Venice: Girolamo de’ Paganini, 7 September 1492
Before 1500 the cost of paper far exceeded any other expenses incurred by printers and publishers when issuing a new book. The larger the book, the more expensive it was. A folio Bible such as the one printed by Gutenberg in the early 1450s was unaffordable to all but a few. The first small-size Bible ever published was an octavo edition of the Latin text issued in Basel by Johann Froben in June 1491. It is generally known as “the poor man’s Bible” and was modeled on the thirteenth-century manuscripts of the Paris Vulgate that continued to circulate long after the invention of printing.
The book described here was the world’s second octavo edition of the Bible. Its printer and publisher, Girolamo de’ Paganini or Hieronymus de Paganinis (in Latin) is known only through the three volumes he issued in Venice in the 1490s: the 1492 Latin Bible, its 1497 reprint, and a quarto edition of Pope Gregory’s Pastoral Rule dating from 1492. This output, though limited, earned him a privileged place in the history of printing. His 1492 Bible was edited by the Franciscan scholar Pierangelo da Montolmo (named in the colophon Petrus Angelus de Monte Ulmi). In addition to features common to most contemporary Latin Bibles such as Jerome’s prologues and the dictionary of Hebrew names, Paganini’s volume includes an alphabetical table of contents labeled Tabula alphabetica historiarum Biblie prepared by the Franciscan Gabriele Bruno (d. 1508) and printed here for the first time.
Equally remarkable in the1492 Bible is its title page. Gutenberg did not provide his Bible with a title page because the biblical manuscripts he was trying to imitate did not have such a page. The first Bible to include a title page was the Latin folio published in 1486 by Johann Prüss the Elder in Strassburg. The recto of its first leaf simply states Textus Biblie (“The Text of the Bible”). While Prüss’ example was imitated by other printers during the following years, Paganini was the first Bible publisher to devise a title page consisting of both text and illustration. In his 1492 edition the title “Biblia.” is set above a large rectangular woodcut depicting Peter standing with a nimbus around his head and two large keys in his right hand. An inscription in the upper part of the woodcut reads Tu es Petrus (“you are Peter”). Both the text and the keys, which are the standard attribute of Peter in visual art, are taken from a scene known as “Peter’s Confession” in Matthew 16: 13-19. In the King James Bible verses 18 and 19 read as follows: “thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church…And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” In the 1497 reprint of the Bible, Paganini reused the woodcut but did not include the word Biblia on his title page.
Traditionally, in manuscripts and early printed books, information about the work, its author, and its publisher was recorded in a note at the end of the text known as the colophon. Paganini’s Bible has a substantial colophon that includes a prayer of thanksgiving, a list of his Bible’s multiple features, and the usual bibliographical information with the exact date when the book was completed. In this text Paganini refers to the Bible as liber vitae, “the book of life.”