Written by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513, The Prince is undoubtedly the most famous political treatise of the Renaissance and a book that is, if not actually read, familiar to many even today. More than 500 years after its first publication, it still remains both popular and controversial, surviving in popular culture through the adjective Machiavellian, a by-word for political machination, amorality and that ultimately, virtue must bow to expediency.
Even prior to the completion of Gutenberg’s landmark Bible in about 1454, the print-run of 180 copies was already sold out. We know this because it was recorded in letters between Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini (1405–1464) and his friend, the Spanish cardinal Juan de Carvajal. In an often quoted passage, De Carvajal writes to Aeneas in a letter dated 12 March 1455:
The cathedral of Notre Dame has stood at the heart of France and of Paris for the best part of 1,000 years. It watched as Paris rose from a former outpost founded during the Roman Republic to become the biggest city of medieval Europe. And although European printing was born in Germany, it is in France, in the shadow of Notre Dame, that the modern book was born.
Love it or hate it, dread it or revel in it, suck at it or excel in it, math makes the world go round, sending rockets to the moon, forecasting the weather, describing the motions of the planets and everything else in the cosmos. Galileo (1564–1642) famously said that ‘the universe is written in mathematical language, without which it is humanly impossible to comprehend a single word.’ But today we are concerned not with the math of the astronomer or physicist but with the altogether simpler but equally important branch of mathematics, arithmetic. From the Greek words for number and art, arithmetic describes the traditional operations of or fundamental manipulation of numbers, including addition and subtraction, multiplication and division.
Many of the first printed books in Europe were decorated with illustrations, initials and borders. Each served a purpose: initials signaled, via their range of sizes, a textual hierarchy, working in much the same way as chapter headings and sub-headings do today. Decorative borders were employed to demarcate or divide books, chapters or sections and, from the last decades of the fifteenth century, were used at the beginning of books as openers or title-pages.
Today we tend to associate magic either with the sleight of hand tricks performed by magicians and illusionists or with the fictional universes of Game of Thrones and Harry Potter.
Last week we visited mid-sixteenth-century Zurich to take a look at an intriguing encyclopedia of animals in Unicorns, Frogs & the Sausage Supper Affair. This week, for the second in our series of Remarkable Renaissance Books, we turn back the clock a couple of decades, and head northwest to Paris to pick up a very different kind of book – a Book of Hours, or Horae (Latin for ‘hours’). During the later Middle Ages, if you owned only one book, then there is a pretty good chance that it was a Book of Hours. These portable, small-format books were essentially prayer books for personal use. They typically open with a calendar of saints’ days and special feasts, followed by, in varying order, lessons from the Gospels, other Bible lessons or excerpts and, the core of the book, The Hours of the Virgin – a selection of prayers to be recited at eight times, or hours, throughout the day.