Collection Highlight: Pope Urban VIII. Poemata


More features from our Rare Book Collection


Maffeo Barberini, Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644).
Maphaei S.R.E. Card. Barberini nvnc Vrbani Pp. VIII. Poemata. 
Antwerp: Balthasar I Moretus, 1634.

Our copy is bound in contemporary calf decorated in gold on both covers and the spine. Blocked in gold in the center of each cover is a cartouche containing the coat of arms of Jacques-Auguste de Thou—three gadflies—and of his second wife Gasparde de la Chastre, along with their interlaced monograms. This cipher, IAGG, framed by elaborate gold tooling, also appears on the panels of the spine, further emphasizing the provenance of this book. The fact that Jacques-Auguste de Thou and his second wife were already deceased when this volume was added to the de Thou's library is subtlety alluded to by the addition of an urn above the two coats of arms. 

This is only one out of thousands of bindings specially commissioned for the library of the famous French historian, lawyer, and diplomat, Jacques-Auguste de Thou (1553-1617). Born into a family known for its statesmen and scholars, de Thou received the benefits of a humanist education, including training in the classical languages (Latin and Greek), mathematics and philosophy. Additionally, he studied law at Orléans, Bourges, and Valence, for two years. As a state councilor, he served Henri III and Henri IV, becoming director of the Royal Library of France in 1593. Being profoundly horrified by the massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, he opposed the political and religious rivalries of the court of France, concluding that the French Catholics shared the blame with Protestants for the religious wars. After becoming President of the Paris parlement (1598), de Thou used all his influence and authority to reach a religious peace, negotiating the Edict of Nantes (1598) with the Protestants. As a defender of Gallicanism ( the school of French Roman Catholics that maintains the right of the French Church to be free from papal control), he utterly rejected the counter-reform resolutions of the Council of Trent. 

However, the main activity of de Thou's life was the writing of a contemporary history of Europe (from 1544 to 1607) in Latin, an ambitious work intended to provide an impartial account of the historical circumstances that led to the religious wars. The first edition appeared in 1604: Iac. Augusti Thuani historiarum sui temporis pars prima.Paris: Widow of Mamert Patisson, 1604. It included only 18 books dealing with events between 1494 and 1560. Its publication caused an extraordinary roar of disapproval throughout Europe. For instance, the papal nuncio demanded the condemnation and suppression of de Thou's book—in fact, it was included in the Index librorum prohibitorum five years later. In the preface, de Thou openly denounced the persecution of heretics and, albeit a Catholic, he praised Protestant scholarship, criticizing the popes' policies and morals. Although de Thou had the support of Henri IV, for subsequent editions the historian eliminated much of his strong criticism of kings, popes, and religious orders. Nonetheless, as the content of the manuscripts of the History of his Time clearly reveals, even the first Parisian edition represents a light version of what de Thou originally wrote. When the historian died in 1617, four editions had already appeared and a fifth was in preparation. In the University of Rochester's Rare Book Department, we hold two editions of the History of his Time, both published after de Thou's death:

  • Illustris viri Iacobi Avgvsti Thuani historiarum svi temporis, ab anno Domini 1543 usque ad annum 1607. libri CXXXVIII: Quorum LXXX priores, multo quam antehac auctiores: reliqui vero LVIII nunc primum prodeunt: opus in quinque tomos distinctum, cum indicibus rerum memorabilium singulis tomis, adiectis. Accedunt commentariorvm de vita sva libri sex hactenus inediti. 5 vols. Geneva: Heirs of Pierre de la Rovière, 1626-1630.
  • Histoire universelle de Jaques-Auguste de Thou,avec la suite par Nicolas Rigault; Les memoirs de la vie de l'auteur, un recueil de pieces concernant sa personne & ses ouvrages: y comprises les notes & principales variantes, corrections & restitutions, qui se trouvent dans les mss. de la Bibliotheque du roi de France, de Mrs. Du Puy, Rigault, & de Sainte-Marthe.: Le tout traduit sur la novelle edition latine de Londres. Et augmenté de remarques historiques & critiques de Casaubon, de Du Plessis Mornay, G. Laurent, Ch. De l'Ecluse, Guy Patin, P. Bayle, J. Le Duchat, & autres. 11 vols. The Hague: Henri Scheurleer, 1740.

