Billed as “the most important early printed book to be offered this century”, a deluxe vellum copy of the ‘Opera’ of Virgil is being offered at Christie’s on June 12.
Recently discovered, it is a very rare
vellum copy of an edition of the works of the great Latin poet -
the Buccolica, Georgica and Aeneid -
printed in 1470 in Venice by Vindelinus de Spira, or Wendelin of
Speier, one of the German printers who spread the new art across
Europe, and was produced soon after he set up the first press in
De Spira's Virgil had been preceded by
a 1469 edition from the Roman press of two migrant German printers,
Konrad Sweynheim and Arnold Pannartz, but this Venetian edition,
based on a different manuscript source, is recognised by scholars
as textually superior and more faithful to the 1st century BC
No copy of the Roman edition has come
to the market in over a century, with the eight recorded examples
all now in institutional collections. This Venetian second edition
is just as rare. The last copy to pass through the salerooms was in
1920 - and that one lacked 38 leaves.
Virgil was one of the most widely read
authors during the medieval period and one of the most frequently
printed authors in the 15th century. As many as 100 incunable
(pre-1500) editions are recorded, but this is effectively the
earliest obtainable printed edition of the works.
The complete copy to be offered at
King Street is one of nine recorded examples on vellum, at least
three of which are imperfect. Bound in the 18th century in cats-paw
sheep - named for the distinctive dark pattern of the prepared
leather - it has been valued at £500,000-800,000.