John McQuillen's blog

Women Book Owners in the Renaissance

Tracing a book’s ownership history—its provenance—is for me one of the most enjoyable, if sometimes frustrating, aspects of book history. This post will highlight the provenance of European books owned by women during the sixteenth century and focus on how ownership might be denoted on the binding of the book, particularly through the inclusion of a personal name.

New Acquisition: Ars moriendi Blockbook

The Morgan recently acquired a rare copy of the Ars moriendi blockbook, printed in the Netherlands about 1467–69 (identified in the literature on blockbooks as edition IIA, that is, the first state of the second edition). This fragmentary copy—only fifteen of twenty-four total leaves—was in a private collection in Belgium.

Missing Nuns Reappear

Ultraviolet image of a page that is lilac and purple in color with black handwritten text.

One of the most interesting aspects of researching rare books is finding signs of use that a volume has accrued over the centuries. Ownership inscriptions, marginal annotations, bookplates, and bindings are all clues as to where a book has been and who has used it over its long life. A 500-year old book that looks like it has never been read is a perplexing problem.

Queen of Hearts

Decorated book binding in gold, blue, pink and black patterns with wheat sheafs and anchor in middle.

In the spring of 2019 former Morgan trustee Jayne Wrightsman bequeathed to the museum an exceptional collection of books bound for the highest echelons of eighteenth-century French society. This donation forms the core of the exhibition Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection, on view through January 30, 2022.

From Subiaco to Salzburg: St. Augustine in Austria

One of the first books printed in Italy is St. Augustine’s De civitate dei. 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).