(Benali’s wrappers). Monte de la oratione. [Venice, Bernardinus Benalius (?), before June 1493].

(Benali’s wrappers). Monte de la oratione. [Venice, Bernardinus Benalius (?), before June 1493].


(Benali’s wrappers)

Monte de la oratione

[Venice, Bernardinus Benalius (?), before June 1493].

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As book jackets do today

— Paul Needham —

(Benali’s wrappers)

Monte de la oratione. [Venice, Bernardinus Benalius (?), before June 1493].

4° (204x145 mm). Collation: [18, 2-84]. [36] leaves. Text in one column, 32-33 lines. Type: 130G, 85G. Full-page woodcut on fol. a2v. Woodcut decorated initial on fol. a3r, Lombards throughout. Original pictorial paper wrappers, now cased in transparent plastic material, black morocco spine, with title and 'Benali's wrappers' in gilt lettering. In a black morocco box. A good copy, slightly waterstained and spotted.

This vernacular edition, printed in Venice and bound in attractive and scarce pictorial paper wrappers, is generally attributed to the printer Bernardinus Benalius. The publication has also been ascribed to Paulus Fridenperger.

Examples of early paper bindings with woodcuts are very rare, and of the greatest value and import for the history of engraving. These wrappers “were meant to function not as permanent binding, but rather as eye-catching advertisements for the books they covered, precisely as book jackets do today” (P. Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings, New York 1979, p. 117). The woodcuts designed for the upper and lower cover, which probably belonged to Benalius himself, were used as cheap coverings for different books, independent from their content. In the present edition, the woodcut on the upper cover depicts St. John the Baptist and St. Peter in a desert landscape supporting circles formed of intertwined foliage symbolizing the Trinity; on the lower cover, the woodcut shows St. John the Evangelist with his eagle and St. Francis standing before a church and supporting the foliage circles, along with the name and virtue of Maria. The full-page woodcut on fol. [1]/2v with the inscription 'Mons or[ati]onis' was executed for this book, and re-used in the edition of the Zardino de Oration by Nicolaus de Ausmo (see no. 35), and later in the Fioretti by Francesco d'Assisi, printed on 11 June 1493. “Nous croyons devoir assigner à ce livre la date de 1493, attendu que la gravure qui orne le verso du 2me f., se retrouve, en 1494, dans le Zardino de oratione, s.l. & n.t.m mais privée de l'inscription gothique: mons orationis, qui se voit ici dans l'angle supérieur de gauche, et qui, étant gravée sur le bois même, suffit pour établir la priorité de cet état” (Essling 728).

Bernardinus Benalius, active in Venice since 1483, is well known for the illustrated books and popular devotional vernacular editions he produced. Between 1490 and 1491 he worked in partnership with Matteo Capsaca, and continued to print as late as 1524.

HR 11576; GW M25328; BMC V, 378; IGI 6712; Goff M-847; Essling 728; Sander 4879; A. Jacobson Schutte, Printed Italian Vernacular Religious Books (1465-1550). A Finding List, Genève 1983, p. 303; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 34.