Plantin’s Latin Vulgate Bible

For my pet book project, I chose to study one of the many different versions of the bible housed in Special Collections.  My particular version is fully titled Biblia, ad vetustissima exemplaria castigata: Quid in horum Bibliorum castigatione praestitum sit, subsequens praefatio latiùs indicabi.  In addition to a full version of the Latin Vulgate Bible, this edition has a few different commentaries from various contributors.  Everything in this particular Bible, from the biblical stories to the commentaries and marginalia, is written in Latin.  I was mainly drawn to this book due to its age and my interest in religion/religious studies, but I was also interested in the fact that it was written entirely in Latin.  According to the title page and inscription on the side of the binding, this book was published in 1567 by a man named Christophe Plantin in Antwerp, Belgium.

One of the first things I noticed about this book was the fact that the front cover was completely separated from the rest of the codex.  As noted on the Special Collections catalogue entry, it is bound with full mottled sheep. The binding is chestnut brown and shiny with a few patches of white and light brown that indicate fading.  There is no text on the front cover, only simple illustrations embossed into the leather. Interestingly, there are a lot of organic shapes etched into the cover- they don’t follow a pattern but the dark black outline of each shape. Similarly, there are also black lines embossed in the leather that intersect with each other across the cover and contrast with the organic form of the other shapes.  The fact that these lines and shapes are stamped into the cover suggests that they are intentional designs, though they aren’t very intricate and don’t seem to relate to the contents of the book.

The focal point of the cover is a golden design engraved in the center.  Like the lines and shapes, it is etched into the leather, but is painted over with a metallic gold coating. The shape is a flower in the center of a circle with smaller flowers within each petal. On the outside of the circle there are flourish designs, and within the rings of the circle is a pattern featuring three dashes and a diamond.

The back of the binding has the same design as the front cover, but it is far more scratched and faded.  On both the front and back covers, there are pieces of leather glued to the upper left corner (on the front cover) and the upper right corner (on the left.) The leather is a rougher consistency and lighter brown color than the leather on the rest of the binding, and seems to have acted as a way of holding the binding together after it fell apart.  

The only text on the outside of the book is at the base of the spine.  It reads:

ANTVERPIAE

1597

The lettering is in the same gold color as the floral illustration on the covers.  There are five raised rings on the spine, like a spiral notebook, that indicate where rope is holding the book together. Most of the leather on the spine has eroded, exposing the pieces of rope that hold the book together- all of the exposed rope is broken, which explains the complete separation of the front cover.  There is a hole in the binding just above the inscription.

The outside of the book’s pages (the parts not obscured by the binding) seem to have once been gilded, but it has faded to more of a bronze color. In some places, the bronze has worn off and turned into patches of light brown and red.

The contents of the book can be divided into 4 sections- 8 unnumbered pages that include title pages and prefaces, 303 pages of the Old Testament, 74 pages of the New Testament, and 5 pages of concluding commentary.  There is an intricate, illustrated title page with a lot of annotations that are disorderly.  According to a note in the margins (and a note on the Special Collections catalogue entry,) the Bible belonged to a man named Samuel Bradstreet.  Like all of the marginalia and markings in this book, the note was handwritten in cursive Latin with black ink.  

On the page next to the title page, there is an inscription titled SUMMA PRIVILEGII that features a preface, followed by the Table of Contents and the Book of Genesis.  

The first letter of each separate book is large and illustrious, and there are page numbers in the top right corner of the page in addition to section titles in the center.  The pages are made of paper, and the text is printed in black ink.  There is no color, and the font is very small, as are the margins. A thin line separates the text through the middle of each page, and every line of text is numbered in the center of the page. Interestingly, the final word of each page is always out of alignment with the rest of the text.  The page numbering restarts at the end of the Old Testament, separating the two parts numerically. The end of the Old Testament is also marked by a small, black illustration.

Signs of use include the marginalia previously mentioned, dark liquid stains on the pages, and many underlined phrases.  The marginalia occurs on most pages and usually includes small notes about the meaning of a passage or includes a reference to a different section.  

I’m very interested in what I’ve seen of this book so far, and I’m excited to study it more.