Early Italian Books from the
Brown University Library
An Exhibition in Honor of
Curated by William S. Monroe and Patricia Figueroa
This exhibit was available from March 31 - June 30, 2009 in the John Hay Library.
Although the codex, the book as we know it, was invented in the eastern Mediterranean, it quickly found a home in the Italian peninsula, which became the main center of book production in the early Middle Ages, with the great monasteries of Vivarium and Monte Cassino providing the initiative. While the production of manuscript books spread from the monasteries to the universities and beyond, it was still the Benedictine monastery at Subiaco that brought the first printing press to Italy in the 1460's. Manuscripts and printed books lived side by side through the rest of the fifteenth and well into the sixteenth century, each form influencing the other.
The Brown University Library holds very strong collections of Italian history, literature, and art, reaching back to its founding in the late eighteenth century. Especially notable are the library's special collections, housed in the John Hay Library, which include some named collections (the Chambers Dante Collection, the Machievelli Collection) as well as important components of other collections (Annmary Brown collection of incunabula, and the Koopman Collection).
Most of the books in the present exhibit come from the Annmary Brown Collection, with some additions from Koopman, History of Science, and other Special Collections. The John Carter Brown Library, also, has generously lent us one of the exhibited books. We have included some manuscripts along with early printed books, and one can easily see how the new technology of printing did not greatly change the appearance of books in this period. We also hope to illustrate not only the burgeoning vernacular culture, but also the great range of humanistic scholarship between about 1350 and 1600.