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THE LAYING OF A GHOST? Observations on the 1483 Ratdolt Edition of the Fasciculus Temporum Curt F. Bühler
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Page 155

Observations on the 1483 Ratdolt Edition of the Fasciculus Temporum
Curt F. Bühler

EVER since the middle of the eighteenth century, a 1483 edition of the Fasciculus temporum from the press of Erhard Ratdolt has appeared in the annals of Venetian printing history. We have it on the excellent authority of Georg Wolfgang Panzer,[1] who quotes Georg Wilhelm Zapf's notation[2] that this edition was listed in the Bibliotheca historicocritica librorum opusculorumque rariorum (Nürnberg, 1736) by Georg Jacob Schwindel,[3] writing under the pseudonym of Theophilus Sincerus. If Schwindel actually saw the book, he appears to have been the first and last person who ever examined such an edition. There is, however, an exceedingly persuasive suggestion that, in this case, Schwindel (either consciously or otherwise) was simply living up to his name. The 1483 edition by Ratdolt was nevertheless duly noted by Hain, Pollard, Essling, Diehl and the British Museum's incunabula catalogue;[4] furthermore it is


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listed with reservation by Redgrave and Sander.[5] Yet it is curious beyond measure that no copy of this edition has ever been located! Through the kind offices of Dr. Elisabeth von Kathen, I have recently been informed that not even the manuscript of the unprinted sections of the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke records the existence of a single example of Ratdolt's 1483 Fasciculus temporum.

If this Schwindel notation were the only evidence for such a production, one would quite properly set down this edition as an error (perhaps a misreading by the cataloguer of the roman date "M.cccc.lxxxiiij" of a known Ratdolt printing). But, as the BMC duly points out,[6] there is a statement made by Ratdolt himself which postulates an edition no copy of which has survived to our day. At present there are four extant editions credited to Ratdolt: those of 24 November 1480 (Hain 6926), 21 December 1481 (Hain 6928), 28 May 1484 (Hain 6934) and 8 September 1485 (Hain 6935). In the 1484 edition (PML 334, folio 1v),[7] Erhard Ratdolt remarks, in his dedicatory letter to Niccolò Mocenigo "il grande", as follows:[8]

In these circumstances, since I have undertaken to print with greater care and labor the Fasciculus temporum, which thrice before this I alone have printed in these parts of Italy having set figures and images in their due order, I have decided to dedicate this work and my labors to you.
In the following year, Ratdolt speaks of the 1485 edition as having been preceded by four earlier printings.[9]

Since this statement was made by the printer himself, one is certainly required to believe that Ratdolt printed three editions before that of 1484, though only his editions of 1480 and 1481 are evidenced by actual copies. While this appears to point directly to a 1483 printing, it is indeed amazing that, in the past 215 years, no one has seen an example of such a production. The other Ratdolt editions may, without exaggeration, be called quite common works, and some edition by this printer is almost certainly to be found in even the most modest collection of fifteenth-century books. Such


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large European libraries as those in Berlin, Florence, London, Madrid, Munich, Oxford and Venice (among others) possess all four Ratdolt printings. For North America alone, Miss Margaret B. Stillwell[10] lists no fewer than sixteen copies each for the 1480 and 1484 editions, fifteen of that of 1485, and twenty-one for the 1481 production. And yet no one can find a copy of the 1483 Ratdolt edition anywhere in the wide world! Is there another explanation for Ratdolt's very explicit statements?

In order to present a possible (and plausible) solution for these some-what contradictory pieces of evidence, it will be necessary to review briefly some biographical details which may not be too familiar to the reader.[11] Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg seems to have arrived in Venice about the year 1476, and shortly afterwards formed a partnership with Bernhard "Maler" (a native of the same Swabian city) and Peter Löslein of Langenzenn (near Fürth in Bavaria). Ratdolt was apparently in charge of the press, while the painter Bernhard may have been the head of the firm and its art director;[12] Löslein was certainly the "corrector et socius."[13] This press had a successful career until 1478 when Löslein dropped out and shortly thereafter Maler and Ratdolt dissolved their partnership. Following the dissolution of the firm, Ratdolt's name disappears from our sight until 1 April 1480, on which day he completed and signed (by himself) a Breviarium Benedictinum congregationis S. Iustinae (GW 5181).

