Gratian’s “Decretum”

Description

Gratian was a 12th-century Benedictine monk and canon lawyer from Bologna. Little is known about him beyond the fact that he compiled and wrote this collection of legal texts, which became the code of canon law used in the Roman Catholic Church until 1918. Very few of the numerous printed editions of the Decretum Gratiani were so lavishly furnished with miniatures as was this incunabulum, dating from 1472, printed on parchment and supplemented with the gloss to the Decretum by Johannes Teutonicus in the version of Bartholomaeus of Brescia. This copy of an edition printed in Mainz was bound in the same city in the workshop known as “M with the Crown I” by a binder who worked for a number of printers, including Peter Schöffer. The layout of the printed pages imitates that of the manuscript tradition of this work, with the main text surrounded by a commentary. The archbishop of Mainz, Berthold of Henneberg (died 1504), may have known Johann Gutenberg in person and is considered to have been one of the foremost patrons of printing. It was he who commissioned the decoration of this copy of the Decretum Gratiani, most probably not on the occasion of being elected archbishop of Mainz in 1484, which would have been rather late considering the date of printing, but more likely already around 1474, when he was made dean of the cathedral. The book is ornamented with miniatures illustrating each of the 38 chapters and with numerous—up to 20 per page—small golden and silver initials. At the bottom of the title page (folio 2 recto), the archbishop’s coat of arms, held by a supporter, is depicted in a decorative frame. The illumination was produced in the so-called “workshop of the Giant Bible of Mainz” and is the work of the master illuminator and an assistant. The same illuminators illustrated a considerably less lavish copy of the Decretum now in Frankfurt University Library. The miniature occupying a single column on folio 102 recto was painted by the assistant and depicts a father delivering his son into a monastery.

Date Created

Subject Date

Publication Information

Peter Schöffer, Mainz

Language

Title in Original Language

Decretum Gratiani

Place

Type of Item

Physical Description

35 x 50 centimeters

Notes

  • BSB shelfmark: 2 L.impr.membr. 1 a
  • This description of the work was written by Ulrike Bauer-Eberhardt of the Bavarian State Library.

Last updated: March 16, 2017