INCUNABULA AND EARLY 16th CENTURY BOOKS
The Magistral Library has a small but important collection of 15th century books, or incunabula. It includes:
*the Liber chronicarum by Hartmann Schedel (1493), an illustrated history of the world from creation to 1493. It was published in Latin in Nuremberg July 12, 1493; the Latin version was soon followed by the German (December 23, 1493), published also in Nuremberg. The publisher (and printer) was Anton Kroberger, godfather of Albrecht Dürer, the 1809 wood engravings were prepared in the workshop of Michael Wolgemut (where Dürer was apprenticed from 1486 to 1489);
*the famous Obsidionis Rhodie Urbis descriptio by Guillaume Caoursin (1496), an illustrated book containing Caoursin’s orations and commentaries on events that occurred after 1480, such as the death of Sultan Mehmet II, the earthquake at Rhodes, and the life of Prince Djem. This work compares well with other examples of historical texts written in the service of the state;
*a copy of the very rare Breviarum secundum usum ordinis sancti Johannis hierosolymitani (1517). The mandate for this publication claims that Grand Master Fra’ Emery d’Amboise, together with the other members of the Chapter General held in Rhodes on February 1st, 1510, pointed out that in various Hospitaller churches the office of the canonical hours was being celebrated under different styles. This generated confusion when members from these houses attended the service at the Order’s Conventual church in Rhodes. For this reason the Chapter General set up a commission to investigate the matter.
The Magistral Library has several collections of books and articles donated by members of the Order. They are available on the online catalogue:
- John James Watts’ Collection – John James Watts, one of the founding members of the British Association, was well known for his immense knowledge of culture and science. He collected a very large library and gave it to the Order of Malta at the end of his life. The collection contains no less than five hundred old books, from 15th to 19th century with some rare incunabula;
- Chignolo Po’s collection – The name Chignolo Po comes from the castle of Chignolo Po (Lombardy), which kept since the 20th century the Visconti books’ Collection. It’s the second most important private collection of the Magistral Library, which contains books about literature, French history and spirituality, with some very beautiful old bindings;
- Amabile Vella’s Collection – Amabile Vella (1777-1831) was Commander and Vice-Chancellor of the Order of Malta from 1812 to 1831. He collected a large library of antique books from 16th to 19th century, on classical, Italian and English literature. His collection includes Laurence Sterne’s masterpiece The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, with old engravings. The entire collection was donated to the Magistral Library in the 19th century.
- Cesare Borgia’s Collection – Cesare Borgia (1776-1837) was a Knight of Justice, Commander of a pontifical ship and Fra’ of the Order of Malta, which inherited part of his collection after his death: 33 volumes published in the 19th century, notwithstanding one edited in the 16th century. The Borgia’s Collection includes various volumes on physics, botanical science, history, poetry and Italian literature.
- Valeria Rossi di Montelera’s Collection – The Countess Valeria Rossi di Montelera’s Collection of fine leather bindings is not unusually large, hardly more than three hundred items, but is quite extraordinary in its quality and wide range of colours. It is composed mainly of bindings by unknown artists but also includes a fascinating group of signed French bindings of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century (Mercier, Chambolle-Duru, Marius Michel, Georges Canape, Victor Champs). Most of the fine and rare books in the collection are in French, a result of the Countess’s love for the French language, literature and art.