AUGUSTINUS, AURELIUS, SAINT. 354-430.
De Civitate Dei. Rome: Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz in the house of Petrus de Maximo, 1468. Collation: [1-28; 3-1410 1512 16-2610 27-288] (1/1 blank, 1/2 table of rubrics, 2/8 blank, 3/1 text, 28/7-8 blank). 273 leaves (of 274, without final blank). Type: 3:115R. 46 lines. Illuminated by a contemporary Roman artist with a full-page white-vine border opening page in green, blue, and red with white dots set within a burnished gold frame and incorporating two initials, empty laurel wreath in lower margin and birds amongst the tendrils, 21 large illuminated white-vine initials with extensions and gold dots, 2-line initials alternating in red and blue, paragraph marks in rubrics table alternating in red and blue, chapter headings supplied in manuscript in red ink, MS guide-letters. Royal Folio (390 x 267 mm). 17th-century French calf, gilt spine, red edges, modern brown half morocco solander box. A few small wormholes to the text, occasional offsetting of decoration, careful restorations to spine and small sections of sides.
A fine copy of the second edition of Saint Augustine's magnum opus and one of the earliest books printed in Rome. A great rarity on the market: in the last 34 years there have been just 3 copies at auction, the present and best copy (twice, 1987 and 2000), the Broxbourne/Abrams copy (twice, 1978 and 1989), and the defective Nakles copy in 2000. The text is a reprint of the first edition of the previous year, the last of the four books printed at Sweynheym and Pannartz's first press at Subiaco. Conrad Sweynheym of Mainz is thought to have been one of the workmen for Fust and Schoeffer who fled after the sack of Mainz in October 1462, and his partner Arnold Pannartz of Cologne, who together brought the first printing press across the Alps and set up in 1463 or 1464 at the Benedictine monastery of St. Scholastica at Subiaco, just east of Rome, a monastery inhabited almost entirely by German monks, and honored as the birthplace of printing in Italy. It may well have been Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa who had encouraged the printers in their early endeavours. Sweynheym and Pannartz moved their second printing shop to Rome in 1467 to the house of brothers Franciscus and Petrus de Maximis, Palazzo Massimo, very probably at the behest of the great humanist, Cardinal Bessarion. Bessarion's secretary, Giovanni Andrea Bussi (formerly Nicholas of Cusa's secretary), soon became chief editor of the press (and later papal librarian), directing its printing programme of humanistic texts . By the end of 1467, they had printed an edition of Cicero's Epistolae ad familiares using a new Roman fount, replacing the semi-gothic (first Roman) type used in Subiaco (and imitated by Ashendene in his English Press). In 1468 four further works followed, of which the Augustine is accepted as the third. A total of 51 editions, including a third edition of Augustine's De Civitate Dei (1470), are recorded from this first Roman press, which remained active until 1473. A list of Sweynheym and Pannartz books, made by Bussi for an appeal to the Pope for financial assistance and printed in the 1472 edition of Nicolaus de Lyra's commentary on the Bible, states that 825 copies of De Civitate Dei had been printed, each edition thus comprising 275 copies. Auction records in the last 34 years record just 3 copies of this, the second edition, 3 of the 1470 edition and no copies of the 1467. The partnership of the two printers broke up in 1473 but their work established the process of printing in Rome, a natural place for one of the great centers of printing, and created the beginnings of one of the most used founts.
St. Augustine's magnum opus is ostensibly an apologia of the Christian church, which he saw as rising from the ruins of the Roman Empire, but it is also a work of history and philosophy. In the middle ages "the writings of Augustine contained perhaps the most substantial body of philosophical ideas then available in Latin" (Kristeller, "Augustine and the Early Renaissance," Studies in Renaissance Thought and Letters I, 1956). "Few men have influenced human thought as Augustine did Western religion and philosophy" (DSB). His works were central to the transmission of Platonic philosophy, and "the book remained authoritative until the seventeenth and eighteenth century ... both Luther and Calvin took Augustine as the foundation of Protestantism next to the Bible itself" (PMM). HC 2047; BMC IV, 5 (IC. 17107); GW 2875; IGI 967; Goff A-1231.
Provenance: annotation in a contemporary hand on first leaf (shaved), and "lix" on final verso -- Roderick Terry (bookplate, sale American Art Auction-Anderson Galleries, 7 November 1934, lot 24, $1100 to Rosenbach for Estelle Doheny; her sale, Christie's New York, 22 October 1987, lot 78 $70,000; sale, Christie's London 29 November 2000, £157,750 ($224,000).