Introduction to the study of incunabula (in English)

The course will examine how to interpret the explicit statements contained in the books themselves about the circumstances of their production. In the absence of contemporary descriptions, however, the incunabula themselves provide the most important body evidence for how they were produced. The course will therefore examine how we can learn about the history of production through recognising and carefully interpreting the evidence with which the books as physical objects present us. This will by implication also provide some tools for recognising books which have later been “improved” or even faked. By presenting the most important catalogues of incunabula in the historical context of their creation, it emphasises their intended aims, as well as their strengths and weaknesses for specific current research purposes. Special attention will be paid to illustration, lay-out and texts; to the relationship between the various phases of production of incunabula and their end-users; we will look at hand finishing and decoration, at book distribution and types of evidence for early provenance and we will look at the impact of later collectors. At the end of the course it is hoped that the students will feel confident in identifying and interpreting the evidence presented by incunabula, using the appropriate reference tools in awareness of current research trends