Incunabula and the Keio University Library Collection


Plutarchus [Plutarch], Vitae illustrium virorum (Venice: Nicolaus Jenson, 2 Jan. 1478)

Vitae illustrium virorum [Latin]. Add: Sextus Rufus: De historia Romana

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Plutarch, the famous biographer and historian who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, wrote biographies of 46 famous Greek and Roman philosophers and politicians. This series is written in the so-called 'Parallel Lives' style, a name coined by Plutarch himself, in which the biographies are mostly arranged in pairs, each pair having one Roman life and one similar Greek life. The present work served as a sourcebook for Renaissance writers such as Shakespeare. Its translation into Latin was completed by Giovanni Antonio Campano in about 1470, although a partial Latin translation was prepared before 1450.

In Venice, printing was first introduced by a German printer, Johannes de Spira (d. 1470) in 1469. The following year, a French printer, Nicolaus Jenson (c. 1435-80), who produced the present copy, started printing in Venice, and was active until 1480. Jenson printed volumes of the classics in folio form, using his beautiful roman types and leaving a large space for the margins. This book survives in a number of vellum copies, and bears various kinds of hand-coloured decorations executed by leading artists of the day. This may explain the good visual balance that exists between the margins and the printed areas of the book. Although Keio's paper copy has simpler decorations than the vellum ones, the first page is illuminated with an elaborate border decoration, which surrounds the margin with ivy patterns and forms an initial (Q). At the bottom of the decorative border is painted the coat of arms of Francesco Chieregati, who was Bishop of Teramo in the Kingdom of Naples and the owner of this copy. The first pages of incunabula printed at this time in Venice are often found to have been decorated with the owner's coat of arms, as can be seen in the Keio copy of Dante's La Divina Commedia (printed in Brescia, 1487; see IKUL 026).

  The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination 1450-1550, ed. by J. G. Jonathan Alexander (Munich, 1994)

(TM; trans. by MiT)

(Translation from the Japanese version in The Reflections in Allegory, p. 2)


Plutarchus [Plutarch]
Place of Publication
Nicolaus Jenson


Date of Publication

18th-century calf, morocco on the spine, gilded titles on black morocco pieces.

Bibliographical Notes

2 volumes; Vol. 1: 233 leaves. Vol. 2: 226 leaves; the first pages of both volumes beautifully decorated (vol. 1 has a coat of arms (Cf. provenance); initial capitals in blue and red; occasional marginalia in a later hand throughout (more in vol. 2 than in vol. 1).

Goff P832, HC 13127*, BMC V 178, IJL 243, IJL2 307, PP 95, T 24, RA 1
Acquisition Year

Francesco Chieregati, Bishop of Teramo, 1478-1539 (fol. 1, coat of arms: PRO VIRBUS SUMMIS CONTENDO).