The importance of endpapers: investigating endleaves in incunabula in Santa Scolastica

25/03/2020

The importance of endpapers: investigating endleaves in incunabula in Santa Scolastica

The endleaves found at the front and the back of bound editions were blank leaves inserted by the binder at the moment of binding in order to protect the text block. Books today still have endleaves but they emerge from the printing process in the form in which they’re going to be sold. When printing was invented and throughout the early modern period printed books were almost always sold as unbound sheets in bookshops. Once they had been sold, it was the customer who had the sheets folded, trimmed (cut down along the edges to straighten them), sewn and bound with whichever type of covering - parchment, leather or cardboard – the purchaser wanted.

In this way the binding was usually the purchaser’s responsibility, chosen according to their tastes and economic possibilities. On occasion the binders recycled material which was already to hand or even in ordinary domestic use. Sometimes old parchment sheets which were no longer thought to be of any use were employed since these provided more robust protection than a simple sheet of paper.

Among the incunabula in the Santa Scolastica collection, the volume at II.D.8 is a famous manual for confessors, the Summa casuum conscientiae by Battis De Salis, printed in Venice in December 1499 (is00050000). Over 200 copies survive of this edition, making it a comparatively common book. What makes the Subiaco copy exceptional is the earlier material which was re-used when the volume was originally bound.

1_FLorio e Biancofiore_Subiaco

 Fragment of Florio e Biancofiore [Rome, 1495-6] found inside the binding of a manual for confessors.

The endleaves at the back are two parchment sheets with passages from the Book of Revelation written in Carolingian script. The front endleaves are made up of another parchment manuscript sheet together with a printed sheet bound the wrong way round and bearing visible traces of where it was pasted to the book’s original binding. The printed text is the ottava rima poem on the story of Florio and Biancifore (or Biancofiore), a medieval legend of love and adventure which was hugely popular all over Europe.

2A_Florio_Biancofiore_Erlangen_a1r   2B_Florio e Biancofiore_Erlangen_b3v

Florio e Biancofiore [Rome, 1495-6], the only other surviving copy in the world, today in the University Library of Erlangen

The page we find used in the binding of the Summa casuum comes from a little edition printed in gothic type in Rome in about 1500 (if00228760, f. b3v), of which today only one complete copy survives, in Erlangen University Library.

We can extract all sorts of information from a material examination of the endleaves found in this binding. To start with, they tell us that the first place where this manual was first read and used was a religious one. A contemporary ownership note written by a friar in Rome (‘Hyacintus de Urbe’) confirms that it was given its original binding in a monastery, places there was always a large supply of worn leaves from parchment copies of the Bible which could still be recycled as support for bindings. It is more surprising that a text such as Florio e Biancifiore was also available in such an ambience. Clearly the friars took a break every now and then from studying and meditating on the Bible with the lighter reading provided by these gripping stories.

The two incunables have come together by chance but they are a striking example of the different rates of survival for early printed editions, related to size (the manual contains over 470 pages whole the poem consists of just 12), as well as of the widely diverse readership which these poems attracted.

Other endleaves in the incunabula in Santa Scolastica – as indeed in all incunabula – open similar unexpected vistas onto the past. The two endleaves in II.B.15, a copy of a 1478 Venetian edition of the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas (it00204000), remnants of the volume’s original binding, come from a legal document replete with notarial seals and signatures and a possibly 14th-century document originating from the Imperial Curia.