VITAS PATRUM, in German: Buch der heiligen Altväter. Augsburg: Anton Sorg, 25th September 1482.
Chancery 2o (290 x 210 mm). Collation: [16 (1r blank, 1v woodcut, 2r table of contents); 2-1910 208 (Vitae, 20/8 blank); 21-3910 408 (Exempla et Dicta, 40/8 blank).] 391 leaves (without final blank). Gothic types 3:140 (headings) and 2:120 second state (text). 34-36 lines, single column. Numerous small woodcut outline initials uncolored, 5 large woodcut initials used repeatedly and hand-colored. ONE FULL-PAGE WOODCUT of six hermits in a landscape, 274 WOODCUT ILLUSTRATIONS, including repeats printed from 204 blocks (the first 105 x 80 mm: St. Jerome, the others averaging c. 73 x 68 mm), ALL IN CHARACTERISTIC CONTEMPORARY HAND-COLORING. (Inner margins of 14 leaves at the beginning and 5 leaves at the end and two other margins strengthened, a few minor wormholes, some staining, but the paper unwashed and unpressed.)
BINDING: contemporary oak boards, the original covering replaced in the 17th century with tooled Spanish leather such as was used for walls and furniture, complicated design of parallel curved and straight lines, small squares and discs, fixed with a metallic film and glue, painted in reddish gilt, silver and black, oval supra-libros of Nonnberg convent showing St. Erentrudis stamped in the center of both sides, (binding worn, inner hinges split, clasps removed). Folding cloth box.
Provenance: Nonnberg, Benedictine nunnery of St. Erentrudis at Salzburg (binding device, early inscription, 19th-century library-stamp) -- Purchased from Emil Offenbacher 1954.
FIRST EDITION IN GERMAN, unless the undated edition of c. 1482 (BSB-Ink V-260), by an unidentified Strassburg printer and illustrated with fewer and different woodcuts, is slightly earlier. The first Latin editions had appeared in the mid-1470s at Brussels and Cologne. This collection of the lives, deeds and sayings of the Desert Fathers is traditionally ascribed to St. Jerome, but was in fact assembled from the writings of various Greek and Latin patristic authors. The anonymous German version dates from the 14th century.
One of the most richly illustrated Augsburg incunables, which shows the first use of this set of Sorg's blocks. Little is known about how coloring of woodcuts in early printed books was organized, by their publisher or the retail trade and exactly at what stage of their production or sale, but in the Nonnberg-Hauck copy of Vitas Patrum it is unquestionably contemporary and South-German. Nonnberg, founded in the early 8th century by St. Rupert for his niece St. Erentrudis, the original abbess, is the oldest nunnery whose existence has continued uninterruptedly to this day. As a religious house it was forced to cede its finest manuscripts to the Royal Library in Munich at the beginning of the 19th century, and like so many Austrian monasteries it sold books in the 1920s to meet rising costs and dwindling income. Even now, however, its drastically reduced holdings show unexpected strength in vernacular texts, some of which were acquired by abbess Agatha Haunsberger (d. 1484).
RARE, especially in private hands and complete. FINE CONDITION. H *8605; BMC II, 350 (IB. 5946); Goff H-217; BSB-Ink V-259; Schreiber 4217; Schramm IV, 285, 842-1045.