The Rudimentum Novitiorum, published in Lübeck, Germany in 1475 by Lucas Brandis, joins more than 100 incunabula (materials printed in the first 50 years of moveable type printing in Western Europe) in the James Ford Bell Library collection. Although the author/compiler of this early compendium of knowledge is unknown, the purpose for which it was created is clear: it was intended as a textbook or scholarly resource for young clerics—a book from which they could be taught in a classroom setting as well as one they could study on their own in their institution’s library or scriptorium. It reports the “history” of the world, beginning with the Christian creation narrative, and then weaving together political and Biblical knowledge over the centuries and into the 15th-century, what would be for the contemporary reader “modern times.”
The historical account in the Rudimentum is structured according to the six ages of the world, visually represented in a comprehensive series of genealogical tables, providing a diagrammatic overview of the history of salvation. Into this framework are woven a description of the world and a description of the Holy Land, both supported by maps: the first European printed truly world map and the first Eurpean printed map of Palestine. These cartographic firsts distinguish the Rudimentum from other early chronicles and histories.
A digital exhibition is under construction that will provide additional insights into this rare book and how it relates to other early printed histories, including the Nuremberg Chronicle. In the meantime, we hope you will visit the Bell Library to see the Rudimentum Novitiorum in person. It will be on display in the Bell Room through January 31, 2016, and then available upon request in our reading room beginning February 22, 2016.
We are very grateful to the James Ford Bell Trust and its trustees, Ford Bell and Diane Neimann, for this and other recent gifts.