Additionally, the Department holds a two-volume biographical work based on the short obituary notices of de Thou's History of his Time:

  • Antoine Teissier. Les éloges des homes scavans. Tirez de l'histoire de M. de Thou, avec des additions contenant l'abrégé de leur vie, le jugement & le catalogue de leurs ouvrages, par Antoine Teissier. Utrecht: Francoise Halma, 1696.

These three works (Kinser, 1966: 26-45; 302-3) are just a modest representation of the great number of editions and versions of the History of his Time published in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Even the so-called scientific historians of the nineteenth century highly praised de Thou's History, considering it the first attempt to construct a critical historical narrative heavily supported by a close examination, and contrast, of the relevant primary sources. 

It is not an exaggeration to state that de Thou's historical work was always intimately linked to the creation and development of his library in Paris. His correspondence reveals that he was personally involved in the purchase of each volume and, contrary to the traditional emphasis on books on religion, law and classical authors, the scope of de Thou's collection included a wider range of topics, his main collecting philosophy being to add the latest and most accurate version of a particular title. In other words, his was not the library of the bibliophile treasuring the intellectual achievement of a remote past, but a vibrant working collection that other scholars could use for their own research. At the time of his death in 1617, the library comprised 6,600 volumes. 

In his will, written in Latin on July 13th, 1616, de Thou requested that his library should not be dispersed or sold, entrusting its administration and growth to his friend Pierre Dupuy during the youth of his two children. Indeed, this was a logical choice, considering that de Thou also entrusted Pierre Dupuy, along with Nicolas Rigault, with the editing of the fifth edition of The History of his Time should he die before its completion. This task was in due course achieved with the publication of the two Geneva editions of 1620 and 1626-1630, the sixth and the seventh editions respectively. Below I have transcribed the passage containing the provision for the library. The French translation of de Thou's entire testament can be consulted in our copy of the 1740 edition of de Thou's History of his Time (vol. 10, 613-5):

A l'égard de ma bibliotheque que j'ai amassée avec tant de soin & à de si grands fraix, depuis plus de quarante ans, & qu'il importe qu'elle soit conservée en entier, tant pour le bien de ma famille, que pour celui de bonnes Lettres, je défends qu'on la partage, ou qu'on la vende, ou qu'on la laisse dissiper, de quelle maniére que ce soit; mais je veux, que conjointement avec mes médailles d'or, d'argent & de cuivre, elle reste en commun entre ceux de mes fils qui s'attacheront aux Lettres, de telle sorte pourtant qu'elle soit ouverte à tous les étrangers aux Sçavans, pour l'usage du public. J'en commets la garde à Pierre Dupuy mon allié, qui m'est cher par tant d'endroits, jusqu'à ce que mes fils soient devenus grands, & je lui permets outre cela d'en prêter les manuscrits à ceux qui en auront besoin, pourvû qu'on s'assûre d'une maniére convenable de la restitution.

In the center of the front pastedown paper we can see the armorial bookplate of the distinguished English collector and generous benefactor of national libraries in Britain, Albert Ehrman (1890-1969). On top of this pastedown paper is the following press-mark: 3.C.P.T.3.C.116; an abbreviated version of this press-mark can also be read on the front cover. The Oxford English Dictionary gives us the best definition of what a press-mark is : "In libraries, a mark or number written or stamped in or on each book (now usually on the inside of the cover), and also given in the library catalogue, specifying the room, book-press, book-case, shelf, etc., where the book is kept. Now chiefly with reference to manuscripts and early books in old libraries" (OED, 1989: vol.12, 418). 

