852 RARE: Guest Blog: Reading the Law

852 RARE: Guest Blog: Reading the Law

In addition to Historical & Special Collections’ monthly 852 RARE posts on Et Seq., we are proud to present occasional posts from guest bloggers who bring a unique perspective to the collection. Today’s post is written by Dorothy Africa, from the Preservation, Conservation, and Digital Imaging unit of the Harvard Library.

Primum volumen [-volumen XVII] tractatuum ex variis iuris interpretibus collectorum, Lugduni, 1549.  HOLLIS no. 12059849

The History of the Set

In Lyon in the early 1540s three printers, members of a local group of book men, embarked on an ambitious publication venture, a collection of legal treatises by learned jurists on the ius commune (Roman and canon law, and the two combined). For the three, Thomas Bertheau, Pierre Fradin, and Georges Regnault, such a huge printing project, even in a printing center like Lyon, was an enormous financial gamble requiring a large advance of capital in materials and labor before any profits could be realized. The three printers completed their project in 1549, producing seventeen printed folio volumes of treatises, with detailed indices, one of which is often considered volume eighteen. Bertheau and Regnault contributed the largest number of printed volumes; six from Bertheau, five from Regnault, and three from Fradin. Of the three remaining anonymous volumes, one was probably printed by Bertheau, for it has his printer’s device at the end, a lame beggar standing at a mile marker with the motto ‘Know thyself” in Greek and Latin. These are handsome volumes printed in columns with some large decorative capitals, but using no colors. Some of the columns at the end of works are filled in with short aphorisms, verses, and legal precepts. The project received a royal license for publication dated September 10, 1548, and a term of exclusive sale for six years from the French King Henry II (1519-1559) to “Guillaume Regnault merchant Líbraíre de Lyon”, probably a close relative of Georges Regnault.

Detail of roll illustrating the covers of Harvard's copy of the set Below an image of Adam and Eve holding the apple is the word"Peccatum," Latin for sin. HOLLIS no.12059849

Detail of roll decorating the covers of Harvard’s copy of the set.
Below an image of the snake in the tree and Adam and Eve holding the apple is the word “Peccatum,” Latin for sin.
Volume 2, HOLLIS no.12059849

About the Harvard Law School Library Copy

The Harvard Law School Library purchased its copy of the set in 1912 from a Dutch book dealer. The full set is bound in ten handsome volumes in the German style. They have spines of finely blind tooled alum taw, blind stamped “1555” on the exterior tail of the front board, and front bead end bands nicely worked in two colors (now very faded, but dark and light). The volumes have thick cardboard underneath covered with vellum manuscript waste. Among the tools used to decorate the alum taw spines is a most distinctive roll illustrating Salvation history in four panels; first is a portrayal of Adam and Eve holding the apple labeled ‘sin’; then a panel of Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac ‘faith’; then the Crucifixion ‘satisfaction’; and finally the risen Christ ‘justification’. The roll shows Christian Salvation as a legal process in which a crime is followed by due recompense. Such a view was set out in Catholic theology by St. Anselm (1033-1109), but the inclusion of faith as a justification for human salvation was a key tenent for Martin Luther (1483-1546). The manuscript waste on the boards is taken from a variety of late medieval liturgical and religious manuscript books; most are texts for Lent, Easter and Pentecost, but on the back board of volume four is an abbreviated text of a folkloric tale called “Bel and the Dragon”.

 Evidence of Former Use (or Owners)

The set bears the book plate of a former owner, Christoph Wentzel (1643-1712), Graf von Nostitz (near Weissenberg in Saxony). How many of the markings were his or other owners’ cannot be determined, but the volumes have numerous underlining, corrections, and textual insertions throughout. This and the presence of large amounts of debris such as bits of paper, straw, feathers, pen nibs and the like provide ample evidence of long life and heavy use for these volumes. Certainly the concentrated underlining and inserted marks of emphasis in set volume ten to several treatises on the use of torture in the course of judicial proceedings would accord well with the period of the Reformation following the Treaty of Augsburg in 1555, the very year in which the HLSL set was bound. This treaty left the establishment of religion (only Catholicism and Lutheranism were recognized) to the ruler of each individual principality. Those citizens finding themselves living in areas under a church different from their own could relocate, but transferal of property, especially ecclesiastical property, and proving ownership of such property, was a tricky and contested undertaking. In short, it was a great time for lawyers, who must have welcomed the publication of this collection.

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