Special Collections & Archives Blog

During March 2014...

Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars, by ʻAlī ibn Abī al-Rijāl (1485 Erhard Ratdolt edition)

Monday, March 31, 2014 4:49 pm

Liber in iudiciis astrorum incipit

Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum, a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm.

One of the oldest printed books in ZSR’s Rare Books Collection is a Latin translation of Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl’s principal scientific work, Kitāb al-bāriʻ fī aḥkām al-nujūm. The text, commonly known as Liber in iudiciis astrorum,  is a treatise on astrological methods by an 11th century Arab mathematician, printed in 1485 by a German printer working in Venice. The book is featured in the Special Collections exhibit Letters in Lead: Moveable Type and the Books It Created. Its history is a fascinating anecdote in the story of how print culture developed in Renaissance Europe.

Around 1450 a goldsmith in Mainz named Johannes Gutenberg developed a viable method for casting moveable type out of metal. The invention made mechanical printing feasible and gave rise to an entirely new profession in Renaissance Europe. Many aspiring printers learned the craft of printing from Gutenberg’s successors, and within a few years a coterie of printers had formed in Mainz. In 1462, however, warfare between rival sects of German Catholics led to the sack of Mainz and a diaspora of its printers around Europe. One of these displaced printers was Erhard Ratdolt, who transplanted his fledgling business to Venice.

Ratdolt flourished in his new location and quickly gained a reputation as an innovative printer of scientific texts. He experimented with multicolor printing and invented techniques for integrating woodcut illustrations and diagrams into pages of text. Ratdolt is particularly famous for producing the first printed text of Euclid’s Elements in 1482, and he specialized in printing editions of classic works of science and mathematics.

In 1485 Ratdolt printed the book in ZSR’s collection, a work on astronomy by the 11th century Tunisian court mathematician Alī Ibn Abī al-Rijāl, whose name was Latinized to Albohazen Haly or Haly Abenragel in European publications. Ratdolt’s volume bore the Latin title Preclarissimus liber completus in iudicijs astrorum ( The Complete Book on the Judgment of the Stars).

Liber in iudiciis astrorum colophon

Colophon (a printer’s statement found at the end of a text) from Erhard Ratdolt’s 1485 edition of Liber in iudiciis astrorum, indicating that printing was completed in Venice on July 4, 1485.

This astrological text was already well known to scholars in Renaissance Europe. It had been translated from Arabic into Castilian Spanish by astronomer Jehuda ben Moses Cohen in the 13th century, and from Spanish into a number of Latin translations.

In the world of the Renaissance, there was no sharp division between what we would call astronomy (the study of celestial bodies)  and astrology (the influence of those celestial bodies on terrestrial events). Medieval astrology was based on an Aristotelian concept of the universe, as interpreted by Claudius Ptolemy , which posited a universe with a stationary Earth at its center, surrounded by concentric spheres containing stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.

nuremburg ptolemaic universe 2

A woodcut illustration of the Ptolemaic universe from ZSR’s copy of the Nuremburg Chronicle (1493)

Medieval and Renaissance astrologers used mathematical formulas to predict the movement of objects in the sky. These calculations were used to create calendars, to determine propitious times for various activities, and to predict eclipses and other unusual events. Astrology was an important scientific pursuit, and Renaissance scholars eagerly sought to recover Arab and Byzantine astrological texts. The eastern astrologers had developed advanced techniques that were of great interest to scholars in western Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum t8r

A page from ZSR’s 1485 Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with handwritten notes and astrological symbols in the margin.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Venice edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum made this text available in print for the first time. As an example of incunabula (books printed in Europe before 1500), it is both typical and innovative.

Fifteenth century books share many attributes of the manuscript volumes that existed for centuries before the invention of moveable type.

MS oxford 1240

A page from a 13th century manuscript in ZSR’s collection

Like most early books, Ratdolt’s volume has no title page or table of contents. Its text was printed in  black letter type, which reflected the manuscript handwriting prevalent in 15th century Europe.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q7r

Another page from the Liber in iudiciis astrorum; notes in red were added by hand by a 15th century reader.

