15th century Italian miniature uncovered

One can always expect some surprises when working through an incunabula collection, however this little find came of something of a surprise. Yesterday I pulled TypIM.A75SP off the shelf to be catalogued, and didn’t expect much out of it, as it had been recovered in a poorly executed, mid-20th century library buckram binding. As always, though, one should never judge a book by its cover: when I cracked the book open for initial inspection I was greeted by this lovely initial ‘S’ on an illuminated background featuring a miniature of two figures.

Detail of the initial 'S' found on the first leaf of the 1475 Mantua printing of "Scrutinium Scripturarum". The initial is set on an illuminated background and features a miniature painting of Pablo de Santa Maria and Samuel of Morocco.

This book is one of three books printed by Johann Schall, a printer working in Mantua between 1475 and 1479, and St Andrews’ copy is the only copy found in Scotland. This is the first printing of Scrutinium Scripturarum, which is a commentary of Pablo de Santa Maria, Bishop of Burgos, on Samuel Marochitanus (Rabbi Samuel of Morocco or Samuel Abu Naṣr Ibn Abbas), translated by Alfonsus Bonihominis, Bishop of Marrakech. It is assumed that the two figures featured in the miniature are Pablo de Santa Maria and Samuel Marochitanus. It also appears that there was a coat of arms, added at the foot of the same opening leaf, on a watercolour background. This, however, seems to have been removed or damaged and has now been replaced with a modern repair.

The full first page of the text of "Scrutinium Scripturarum", showing the placement of the illuminated initial and the location of the missing coat of arms (at bottom).

This initial was briefly described in the 1956 St Andrews Incunabula Catalogue only as “illuminated “S” on f.1,” so this was a welcome surprise indeed.

DG

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