The image displayed above shows the front endpaper, which contains a brief pencil description of the book, probably by a bookseller, and, next to it, the ink stamp, "Bibliotheca Heberiana," the ownership mark used by the famous English collector, Richard Heber (1774-1833). The presence of these three elements, bookplate, press-mark, and the ink stamp, offers us a unique opportunity to examine the provenance of this volume. 

As mentioned above, de Thou entrusted the control of his library to his friend Pierre Dupuy. After de Thou's death, Pierre added his brother Jacques, and Ismaël Boulliau, a mathematician and friend of de Thou's eldest son, François-Auguste de Thou. The Dupuy brothers and Boulliau lived in the family mansion at Paris where the library was housed. The first manuscript catalogue documenting the contents of the library was written in 1617: Latin 10,389 records 6,600 volumes. In 1644, the Dupuy brothers and Boulliau wrote a new catalogue that included 12,545 volumes: Dupuy 879-880. In 1677, the library passed to the youngest son Jacques-Auguste de Thou, who decided to sell it in 1680. For the purpose of this sale, a printed catalogue of the library that included 13,171 volumes was published in 1679: Catalogvs bibliothecae Thvanae a clariss. vv. Petro & Iacobo Pvteanis, ordine alphabetico primùm distributus. Tvm secundum scientias & artes à clariss. viro Ismaele Bvllialdo digestus. Nunc vero editus à Josepho Qvesnel, Parisino & bibliothecario. Cvm indice alphabetico authorum. Paris: Impensis Directionis, 1679. (Harrisse, 1905: 1-82; Coron, 1989: 107). Our copy of Pope Urban VIII's Poemata was described in this printed catalogue. The entry appears in Part 2, page 289, in the section "Litterae Humaniores", subsection "Recentiores Poetae Itali." as follows: Urbani VIII, P.M. Poëmata 4 0 . Antuerp 1634 & Rom. 1631. Although the wording of our press-mark does not seem to reflect the classificatory principles of this catalogue, it may still indicate where the book was originally located in de Thou's library room. To confirm this, it would be necessary to prove that in the first sale of the de Thou's library in 1680 two or more collectors purchased books that had been inscribed with the same type of press-marks. For instance, it would be useful to know the early provenance of the following title, bound with de Thou's coat of arms as bachelor, and held at the library of Eton College: Loukianou apanta, Luciani opera, quae quidem extant, omnia, Graecè & Latinè: in quatuor tomos diuisa, quorum elenchus post aliquot paginas reperies: una cum Gilberti Cognati Nozereni, & Ioannis Sambuci annotationibus utilissimis; item, rerum ac sententiarum cuisq[ue] tomi indicibus copiosissimus. 4 vols. Basil: Heinrich Petri, 1563. The press-mark 3.C.P.T.4.j.I is present in volume one at the top-left hand corner of the front pastedown, and the abbreviated mark 3.4.j.I. is located at the upper right-hand corner on all front covers of each volume. The politician and collector, Anthony Morris Storer (1746-1799), bequeathed this title to Eton in 1799, along with many other books (Birley, 1956: 173-4). 

In the 1680 sale, Jean-Jacques Charron, Marquis de Menars, bought most of the de Thou's collection, and Etienne Baluze acquired the books on theology and ecclesiastical law, which would be included in the sale of the Bibliotheca Baluziana in 1719. Charron eventually sold his library to Armand Gautier, Cardinal de Rohan, in 1706. The collection then passed to his nephew, the Prince de Soubise. After his death, the entire library was sold from 12 January to 22 May 1789. 

Certainly, this is the familiar story of a library that has been dispersed contrary to the will of its original owner. In 1789 the French aristocracy were concerned with weightier matters than the preservation of this important cultural heritage. In a positive note, the dispersal of this collection greatly benefited European collectors and libraries. Since the last decade of the eighteenth century, books from de Thou's library began circulating throughout the usual channels of the antiquarian book trade, and even today one might be able to purchase a de Thou's binding from an American or European bookseller. 

