. (All leaves on guards, extension on fo. 28 shaved, corners of 10 leaves repaired, marginal repairs in a further 3 leaves, tear into fo. 41 repaired with a few letters replaced, fo. 68 defective at bottom with 4 words replaced in pen-and-ink facsimile). Early 20th-century gilt panelled purple-brown morocco, gilt edges, signed by W. Pratt. Provenance: [Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, described by Bernardo De Rossi, Dell'origine della stampa in tavole incise e di una antica e sconosciuta edizione zilografica, Parma: 1811); C. Inglis, M.D. (booklabel, not in his sales); 'Property of a Lady' (sale Sotheby's, 27 April 1931, lot 116, £18 to Leslie).
A REDISCOVERED COPY OF ONE OF THE RAREST OF ALL BLOCKBOOKS, AND PROBABLY THE EARLIEST PRINTED EDITION OF THIS TEXT IN GERMAN.The Mirabilia Romae, more properly entitled Historia et Descriptio Romae, is known in only six other surviving copies; the existence of this seventh, privately-owned copy had been known, but, as it changed hands, its exact location or ownership eluded previous scholars. This copy was last sold at auction in 1931.
The Historia et Descriptio urbis Romae is unusual among blockbooks as containing few illustrations and extensive text; indeed, its text is the longest of any blockbook edition. It is also unusual in that it is opistographic, i.e. it is printed on both sides of the sheet of paper, probably in a printing press, whereas blockbooks were more commonly produced by rubbing the sheet against the inked block, printing one side only.
The Mirabilia Romae refers to two distinct texts, which have been subsumed under one title, owing to their transmission together in many manuscripts with the Mirabilia bound first. The Mirabilia proper is on the wonders of Rome, while the Historia et Descriptio urbis Romae is, as its title indicates, a history and guide to the holy city intended for pilgrims. A German translation of the Historia et Descriptio existed from as early as the 14th century; the blockbook edition prints that text.
Although its ultimate aim was devotional in that it aided pilgrims in their worship, the Historia et Descriptio urbis Romae is a practical guide, giving a brief history of Roman Emperors from the founding of Rome to Constantine, a list of the most important churches, their relics and indulgences, and the stations of the cross where the main masses are celebrated, so that pilgrims can easily find where mass is celebrated on any given day. Its practical, secular content is rare among blockbooks. The blockbook Historia et descriptio urbis Romae is evidence of the vast pilgrimage literature produced in the second half of the 15th century, which was satisfied by simultaneous availability of the text in manuscript, typographic and xylographic form. Contemporary chronicles estimate that 30-50,000 pilgrims travelled to Rome for Easter week of a jubilee year, indicating an almost unlimited demand for texts such as the Historia et Descriptio urbis Romae.
Like many blockbook editions, the Historia et descriptio urbis Romae contains neither date nor place of printing. Although one early scholar (Ehwald) placed its production at Nuremberg, it is generally agreed that this blockbook was printed at Rome by a German printer for his compatriots. IT IS THE ONLY BLOCKBOOK EDITION PRINTED OUTSIDE NORTHERN EUROPE. Its dialect has southern German tendencies, reflecting the manuscript exemplar used for the xylographic and typographic editions. The present copy is printed on Italian paper marked with an M, very close to Briquet 8355, located to Catania in 1477. The Munich copy too is printed on Italian paper, similar to Briquet 4859-4868, 743-744, 746-756, with dates ranging from 1468-1563; similar watermarks occur in the British Library copy. Furthermore, its illustrations were re-used with the text cut away by Ulrich Han's successor, Stephan Plannck, at Rome in c. 1487.
Dated to 1475, a jubilee year under Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) by Schreiber and Ehwald, Lamberto Donati argued for a date of 1450, a jubilee year under Pope Nicolas V (1447-1455), primarily on the basis of the woodcut armorial of crossed keys of the Parentucelli family. Donati's reasoning has recently been convincingly refuted by Nine Miedema, who prefers to see the armorial as generic insignia of the papal keys. The earliest typographic edition of the German text is dated 1481.
It is considerably rarer than many other blockbook editions, such as the Biblia Pauperum, Apocalypse, Ars memorandi, Canticum canticorum, and Speculum humanae salvationis. For example, 40 copies or fragments of copies of the Speculum humanae salvationis, and over 125 copies or fragments of various editions of the Biblia Pauperum survive. The other recorded copies of the Historia et Descriptio urbis Romae are:
1) London, British Library, complete
2) Munich, Staatsbibliothek, complete
3) Manchester, John Rylands Library, complete
4) Gotha, Forschungsbibliothek, Schloss Friedenstein, lacking one leaf
5) St. Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, lacking 19 leaves
6) [Unlocated. A complete copy in a contemporary pigskin binding, annotated by a contemporary pilgrim, was offered by Carl Hiersemann of Leipzig in his catalogue 625 for 26,000 DM. In 1962 Donati cited it in the collection of G.W. Davison of New York]
R. Ehwald, ed. Mirabilia urbis Romae, Berlin: 1904, Gesellschaft der Bibliophilen 561
W.L. Schreiber, Handbuch der Holz- und Metallschnitte des XV. Jahrhunderts, vol. 5. Leipzig: 1928, pp. 396-401
F. Geldner, 'Zwei seltene baierische Wiegendrucke', Gutenberg-Jahrbuch, 1960, pp. 110-117
Lamberto Donati, 'Del Mirabilia Romae xilografico', La Bibliofilia, lxiv, 1962, pp. 1-36
Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum, I, 1963, p. 7 (IA. 28).
Nine Miedema, 'Überlegungen zu den Mirabilia Romae', Blockbücher des Mittelalters, Mainz: Gutenberg-Museum, 1991, pp. 329-340, no. 40, and census, p. 409