June 12

The earliest press to be established in Italy completed on June 12, 1465 its fourth book, De Civitate Dei of St. Augustine. The press then removed to Rome from its first location, the three Benedictine monasteries at Subiaco which make up the Abbey of Santa Scolastica. In 1454 the reigning Pope, Calixtus in, had appointed the Abbot of Santa Scolastica a Cardinal Commendatory. The first to hold this title was the scholarly Spanish priest, Juan Turrecremata.

When news of the invention of movable type filtered down into Italy, the Abbot—no doubt realizing the exciting possibilities inherent in a new method of spreading the gospel—set about to secure practitioners of the art who would be willing to work with the Benedictine monies. He obtained the services of two printers, Conrad Sweynheim of Mainz and Arnold Pannartz of Prague, both of whom are reputed to have been fugitives from the sack of Mainz in 1462.

The first book produced by the German printers was a Donatus pro Puerulis, a Latin grammar, of which no copy has survived. The first dated book to be printed in Italy was the Lactantius, which was issued by the press in 1465, followed by Cicero’s De Oratore, not dated, and finally De Civitate Dei of June 1467, unquestionably the great work of the press. The type used in this volume is a vigorous letter which follows the tradition of the humanist roman letters, but with very definite gothic characteristics.

When this book was completed, the German printers were lured to Rome by the princely house of Massimo, where they no doubt expected a richer patronage than they enjoyed in the stark surroundings of Santa Scolastica. However, they evidently brought than with them to Rome at least a few copies of the books which they had printed for the Benedictines, as the copy of De Civitate Dei at present in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris is inscribed by Leonardus Dathus, Bishop of Massanus, who wrote, “. . . bought for himself and his grandson, Georgius, with his own money, for eight gold pieces and two papal coins (three pence each), from those Germans staying at Rome, who are accustomed not to writing many books of this kind but to making them. In the year of grace 1467, in the month of November.”

In their new location in the Palazzo Massimo, Sweynheim and Pannartz produced a number of fine editions of such standard classics as Apuleius, Livy, Ovid, Pliny, etc., along with theological works. Their business was so successful that they ventured an edition of the Biblical Commentaries of Nicolaus de Lyra, in five large volumes. The printers quickly found themselves in difficulty, being unable to finance such an undertaking. Even the House of Massimo could not be of assistance beyond its own capabilities, so the printers—through the Bishop of Alleria—petitioned Pope Sixtus for funds. The Pope, however, was more interested in manuscript books than in printed ones and refused his aid, thus forcing Sweynheim and Pannartz to discontinue their press in 1472.

Leave a Reply