It is likely that the avid English book collector, Richard Heber, had purchased our copy during one of his frequent trips to continental Europe in search of rare books. A friend of writers such as Robert Southey, Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, Charles Burney, Thomas Park and Thomas Frognall Dibdin, he was sought out for his intellectual and financial influence. Being a scholar himself—he published a two-volume edition of Silius Italicus and assisted Scott with his edition of Dryden's works—he generously shared the holdings of his library with other friends and intellectuals. The remark that "no gentleman can be without three copies of a book, one for show, one for use, and one for borrowers," is rightly attributed to him. To his extensive collection of early English literature, he also added the Greek and Latin classics as well as the literature of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France. At the time of his death in 1833, it is believed that the content of his numerous libraries, in both England and abroad, had reached between 145,000 and 150,000 volumes. Since Heber did not leave any provisions regarding the future of his books, they were duly sold after his death. The sale catalogues of Heber's collection comprised sixteen volumes. Thirteen dealt with the sales in England from 10 April 1834 to 22 February 1837; and three dealt with the European sales, which took place in Paris on 15 March and 7 October 1836, and in Ghent, on 26 March 1835 (Sherbo, 2004: vol. 26, 214-6). 

In order to be able to identify Albert Ehrman as one of the former owners of this volume, I focused on what I considered the two most informative elements of the armorial bookplate located on the front pastedown page: The capital initials, A, E, and the Latin motto, "pro viribus summis contendo." The next step was to inquire whether other libraries had successfully determined the provenance of a bookplate containing these two features. An incunable held at he Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had the answer: Carmen Philippi Beroaldi de die dominice passionis eiusdemq[ue] peanes siue Canticum Beate Viginis. Paris: Antoine Denidel, 1498. On the front pastedown of this book is a bookplate exactly like ours. Moreover, on the back pastedown paper is a second bookplate printed in blue. Within a circle are the words "Bibliotheca | Broxbourbiana | J.P.W.E. | 17 March 1949 | Ex dono A & R.E." J.P.W.E. stands for John Patrick William Ehrman, and A & R.E. stands for Albert & Runi Ehrman. A gift from the parents to their son! Certainly, the expert on heraldry can rightly argue that much more can be done to determine to what extent the iconography of this bookplate describes the family background of Albert Ehrman. On the shield of the coat of arms itself is a mountain topped by a star, and above is a helmet with the visor closed. On top of the shield is another helmet also with the visor closed, in turn topped by a crest, which includes the head of an ermine flanked by two roses, and foliage flowing down on either side of the shield. We mention these details because they are not merely decorative but are designed to provide a description of the unique achievements of a particular family. For instance, the helmet with the visor closed conventionally signifies "esquire." For an introduction to the role of heraldry in the study of book provenance and, particularly, for learning the set of rules that would allow us to produce a blazon, or a written description uniquely defining a particular coat of arms, the following manual is a good place to start: David Pearson, Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook (London: The British Library, 1994): 55-82; 274-286. 

Born into a merchant family dealing with industrial diamonds—see the overwhelming presence of this stone shape in his bookplate—Albert Ehrman is best remembered for his book collecting as well as his generous support of libraries through organizations such as the Friends of the National Libraries. Particularly remarkable was his comprehensive collection of early printed books with gothic blind-stamped bindings. After setting up his house at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire in 1919, he eventually named his collection "The Broxbourne Library." As a successor in his father's business, Mr. Ehrman had the opportunity to play an important role during World War II: In 1940, he moved to New York to work for the British government, arranging the shipping of industrial diamonds to Britain. After his death in 1969, his book and manuscript collection passed to his son John, who gradually sold most of them. It is likely that our copy of Pope Urban VIII's Poemata was included in one of those sales—the records of the Sotheby's sales of 9 May 1949, and 9 Dec and 16 Dec. 1963, show that Albert Ehrman only consigned manuscripts (Ehrman, 1954: 190-7; Barker, 1970: 455-64). 