Shortly after the disappearance of the house of Maler, Ratdolt, and Löslein in 1478, a new press made its appearance in Venice under the sponsorship of yet another German, Georg Walch.[14] This press employed a gothic type very similar to one subsequently found in the hands of Ratdolt (his type 4:76G). The woodcut capitals used by Walch were not unlikely the identical ones employed by Ratdolt before 1479 and after the reopening


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of his own press. In all Walch printed but four books known to us, the last of which (the Rationale divinorum officiorum by Guillelmus Duranti—GW 9124) is dated 18 May 1482. But it is surely worthy of note that the very first of these four productions is a Fasciculus temporum, dated 1479, which, the colophon assures us, was "printed with the extraordinary diligence and expense of Georg Walch, a German."[15] This book, among the earliest of Venetian illustrated works,[16] is one which must have required considerable technical skill.[17] Is it reasonable to suppose that Walch, as his very first venture, could turn out such a work without the assistance of outside and experienced help? Or could we be justified in assuming that Ratdolt had a hand in this undertaking, as the practical printer; that his were the labors which actually produced the 1479 Fasciculus temporum while Walch's contribution was limited to supplying the text and the very necessary capital?

This Fasciculus temporum with its numerous technical difficulties was obviously produced by a professional and can hardly have been the trial effort of a novice.[18] Moreover, it was printed with equipment certainly forming part of Ratdolt's stock-in-trade and was taken in hand just about the time that Ratdolt disappears from our view. To this investigator anyway, it seems an altogether likely solution for the conflicting evidence cited above to assume that Ratdolt was employed by Walch to print the Fasciculus temporum for him, though he received no credit for his share in the work in the colophon of the 1479 edition. Perhaps this irked Ratdolt, though so long as Walch was still in Venice, Ratdolt made no mention of his part in the production of this first Italian printing and no statement to that effect is found in Ratdolt's 1480 and 1481 editions. But Walch probably left Venice for his homeland some time after May 1482—and in his first printing of the Fasciculus temporum subsequent thereto (28 May 1484), Ratdolt made the claim set forth above.

Until a copy of the 1483 printing can actually be produced, it is my belief that one may treat this edition as a "ghost." The five editions printed by Ratdolt can be identified as the four issued on his own initiative, plus the 1479 printing for which Walch allowed him no credit. The theory set forth here would completely set at rest the problems discussed in this study


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and explain the known facts relative to the editions now credited to Erhard Ratdolt. It does not seem essential, to the present writer anyway, to postulate the existence of a 1483 Venetian Fasciculus temporum; this can be deferred until such a time as a copy may be presented for the inspection of the bibliographical world.



Annales typographici ab artis inventae origine ad annum, MD (Nuremberg, 1793-1803), III, 189, no. 667; "Zapf. p. 163. ex Catal. Schwindelii p. 15. ubi tamen nomen typographi non indicatur. Adesse tamen hanc editionem, eamque esse tertiam Ratdolti, puto."


Augsburgs Buchdruckergeschichte (Augsburg, 1788-91), I, 163, no. II of 1483: "S. Theoph. Sinceri oder Ge. Jac. Schwindelii Bibliotheca p. 15. n. 177. Sonst hab ich von dieser Ausgabe nichts entdecken können."


This is apparently the work referred to by Zapf, though I have been unable to confirm this reference.


