The confluence of changing languages, ideology, and technology make the fifteenth century a particularly rich period for collecting. The Van Kampen Collection emphasizes proto-Reformation Latin and vernacular manuscripts, as well as incunable editions and other early publications directly linked to the text tradition of the Bible. Two areas within the Collection, Wyclif Bibles and pre-Lutheran German (vernacular) Bibles, are the most extensive outside of the countries of their origins.

Representatives of vernacular Scripture in manuscript come from England, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Bohemia, Armenia, and Russia. Five Wycliffite Bibles and one Lectionary comprise the largest holding of Lollard manuscripts in the United States, some of which have not been recorded in any prior census. Vernacular liturgical books, Gospel harmonies, and manuscripts of the Biblia Historiale complement the Vulgate Bible in fifteenth-century France, Austria, and the Netherlands. Early vernacular notes in Latin Bibles are pertinent as well to an understanding of the readership of the period. For example, the Codex Wernigerodensis is a Latin New Testament that exhibits numerous rare readings of the Vetus Latina, accompanied by interlinear Czech vernacular glosses.

VK 640, The Cotton Wyclif New Testament in Middle English, c.1420

The birth of printing is represented by over thirty Latin Bibles printed before 1501, including a Gutenberg fragment of twelve folios from the Scribner's Copy (the New Testament of which is currently part of the Lilly Library at Indiana University). The Collection seeks to acquire first editions of both Latin and vernacular Bibles from all fifteenth-century European printing centers. It currently includes first editions from Paris, Ulm, Mainz, Delft, Soncino, Prague, Venice, Freiburg, and Nuremberg.

VK 437, The Book of Daniel, in Latin, from the Gutenberg Bible, c.1456

Alongside its Latin incunabula, the Van Kampen Collection holds a substantial number of incunable vernacular Bibles which are the products of vernacular learning and Bible reading in various countries in the years preceding the Reformation. Six of the eighteen editions of the Bible in German printed prior to Luther's translation now reside at The Scriptorium, constituting the largest gathering of these rare editions outside a German-speaking country. The Collection also holds two extremely scarce copies of the first and second editions of the Bible in the Czech translation of John Hus, as well as the first Dutch vernacular Bible, printed in Delft in 1477. The first printed editions of the Former and Latter Prophets in Hebrew, from 1485 and 1486 respectively, are likewise part of the holdings. In selecting incunabula, the Collection primarily values textual innovation, although features such as exquisite decoration and important fifteenth-century provenance are secondary criteria.

VK 799, Codex Wernegerodensis, Latin New Testament with medieval Czech glosses, 15th century

Prior to the availability of vernacular versions or affordable Latin editions, the biblical text was transmitted by way of pseudo-biblical literature-Gospel harmonies, plenariums, speculums, Bible history books, etc. The Collection has a growing representation of early printed editions of such works, including those of Jean Gerson, Jacobus de Voragine, Ludolphus of Saxony, and Peter Lombard, as well as a number of unattributed texts. These, along with early printed editions of biblical commentaries and study tools composed by de Lyra, Mollenbecke, Calderinus, Savonarola, Turrecremata, and others, form a rich sub-group within the Collection of the earliest printed presentations of the Scriptural text and the variety of formats preferred by its late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century readership.

VK 775, Psalter in Dutch and Latin, c.1470

Finally, to complement its fifteenth-century English biblical manuscripts as well as sixteenth-century printed English Bibles, the Collection has acquired a growing number of incunabula containing quotations of Scripture in English translation. As no Bibles were printed in England in the late fifteenth-century, England is represented by pseudo-biblical publications, such as Caxton's Myrrour of the Worlde, de Worde's Lyff of the Faders, and Pynson's Dives and Pauper, that contain substantial portions of biblical text in either loose translation or paraphrase. The primitive technology of the first English presses makes this sub-group of items bibliographically as well as textually important.

NEXT: Sixteenth Century



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