And the final chapter in this provenance history takes us to New York. In her chronicle, Old Books, Rare Friends, the late rare book bookseller and author, Leona Rostenberg, mentions that this copy of the Poemata was sold to the University of Rochester in the New York Antiquarian Book Fair of 1971. Specifically, Ms Rostenberg quotes a letter sent by the then head of the Rare Book Department, Robert L. Volz, expressing gratitude for having the opportunity to acquire this precious volume: "My thanks to you and Madeleine Stern for the time and interest you gave to me in New York last Friday. I enclose our purchase order… for the finest book, or at least the most exciting book, at the fair." A copy of this letter, dated April 7, 1971, is in our departmental correspondence (Rostenberg & Stern, 1997: 199). 

If what has been said so far seriously challenges the popular saying that "one should not judge a book by its cover," both the content and layout of this volume are not less fascinating. Following the title in red and black is a magnificent illustrated title-page designed by the master, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), and engraved by Cornelis Galle. This page also includes the name of the publisher, Balthasar I Moretus (1574-1641), one of the two grandsons of Christophe Plantin (c. 1520-1589), the founder of the printing house that dominated book production in Western Europe for the next two centuries: the Officina Plantiniana at Antwerp. 

When Balthasar I took over, he convinced his old friend from youth, Rubens, to design illustrations for his printing house. The painter began working for the Officina Plantiniana in 1612, eventually specializing in the design of title-pages. It can be confidently said that until his death in 1640, Rubens was entirely responsible for the iconography of this part of Plantin books. At first, Theodoor Galle was Rubens' engraver. From 1614 onwards, however, it was mainly Cornelis Galle, Theodoor's son, who executed the artist's drawings. In the last three years of his life Rubens suffered terrible rheumatic pains that prevented him from doing any drawing himself. Nonetheless, he dictated his ideas to his pupil, Erasmus Quellim, who transferred them to paper (Voet, 1972: Vol. 2. 207-8). 

As one can learn from the interpretation of the illustrated title-page of the 1627 edition of Bacon's Sylva sylvarum (see our previous Collection Highlight), in the seventeenth century title-pages were not merely decorative but acquired a rich allegorical significance, metaphorically alluding to the general content of the book they were announcing. For this edition of Pope Urban VIII's Poemata, Rubens represented Samson discovering a swarm of bees in the carcass of a lion. This is indeed a clear reference to Urban VIII's coat of arms, which includes bees, and, in turn, to the sweetness of his poems (Voet, 1972: Vol.2, 215-6).
Some readers might be surprised to learn that, despite Rubens' extraordinary artistic reputation in his own time, he, or any other artists working for a printing establishment, made less money than the copperplate engraver or the wood-cutter. In those times, payment was directly proportional to the time any professional—be he a binder, an engraver, or a press-corrector—needed in order to complete the job.

In the image displayed above, the sophisticated design of this woodcut initial somehow matches the panegyric language employed by Balthasar I in this dedication to the author. Paralyzed on his right side from birth, Balthasar I overcame this physical challenge by means of his great intelligence and scholarly accomplishments. He was a student of Justus Lipsius at Louvain (1592-1594), and became an accomplished Latinist and poet. It is likely that his vast knowledge of Greek and Latin literature played a central role in promoting the allegorical motifs of the title-pages—sometimes designing them himself. 

The so-called imprimatur (Latin for "let it be printed") is an official formula authorizing the printing of a book. The privilegium is an early version of the idea of ‘copyright.' However, it is not the author but the printer or publisher who would benefit from a privilege. This sanction, which was normally composed on behalf of the king, a bishop, or any other relevant dignitary, would grant exclusive rights to a printer or publisher to issue a particular title for a certain number of years. In our book, King Philip IV of Spain stipulates that for the next nine years only Balthasar I is allowed to issue Pope Urban VIII's Poemata, specifically forbidding the sale of illegal copies in southern Germany. This document also announces the confiscation of the books, and even more severe punishments, for those who ignore this warning (see image displayed above). 