As in manuscript volumes, the text is printed in two columns with minimal punctuation. Medieval and Renaissance manuscript texts, like the one pictured above, relied on rubrication – initial letters and other text in colored ink—to indicate section breaks and other textual navigation. Early printed books often left space for rubrication to be added by hand to printed text, since multicolor printing was difficult and time consuming. Erhard Ratdolt hit upon the idea of using decorative woodcut initials in place of color.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum q5r

Page from Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum, with various large, decorative initials denoting section breaks.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum initial d

Detail of one of Erhard Ratdolt’s decorative woodcut initials.

Ratdolt also pioneered techniques for including tables and woodcut charts in his pages of text, which was particularly important for scientific and mathematical books.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum chart

Page from Liber in iudiciis astrorum with woodcut diagram integrated into the text block.

In the 1480s Erhard Ratdolt also printed editions of several other important astrological works.  As historian Jonathan Green observes, Ratdolt “achieved a near monopoly during that decade for many astronomical and astrological works” [Printing and Prophecy (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2012) 135].  

Ratdolt’s edition of Liber in iudiciis astroroum was a large and probably expensive book. But the original purchaser of ZSR’s copy obviously make good use of the volume. It was heavily annotated by its 15th century owner(s), with pages full of manuscript notes, underlinings, added headings, and astrological symbols.

Liber in iudiciis astrorum b3r

Annotated page from ZSR’s Liber in iudiciis astrorum.

Erhard Ratdolt’s Liber in iudiciis astroroum embodies the cultural exchanges and the technological innovations taking place in Renaissance Europe. ZSR’s copy of this book was purchased in 1964 with funds from the Oscar T. Smith endowment. It is on view in ZSR Library’s Special Collections and Archives Reading Room through April 30, as part of the Letters in Lead exhibit, which traces the development of printing type and book design in Europe from its beginnings through the 21st century.

What Are You Working On?

Friday, March 28, 2014 11:15 am

paige

This is Paige, a Special Collections student assistant and Senior here at WFU. Paige has worked in Special Collections since her freshman year. We rely on Paige to do any number of things in our department including writing blog posts, processing collections, and reference desk shifts. In this picture, Paige is rehousing and updating a University Archives finding aid in preparation for a larger appraisal and processing project of our Manuscript holdings. Paige has processed many collections and has been extremely helpful as we plan for the future of Special Collections and Archives. Paige is one of our many seniors graduating this Spring. Thanks to all of our student assistants for their hard work in making Special Collections and Archives successful!

The ABC’s of Special Collections and Archives: D is for…

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:28 pm

D is for…

Dolmen Press

Dolmen Press Collection

Founded in 1951 by Liam Miller and his wife Josephine Brown, the press operated in Dublin until Miller’s death in 1987. It was founded as a way to provide a publishing outlet for Irish poetry. It heavily featured the work of Irish artists. The scope of the press grew to include prose literature by Irish authors as well as a broad range of critical works about Irish literature and theater.

The founder, Liam Miller, was born April 24, 1924 in Mountrath, Ireland. He was educated in Ireland at Ballyfin College and University College Dublin, where he studied architecture.  In addition to his role with the Dolmen Press, Miller was very active in the Dublin community. An avid philatelist, he served for many years on the Irish Department of Posts and Telegraphs’ Philatelic Advisory Committee. Passionate about live theater, Miller helped revive the Abbey Theatre and the Abbey’s Peacock Theatre. He became director of the Lantern Theatre, and frequently used his architectural skills to design and create sets for the Lantern’s productions. An authority on Yeats and Irish theater, he wrote and spoke frequently on these topics.

Dolmen Press Collection

This collection consists of information relating to the publications and printing jobs of the Dolmen Press, the administrative and financial documents of its operation, and the design work and personal papers of Liam Miller. For more on the Dolmen Press and its founder, Liam Miller, check out the Dolmen Press finding aid and visit the Special Collections and Archives research room for a more in depth look at the this extensive collection.

