Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Sphaera mundi (Cologne: Heinrich Quentell, 7 July 1500)

Sphaera mundi. Comm: Wenceslaus Faber, de Budweis

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Sacro Bosco was a famous mathematician and astronomer of the 13th century. There is no evidence for the tradition that he was born in Halifax (Holywood, Holyfax) in Yorkshire, England, around 1200, and that 'Sacra Bosco' is a Latinized form of the name of his birth place. His name is spelled in several ways: '(Joannes de) Sacrobosco', 'Sacro Bosco', or 'Sacrobusto', or given as 'John of Halifax', in addition to 'Sacro Busto', which is the form that appears on the title-page of the present edition. He taught mathematics at the University of Paris and died there around 1236.

The Sphaera mundi ( The Sphere of the World) is his main work on spherical astronomy of the Ptolemaic system; it was written in Latin and composed c. 1230. It became one of the most popular scientific works from the European Middle Ages. As many as twenty-four editions were published during the incunabula period only, and it remained in print well into the 17th century.

The printer of this edition, Quentell (d. 1500), was active in Cologne, Germany, and he was known for producing Bibles that contained woodcut illustrations. His earliest dated work appeared in 1479, and he ran a second printing shop from 1484 onwards.

There are a total of twenty-eight woodcut illustrations in this book, including a full-page figure on the verso of the title-page. The characters in these illustrations were also cut into the wood blocks. On the pages after sig. D5r, tables are also printed.

The main text and the commentary (which are both laid out in a single column) are printed alternately in gothic type, and traditional Latin contractions and abbreviations are frequently used. The main text is printed using a larger type, with twenty-five lines to a page, while the commentary occupies forty-two lines per page. The lines are fully justified. When a syllable is separated across two lines or is broken between two pages, the break is indicated by a virgule (/).

The verso page of the first half of each quire bears a printed signature, which consists of a capital letter and Roman numeral – for example, 'A ii'. Sig. 'A iii' is misprinted as 'A iiii', and this mistake has been corrected in pencil by a later hand. In the text, only Arabic numerals are used. The figure 4 looks like a lower case 'l'. No catchword is used.

In the Keio copy, most of the spaces reserved for the initials to be supplied by hand have been left blank. The book shows traces of use: contemporary annotations are written in brown ink in the margins and in the illustrations throughout the book. On the front flyleaf, there are manuscript notes in six different hands. One of them, written in the upper right corner, is dated 1944 and signed 'W.F.O.', and states that this copy was bound in Zaehnsdorf (a London bindery) in 1943-44, and that the binding was 'designed by me'. 'W.F.O.' stands for Walter Fraser Oakeshott (1903-87), who was a former vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, and is known for having discovered the Winchester Manuscript of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte D'arthur, as described in the note at the bottom. The book is bound in full green morocco, and in the center of the front cover is inlaid a red morocco with gilt title.

  Martins, Roberto de Andrade, Johannes de Sacrobosco [accessed 19 August 2007]



Johannes de Sacro Bosco
Place of Publication
Heinrich Quentell


Date of Publication

Full green nigel morocco, gilt decorated front cover and red morocco inlays, by Zaehnsdorf.

Bibliographical Notes

39 leaves (of 40), wanting H4; early marginalia throughout; a note on the design of binding with the signature of W.F.O. (=Walter Oakeshott); contemporary annotations in italics.

Goff J422, HC 14124*, IJL 186, IJL2 231, PP 47
Acquisition Year

Frarum Monsterii S.S.... (signature; title page).