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  • Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre by Cristina Dondi
  • Brian Richardson (bio)
Printed Books of Hours from Fifteenth-Century Italy: The Texts, the Books, and the Survival of a Long-Lasting Genre. By Cristina Dondi. (Biblioteca di Bibliografia, 204.) Florence: Olschki. 2016. xlviii + 710 pp. £95. isbn 978 88 222 6468 8.

Cristina Dondi's Study of the Books of Hours—portable collections of liturgical offices, prayers, and gospel readings—that were printed in Italy up to 1500 falls into two complementary parts. The second contains a detailed catalogue of the seventy-four known editions, which are highly diverse in nature and survive in a total of only 198 copies. The great majority of editions of Offices of the Virgin Mary, thirty-six, were printed in Venice, while seventeen came from Naples, three from Rome, two each from Milan, Florence, and Turin, one each from Verona and Ferrara, and one from an unknown centre. Dondi also provides a census of nine related printed Offices from Florence, Venice, Ferrara, and Bologna, of which four are Libri da compagnia, a type of Book of Hours intended for members of confraternities. Each catalogue entry is divided into three sections: a bibliographical description of the edition, with information on any illustrations and comments on its calendar of saints, which can provide valuable clues to the relationship between one edition and another (full information on calendars is given in Appendix III); a list of its textual contents; and a description of located and unlocated copies, noting imperfections (if any), binding, decoration, manuscript notes, information on provenance from the earliest known owner to the present, and the relevant bibliography. It took Dondi almost fifteen years to complete this meticulous census and to analyse its evidence, she tells us in her Preface (p. xv), and one of the wider benefits of her research has been her simultaneous promotion of online tools and resources—especially Material Evidence in Incunabula ( and the 15cBOOKTRADE Project (—that will make it easier for others to assemble and compare such data in the future.

In the first part of her book, Dondi introduces her survey and discusses its evidence in six chapters. The first of these traces the origins of what proved to be a major European printed genre to Venice, where between 1474 and 1475 Nicolas Jenson produced four Books of Hours. Dondi suggests that the French printer was responding to demand from communities within the city, including the confraternity of San Girolamo to which he belonged and the Observant Franciscans. Similarly, it [End Page 82] is suggested later (pp. 177–78), Jenson's Roman Breviary of 1478 must have been promoted by another Venetian confraternity. The model of Jenson's Hours was then imitated by printers outside Venice. Dondi argues, on the basis of the presence of certain saints in calendars, that Italian editions of Offices and Libri da compagnia were originally intended for a principally local readership, but an edition from one city could then be imitated elsewhere. In Chapter 2, 'Physical Description', Dondi constructs a stemma of the editions. A few of them are unrelated to others, but most derive either from Jenson's first edition of 1474 or from a Neapolitan edition of 1476. She goes on to describe other predominant features, such as the use of the 16o format to imitate small manuscript Offices, of gothic type, and of illustrations (and this book is itself generously illustrated, with 88 colour plates). In order to consider the question of how many editions and copies have been entirely lost, evidence on the printing and selling of books in the period 1476–88 is drawn from the Diary of the Ripoli press in Florence and from the Zornale of the Venetian bookseller Francesco de Madiis, of which Dondi is preparing an edition together with Neil Harris. Chapter 3 examines the use of Books of Hours in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, using evidence such as purchase prices, bindings, hand decoration (which is found in most copies), manuscript...


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