D is also for…Duke Tobacco Company Cigarette Cards

In the late 19th century, colorful cigarette cards were an ideal way to advertise the use of tobacco, an increasingly popular and widespread diversion in the U.S. The earliest cards using single images dated from 1877. Over time as popularity escalated, series of images were produced to promote the sale of cards to collectors and traders. Cartophily, or the hobby of collecting cards, was born.

Duke Cigarette Cards Collection

The early success of cigarette cards led many companies to adopt this new advertising method. Subjects ranged from U.S. Presidents to cowboys to baseball. With the use of color lithography and mechanized printing, mass production of the cards was possible. The digital images in this collection represent cigarette cards dating from 1888. One series, “Terrors of America,” depicts young boys in various pursuits. Another series, “Shadows,” depicts a variety of people with caricatures in their shadows. The cards were issued as advertisement for Duke Brothers and Company, Durham, N.C., and packed in Duke’s cigarettes. For more information on these cigarette cards see the finding aid for the Duke Tobacco Company Cigarette Cards and visit the Special Collections and Archives research room to view them.
Duke Cigarette Cards Collection

 

And D is for…Le terze rime di Dante

photo 1

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) or simply known as Dante, was a major Italian poet. He is known for his work The Divine Comedy and is known as il Sommo Poeta (The Supreme Poet) in Italy and is considered the Father of the Italian Language. The rare books collection’s copy of Le terze rime di Dante was published in 1502 in Italian. It was published in Venice by Aldus Manutius or Aldo Manuzio, who founded the Aldine Press. It’s the first small format edition of Dante, all earlier editions are in folio. This copy has bookplates of John Ruskin, F. Hayward Joyce, and John Saks and the label of William Salloch on back free endpaper. To look at and see more of Dante’s works please visit the Special Collections and Archives research room. You can learn more about Dante, Minutius, and Aldine Press by reading a post by Megan from last year.

Le terze rime di Dante

Get ecstatic for E…

This ABC’s of Special Collections blog post was written by student assistant Brittany Newberry.

Alexander’s feast; or, The power of musick (1750)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:39 pm

The following is a joint post by Megan Mulder (Special Collections Librarian) and Chelcie Rowell (Digital Initiatives Librarian).

History of Alexander’s Feast

The 18th century edition of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast has one of the most interesting provenances of any book in Z. Smith Reynolds Library’s Special Collections department.

Title page of Alexander's feast

Title page of Alexander’s Feast with Felix Mendelssohn’s signature.

The work is based on an ode in commemoration of St. Cecilia’s day by English poet John Dryden (1631-1700). Dryden’s “Alexander’s Feast” tells a story from the life of Alexander the Great, in which the conqueror and his soldiers enjoy a drunken feast in celebration of their victory over the king of Persia. The bard Timotheus provides entertainment, and his poetic and musical skill inspire Alexander and his men to a frenzy of revenge against the conquered city of Persepolis. Dryden’s poem is more cautionary than celebratory, as the “power of music” is used for morally questionable ends.

Nonetheless, Dryden’s poem was a great critical success when it was first published in 1697, and it was apparently still popular enough nearly 40 years later for George Frideric Handel (1685- 1759) to choose it as the inspiration for a new musical work. Handel’s Alexander’s Feast was well received at its 1736 London premiere and was performed many more times during the 18th century. Published versions of Handel’s score began to appear shortly after its first performance.

Wake Forest’s copy of Alexander’s Feast was likely published around 1750. Its first recorded owner was William Hawes (1785–1846) an English musician who eventually became master of choristers at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At some point the book made its way to a Stuttgart bookseller and was purchased by the famous German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847). Mendelssohn signed the front endpaper and the title page, and he also annotated many pages of the score. The notes may well have been for a performance at the Aachen music festival in 1846, which featured an appearance by the famous singer Jenny Lind.