Ludwig Hain, Repertorium bibliographicum (Stuttgart, 1826-38), no. 6933; Alfred W. Pollard, Italian Book Illustrations (1894), p. 28; Victor Masséna, Prince d'Essling, Les livres à figures vénitiens de la fin du XVe siècle (Florence, 1907-14), I, 269, no. 279, n. 1 ("Hain [6933] cite une édition de Venise, 1483, imprimée par Ratdolt, qu'il nous a été impossible de découvrir; elle n'est pas mentionée par Panzer"); Robert Diehl, "Erhard Ratdolt," Philobiblon, VI (1933), 126; and Catalogue of Books Printed in the XVth Century now in the British Museum, (1908-49), V, 289 & 290.


Gilbert R. Redgrave, Erhard Ratdolt and his Work at Venice (Bibliographical Society, Illustrated Monograph No. 1, London, 1894), p. 38, no. 39 ("The [citation] is perhaps due to an error in reading the date of No. 43 [1484]"); and Max Sander, Le livre à figures italien depuis 1467 jusqu'à 1530 (New York, 1941), III, 1133, no. 6528 ("L'existence d'une édition de 1483 est supposée par Essling . . . mais on n'en connaît aucun exemplaire.").


BMC V:289: "This confirms the existence of the edition of 1483 quoted with an obelus by Hain."


Ada Thurston and Curt F. Bühler, Check List of Fifteenth Century Printing in the Pierpont Morgan Library (1939), no. 858.


The original reads thus: "statui impresentia cum temporum fasciculum quem ter solus ego his in partibus italie impositis ordine suo figuris & signis ante hac impressi cura & opera diligentiori imprimendum sumpserim: opus ipsum laboresque meos tibi dicare."


On folio 1v the text reads: "fasciculum quem quater . . . ante hac impressi."


Incunabula in American Libraries (1940), nos. R253, R256, R262, and R263. Of the Walch edition which will shortly be referred to, Miss Stillwell (R252) also records sixteen American copies.


For further details, compare Konrad Haebler, Die deutschen Buchdrucker des XV. Jahrhunderts im Auslande (München, 1924), pp. 107-110; BMC:xvii-xviii; and Redgrave, op. cit. Haebler too (p. 109) speaks of Ratdolt's five editions of the Fasciculus temporum.


Compare Leo Baer, "Bernhard, Maler von Augsburg, und die Bücherornamentik der italienischen Frührenaissance," Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft, II (1909), 46-57.


He is cited thus, for example, in the colophon of the Gesta Petri Mocenici (1477) by Coriolanus Cepio (Hain 4849; copy in PML, Check List, no. 848).


Haebler, op. cit., 113-114. The BMC (V:xxii) has this interesting comment: "Georgius Walch, a German whose name points to Italian ancestry, appears to have been connected in some way with Ratdolt, but the precise relation is obscure. His first recorded book, Rolewinck, Fasciculus temporum, belongs to 1479, when Ratdolt had severed his connexion with Maler and Löslein but had not yet resumed printing on his own account. Its type closely resembles one which Ratdolt employed in the following year for an edition of the same work evidently modelled on that of Walch, while its woodcut capitals are even more like those used by Ratdolt both before and after this date and may possibly form part of the same sets."


The colophon (PML 324, f. 72) reads: "impressa Venetijs singulari industria atque impensa Georij Walch almani. anno domini 1479. Sixto quarto pontifice maximo: finit feliciter."


See Arthur M. Hind, An Introduction to a History of Woodcut (1935), II, 456.


The difficulties of composition are noted by Margaret B. Stillwell, "The Fasciculus Temporum: A Genealogical Survey of Editions before 1480," Bibliographical Essays; A Tribute to Wilberforce Eames (1924), pp. 409-440.


Neither Haebler nor BMC knows anything of Walch's career prior to his appearance in Venice with the printing of the Fasciculus temporum. Haebler (p. 114) surmises that he is the same person as the Jorg Walich listed as a citizen of Vienna in 1493, where he is described as a "Buchführer."