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Special Collections Recent Acquisition

December 4, 2012
Decretales Gregorii IX

Decretales Gregorii IXVenetijs: Nicolas Jenson, 1475.

An incunabulum printing of the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX, promulgated in 1234 as the first official compilation of canon law with universal authority.

An imposing volume, bound in contemporary leather over boards, with extensive blind-tooling; brass cornerpieces and center medallion, featuring engraved foliate decoration, on both boards; evidence of clasps and hinges.  This crisp copy is exquisitely illuminated with gold-framed miniatures at the head of each of the five books into which the Decretales are organized; fauna inhabit the lushly-pigmented foliate border decoration; initials mostly are in red and cerulean.  The glossator Bernard of Parma (d. 1266), professor of canon law at Bologna, authored the “Glossa Ordinaria”that surrounds the center text.  The renowned French typographer Nicolas Jenson (c. 1420-1480) printed the Decretales in blackletter at his printing house in Venice.  The identity of the artist is uncertain, but experts have attributed the miniatures to the Austrian master illuminator Ulrich Schreier (fl. c. 1460-1490).

 To simplify the canon law texts used for study and practice, bring order to the post-Gratian papal laws, and guard against the danger of inauthentic decretals, Pope Gregory IX (incumbent 1227-1241) commissioned the canonist Raymond of Penyafort to gather the laws issued since Gratian’s Decretum into a new official decretal compilation.  Gregory directed that this authoritative collection, issued in 1234, be taught in the law faculties as the official law of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Decretales were promulgated during the “classical era of canon law” (1140-1375), and supplanted Gratian’s Decretum and other works as the fundamental teaching texts, displacing prior texts as the new canon law authority.

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