After Mendelssohn’s death in 1847, the book’s provenance again becomes murky. But it was, at any rate, purchased from a rare books dealer in 1958 for the Wake Forest University library. For the past 50 years the volume has been part of the Rare Books Collection at Z. Smith Reynolds Library. It is an interesting object for students of music history. But in the absence of a large collection of related materials at Wake Forest, it has not been well known to Mendelssohn scholars. So Special Collections librarians were pleased to learn of an opportunity to contribute to a project at the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften in Leipzig. This project, which began in 1959, is working to publish the complete works of Mendelssohn.

Digitization of Alexander’s Feast

In order for ZSR’s Alexander’s Feast to be included in the Leipzig Mendelssohn project, we needed to digitize the entire book. We wanted to do this in such a way that users of the digital surrogate would experience the materiality of the book—the physical organization and details—in addition to being able to read the text.

Capturing digital images of each page of Alexander’s Feast presented a familiar challenge for the Digitization Lab at ZSR. We wanted to make sure that we created a faithful digital representation of the physical object. To this end, we cropped the images of the front cover and back cover such that all four edges are visible. Additionally, we cropped the images of interior pages such that the gutter is visible on the right side for images of verso (left) pages, while the gutter is visible on the left side for images of recto (right) pages. Our goal is to provide viewers as much context about the physical object as possible within the constraints of the hardware and software that we use for digitization.

Recto and verso pages of Alexander's Feast

Recto and verso pages of Alexander’s Feast with annotations by Felix Mendelssohn.

A best practice for the digitization of special collections materials is to create both a preservation copy and an access copy. In the case of Alexander’s Feast, we created a high-resolution TIFF file of each page of the volume, including the front cover, the marbled endpapers, and the back cover. The advantage of preservation copies is that they’re flexible; they allow different kinds of access copies to be generated as the needs of viewers, as well as the constraints of the systems that present these materials to viewers, both evolve.

The access copy of Alexander’s Feast, available in our Digital Collections, is a single PDF that incorporates all of the pages of the bound musical score.

Future Uses of Alexander’s Feast

Wake Forest’s copy of Alexander’s Feast has been cataloged and available to researchers for decades, and Special Collections has provided digital files and photocopies of relevant pages to remote researchers on request. But its inclusion in the Mendelssohn project will situate the material within the context of Mendelssohn’s career and may bring the item to the attention of international researchers. If this occurs, we will be able to provide remote researchers with high-quality digital images of the book’s pages.

In addition to broadening accessibility, digitizing special collections may enable new paths of inquiry, especially in the digital humanities community. Digitizing sheet music presents tantalizing opportunities. For instance, imagine an interface that displays a moving bar indicating the place in time on the sheet music alongside an audio or video recording of a performance.

Do you have an idea for a digital humanities project that could build upon digitized music scores? Contact us!

Hoffmann Collection in the News

Thursday, March 13, 2014 3:49 pm

The Gertrude and Max Hoffmann Collection is enjoying the limelight once again. An article by ZSR Special Collections Librarian Megan Mulder about the collection is featured in the Winter 2014 issue of Performance!, the publication of the Performing Arts Section of the Society of American Archivists.

The entire publication is available in PDF format here.  Don’t miss the cover photo of Max, Gertrude, and their photogenic cat!

Gertrude Hoffmann was a dancer, choreographer, and manager of her own dance troupe;  her husband Max was a ragtime composer and musician. Their papers, now part of ZSR’s Special Collections, include music manuscripts, photographs, posters, correspondence, and other materials– many of which are now available as digital collections. The Performance! article describes the Hoffmanns’ colorful careers in early 20th century vaudeville and on international tours, and also explains how the collection came to reside at Wake Forest.

For more information about the Hoffmann papers at ZSR Library, please contact Special Collections and Archives.

“Finding A Piece of History” in Wake Forest Magazine

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:08 am

We are so excited about the story published in Wake Forest Magazine on Friday! Read all about our discovery of a Philomathesian banner and our plans for it in the future in Kerry King’s article “Finding A Piece of History.”


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