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Vědecká knihovna Olomouc
Vědecká knihovna Olomouc
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The Research Library in Olomouc (VKOL) possesses approximately 2000 incunabula – printed works published before the year 1501. The term “incunabula” (from the Latin for “swaddling clothes” i.e. something in its infancy) was first used in a Czech­ translation by Václav Hanka in the 19th century.

The fortune of the Incunabula Collection mi­rrors the history of the entire library collection. The foundation of today’s collection consisted of confiscated items transferred to Olomouc from Moravian Jesuit colleges following the abolishment of the order in 1775. Further expansion of the collection is connected with the abolishment of monasteries by Emperor Josef II in the 1780s. The libraries of thirty four such Moravian and Silesian monasteries were brought to the Olomouc university library.Augustin Käsenbrod: De secta Waldensium. Olomouc, Konrad Baumgarten, 1500. - front page

As is the case with the majority of Czech libraries, works from German printers dominate the collection. A total of 47% of all incunabula originated in today’s Germany, 22% are from Italian printers,18% are from the lands of today’s France, and approximately 10% are from Switzerland. Th e remaining 2% are works from Belgium, the Czech lands, Austria, and Poland. The vast majority of the Olomouc incunabula were printed in the language of the educated elite of the period – Latin. Only 33 prints are in German, 6 in Czech, 1 in Italian, and 1 in Greek.

The Research Library in Olomouc holds 13 of the 69 known incunabula of Czech origin. Three of these works are the only copies in the world. These Brno prints are: Statuta synodalia ecclesiae Olomucensis from 1498, Almanach 1492, printed in 1491, and Ars minor, a Greek grammar by Aelio Donato printed in 1491. All three of these unique works are from the workshop of Konrád Stahel and Matyáš Preinlein.

The VKOL also possesses all three known Olomouc incunabula. Created betweens the years 1499 and 1500, these are Quaestio fabulosa recitata – the Latin satirical work by Johan Schram, Planctus ruinae ecclesiae – the Latin-German versed work by poet and musician Johann Fabri, and Augustin Käsenbrod’s tract De secta Waldensium.This last of these was dedicated to the famous brotherhood doctor Jan Černý, with the aim of turning him away from his faith.

The majority of incunabula are printed on paper; only a few prints were made on the more resistant and far more expensive parchment. Th e Olomouc Missal from 1488 is an example of the rarity of parament prints. A total of 420 copies of this missal were printed by the Bamberg printer Johann Sensenschmidt, 400 on paper, and 20 on parchment. The VKOL holds two copies, one printed on paper, and one of the only twenty printed on parchment. In all, the Incunabula. Collection includes five works printed on parchment.

The majority of incunabula books in the Olomouc collection concern the subject of theology. Also represented are medical works,the works of authors from antiquities, grammars, calendars, mathematics and astronomical works, chronicles, celebratory speeches, and others.Johannes de Ketham: Fasciculus medicine. Venice, Johannes et Gregorius fratres de Forlivio, 1491. - anatomy of a woman

Certainly worthy of mention from the field of period literature is the world famous satirical poetic composition Narrenschiff , or Ship of Fools. Th e author was the Strasbourg humanist Sebastian Brant, who, in his best-known work, satirizes various human weaknesses and vices (the VKOL holds three various editions with woodcut illustrations).

Works that enjoyed great popularity in the Middle Ages and were repeatedly published include the herbal Hortus sanitatis or Gart der Gesundheit, the authorship of which is ascribed to the Mainz and Frankfurt doctor Johann von Knaub. At the time, this richly illustrated herbal represented the most extensive handbook of medical plants as well as remedial substances from minerals and fauna. The VKOL holds a 1485 first edition from the Mainz print shop of Peter Schoeffer. Though it does not contain the number of illustrations found in later editions (the VKOL possesses four additional copies), it does have a considerable number of woodcuts (368), the vast majority of which depict plants.

Other interesting incunabula include the first Latin edition of the work Fasciculus medicine by Johann de Ketham, printed by the Gregorio brothers in Venice in 1491. This was the very first printed anatomy book and it became a popular medical teaching aid. We can probably not designate Ketham as the author, but rather the holder of an older manuscript on which the later work was based.Jean d’Arras: Melusine. [Basileae : Bernardus Richel, 1476]

Another noteworthy incunabulum is the first German printed edition of Boccaccio’s work Von etlichen Frowen (De claris mulieribus), presenting bibliographical profi les of famous women (Eva from Genesis, the poet Sappho, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, and others).The book, published in 1473 by the Ulm printer Johann Zainer from Reutlingen, who added 76 woodcut prints, was translated from the Latin original by the important humanist Heinrich Steinhöwel. The value of the Olomouc copy is enhanced by the fact that all of the woodcut prints are coloured.

Traditional, albeit generally valuable incunabula include the chronicles of the Nuremberg doctor and humanist Hartmann Schedel Liber chronicarum, fi rst published by the Nuremberg printer Antonio Koberger in July 1493. In this work Schedel summarizes the history of the world from creation up to the author’s times. The work, richly illustrated with numerous high-quality woodcut prints, combines legends, traditions, and the author’s fantasies with the latest scientific knowledge of the period.Giovanni Boccaccio: De claris mulieribus. Ulm,Johannes Zainer de Rutlingen, 1473. - Antonius a Kleopatra

Melusine, the work of Jean of Arras from 1476, is another highly rare incunabulum held by the library. Th is Basel print with numerus hand-coloured woodcut prints contains a brief version of the story of Melusine, the mythical “great-grandmother” of the Lusignan, Luxembourg, and Valois families. The tale is full of magical enchantment, bloody battles, and internecine murder. The originál manuscript was written in the years 1387–1394 on commission by the grandchildren of King Jan of Luxembourg – John, Duke of Berry and his cousin, Moravian Margrave Jost. The members of important families had the history of Melusine copied and drawn up with expensive bindings and decoration, including magnifi cent illuminations. Favourite tales of Melusine were also influenced by oral folk literature. In the Czech lands Melusine howled in chimneys efore storms and peasants would throw a handful of flour or salt from the window so she could make porridge for her children and not leave any damage.

Incunabula are available to professional researchers in the reading room of the VKOL Historical Collection. In cooperation with the Czech National Library incunabula of Czech origin have been digitalized and made available in the digital library of the Historical Collection ( and in the Manuscriptorium digital library (


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