One of the first books printed in Italy is St. Augustine’s De civitate dei (ISTC ia01230000). It was printed at the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco on 12 June 1467 by Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz. A recent reference request took me to our copy of the Subiaco De civitate dei. As was traditional, the printers left space in the type-set page for the addition of hand decoration and painted letters. The style of painting often tells you were the book ended up after it left the printing press and hopefully who its first owner was. The Morgan’s De civitate dei left Subiaco and crossed the Alps to Salzburg, where the artist Ulrich Schreier decorated the book for Bernhard von Kraiburg (1412–1477), Bishop of Chiemsee (Bavaria). (Figs. 1 and 2) Schreier was very successful illuminator and bookbinder who worked for wealthy patrons in Salzburg, Vienna, and Bratislava on both manuscripts and printed books. He is practically unique in the history of art for producing bookbindings and illumination and for being so well documented—a rare occurrence for a late-medieval artisan—even matriculating at the University of Vienna in April 1450. Some of his most exquisite works were produced for the Archbishop of Salzburg, Bernhard von Rohr (1421–1487) in the 1460s and 70s. Schreier’s workshop excelled at the cut-leather technique of binding decoration, which, as the name implies, involves very shallow cuts into the leather surface to create a pattern. This allowed Schreier’s bindings for his patrons to be artistic creations in their own right with the owner’s coat-of-arms or motto or a unique image cut into the cover.
For the De civitate dei (PML 240) Schreier decorated the initial I with the coats-of-arms of the dioceses of Salzburg and Chiemsee, Bernhard’s devise “ONOVS” (the meaning of which is unknown), and the Kraiburg family arms. (Fig. 3) Bernhard von Kraiburg had a remarkable library for the time, with approximately 100 manuscripts and printed books, many of which were illuminated with his personal armorials or had decorated bindings. Unknown until now, the recognition of the Schreier volume at the Morgan brings the total to five books that he made for Kraiburg: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, 2 Inc.s.a. 29a and 2 Inc.s.a. 970a, Salzburg, Erzabtei St. Peter, Cod. b XI 4, and Salzburg, Universitätsbibliothek, W III 24. The volume at St. Peter’s in Salzburg is the only manuscript in the group—the others are all incunabula—and De civitate dei is the only printed book in the group that was not printed in Strasbourg by Johann Mentelin.
While Schreier painted the major initials and border designs, he worked with assistants who produced the less elaborate decorative features throughout the remainder of the book. At the start of each book in De civitate dei Schreier’s workshop added red and blue decorative initials, flourished with filigree penwork decoration. (Figs. 4 and 5) The integration of profile faces into the filigree was not unusual for medieval book decoration, but in the late 15th century it was a stylistic trait most commonly associated with the region around Salzburg. Schuller-Juckes has identified this filigree artist as Flourisher B, who worked with Schreier in Salzburg from the late 1460s into the 1470s, and whose faces generally have protruding, down-turned eyes and frequently a broken nose (compare with Salzburg, UB, W III 155). The faces do not show the comic-grotesqueness of works by this artist from the mid-1470s, so the work was probably completed around 1470.
Bernhard von Kraiburg’s copy of De civitate dei printed in Subiaco in 1467 is the earliest known incunable to enter the bishop’s library. It forms a small group of books that were illuminated for the bishop by the best book artist in Salzburg, Ulrich Schreier. The text was a cornerstone of medieval religious literature written by one of the most influential of Christian authors; it was printed at a very important mother-house of the Benedictine order and one that was closely affiliated with the Austrian Melk Reform movement. Purchased by Kraiburg and decorated in Salzburg, this volume represents the perfect interaction of early printed book, patron, and artist. To ensure their initial success, early presses marketed their materials to church patrons—patrons with money and need of books—and book artists were busy keeping up with production. Ulrich Schreier’s career sits right at this period of increased activity where such an illuminator and bookbinder would have been in high demand.
For further reading, see Michaela Schuller-Juckes, Ulrich Schreier und seine Werkstatt. Buchmalerei und Einbandkunst in Salzburg, Wien und Bratislava im späten Mittelalter (diss. Univ. Wien, 2009), with references to all earlier literature. Available online (as of 12 January 2016).