Early Italian Books from the Aldo Caselli Collection
In 1964 at a party in Washington, D.C., Professor W.J. Cameron of McMaster's Department of English met Dr. Aldo Caselli, a book collector. Professor Cameron would later become the Director of the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario. His chief interest was bibliographical access to early printed books. Born in Genoa, Aldo Caselli was a scholar, a teacher of Italian, and a school administrator. He moved to the United States in 1941 and then worked at Haverford College and Gallaudet College. He was no ordinary book collector. He was astute and discerning in his understanding of books and their history. His passionate interest was the Italian Renaissance, that period of intellectual and cultural fermentation and religious upheaval centred primarily in Tuscany from the end of the fourteenth century to 1600. That chance meeting between Cameron and Caselli led to McMaster University Library's purchase of Caselli's books. The purchase is still considered to be one of the most remarkable acquisitions ever made by the Library. Caselli's collection of some 100 books includes a number of incunables (books printed before 1500) and "high spots" of the Italian Renaissance and post-Renaissance printing–works of Aquinas, Augustine, Vasari, Michelangelo, Cellini, Galileo, Petrarch, and Dante.
This exhibition is a selection of Caselli's wonderful books: incunabula such as Ovid's Metamorphoses, printed in Venice before December 1474 by Jacobus Rubeus, the Library's earliest printed book; works of science such as the first edition of Galileo's Dialogo (1632) and Giovanni Zuchetta's text on mercantile arithmetic, Prima parte dell arithmetica (1600); books on art such as Giorgio Vasari's biographical history of painters, sculptors, and architects in three volumes (1568) and Andrea Palladio's I qvatro libri dell'architectvra (1601); works of history and religious controversy such as Savonarola's Prediche (1544) and Iacopo Nardi's Le deche delle historie romane (1540), a translation of Livy's Ab urbe conditi; and literature, including Dante published by the press of Aldus Manutius in Venice and Florentius Schoonhovius's Emblemata (1618), a classic emblem book (basically a picture book accompanied by verse with a moral fable or allegory).
What is an Incunable?
There is an apocryphal story of Professor Fredson Bowers of the University of Virginia, the doyen of analytical bibliographers, who went into a library in search of the library's collection of incunabula. He was turned away by the librarian who insisted that no such collection was available. Walking out of the library, Professor Bowers then met a colleague, and he related his concern and disappointment that the library did not appear to have a collection of incunables. The colleague suggested that Professor Bowers should go back to the library and ask for the collection of pre-1500 books. On his return to the library, Professor Bowers confronted the librarian once again, but this time he followed his colleague's advice. The librarian was quite pleased to assist Professor Bowers and presented him with a collection of pre-1500 imprints. Alas, the librarian didn't know that pre-1500 printed books and incunables are one and the same. The word "incunable" is an anglicized form of the word "incunabulum", the plural being "incunabula". The Latin word, "incunabulum", means "swaddling clothes", "infancy" or "birthplace". For books the word incunabula has taken on a special meaning referring to the first printed books, those works from the cradle of printing beginning with the Gutenberg 42-line Bible of 1455 to all books manufactured until the end of the fifteenth century. Bibliographers have found and described more than 16,000 titles of this early period. Collectors and scholars have been fascinated with the transition from manuscript to print culture, especially these earliest products of the printing press.
On display from the Aldo Caselli collection are several incunables:
- Ovid, Publii Ovidii Nasonis metamorphoses. before December 1474, D1199
- Augustine, De la cita d' dio. 1483, D1195
- Thomas Aquinas, Incipiut titl'i qonu d'duodeci qd'libz sci. 1486, B10458
- Cicero, Marci Tvllii Ciceronis Tvscvlanarvm qvaestriolnvm. 1491, D1192.
- Leonello Chieregato, Reuerendissimi in Christo patris domini Leonelli episcopi concordieñ Oratio habita Rome in ecclesia sancti Petri: in funere fe. re. domini Innocentij Pa. VIII. 1492, B10423
- Gregorius IX, Decretales. 1498, B10431.