Finally, one of the back flyleaves includes the famous printer's device of the Officina Platiniana. Christophe Plantin introduced it in 1557, two years after the foundation of his printing business—he had previously used two other devices. Plantin himself explained the meaning of this printing mark in the introductory pages of the Biblia polyglota, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece, & Latine, Philippi II. Reg. Cathol. pietate et studio. Antwerp: Christophe Plantin, 1569-1573: The stationary point of the compass signifies constantia, and the moving point means labore (Voet, 1972: Vol. 1, 31). Is this design perhaps an echo of the Aldus Manutius' printing device, which displays the Latin motto, festina lente (make haste slowly), along with the representation of a dolphin and an anchor? Probably, both devices refer to the efforts of the publisher to keep a difficult balance between the increasing demands of mass production and the necessary care required to print a fine scholarly edition.

Selected Bibliography

Barker, Nicolas. "Albert Ehrman: 6 February 1890-12 August 1969." The Book Collector 19 (Winter 1970): 455-64. 

Birley, Robert. "Bibliographical Notes and Queries: Note no. 69. Press-Marks of the de Thou Library." The Book Collector 5 (Summer 1956): 173-4. 

Coron, Antoine. "‘Ut prosint aliis'; Jacques-Auguste de Thou et sa bibliothèque." In Histoire des bibliothèques françaises. II: Les bibliothèques sous l'Ancient Régime, ed. Claude Jolly. 101-25. Paris: Promodis-Editions du Cercle du librairie, 1989. 

Ehrman, Albert. "Contemporary Collectors II: The Broxbourne Library." The Book Collector 3 (Autumn 1954): 190-7. 

Harrise, Henry. Le president de Thou et ses descendants, leur célèbre bibliothèque, leur armoiries et les traductions françaises de J.-A. Thuani historiarum sui temporis; d'après des documents nouveaux. Paris: Librairie Henri Leclerc, 1905. 

Kinser, Samuel. The Works of Jacques-Auguste de Thou. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966. 

________. "An Unknown Manuscript Catalogue of the Library of J.A. de Thou." The Book Collector 17 (Summer 1968): 168-76. 

Matthew, H.C.G and Brian Harrison, ed. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: in Association with the British Academy: from the Earliest Times to the Year 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. 

Pearson, David. Provenance Research in Book History: A Handbook. London: The British Library, 1994. 

Rostenberg, Leona and Madeleine Stern. Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and Their Shared Passion. New York: Doubleday, 1997. 

Simpson, J.A. and E.S.C. Weiner, ed. Oxford English Dictionary. 20 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. 

Revel, Jacques. "Entre deux mondes: la bibliothèque de Gabriel Naudé." In Le pouvoir des bibliothèques, ed. Marc Baratin and Christian Jacob. 243-50. Paris: Albin Michel, 1996. 

Sherbo, Arthur. "Heber, Richard (1774-1833), book collector." In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In Association with the British Academy. From the Earliest Times to the Year 2000, ed. H.C.G Matthew and Brian Harrison, vol. 26, 214-6. 61 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. 

Voet, Leon. The Golden Compasses: A History and Evaluation of the Printing and Publishing Activities of the Officina Plantiniana at Antwerp in Two Volumes. 2 vols. Amsterdam: Vangendt & Co, 1972. 

Note: I would like to acknowledge the help provided by the following rare book curators and librarians in examining specific volumes mentioned in this essay: Nick Baker (Eton College Library), Alvan Bregman (Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), John A. Buchtel (The Sheridan Libraries, The John Hopkins University), Caroline Duroselle-Melish (Houghton Library, Harvard University), and J. Fernando Peña (Grolier Club, NY). 

Pablo Alvarez