Pauline Malkiel 'Hebrew Printing in Venice in the 16th Century & the Valmadonna Trust Library'

Thursday, 15 December, 2016 - 1:49 pm

A few words about how the Library began.  Mr. Lunzer’s wife came from Italy, with family connections to a village in Piedmont by the name of Valmadonna.  His interest in the Jews of Italy – which he visited many times – was aroused by passing through little places like Ferrara, Ancona, Fano, Sabbionetta, Pesaro, Rimini and Cremona, and reading about the wanderings of the Soncino family of printers.  His wife’s father had started a small collection of Italian books, and Mr. Lunzer, a diamond merchant, took over the custodianship of these books, which had been hidden away in a cellar during the War.  Gradually collecting Italian books became a priority, together with books printed in Amsterdam, which were readily available during the 1950s.  He became an avid reader of bibliographies, with which he spent many a sleepless night, and encouraged by his wife and by his great friend and mentor Chimen Abramsky, he attended auctions of the Missionary Society, Sotheby’s, and the Sassoon sales, and made important purchases during the seventies and eighties as well as acquiring the Libraries of the Ferrara and Gibraltar communities during the seventies.  When I came on the scene in 1982 many of these books and their duplicates were stored in Hatton Garden and the most valuable – the manuscripts and Incunables – in the vault at IDC.  Gradually, as the collection developed, all the books were moved to Fairport, Mr. Lunzer’s house overlooking Hampstead Heath Extension.  The Venice collection, comprising the largest part of the Italian collection with the exception of Livorno printing,  numbers 1,280 records, of which 114 items were printed by Daniel Bomberg.


The beginnings of Hebrew printing and the ascent of Venice.


The first Hebrew books to be printed after the invention of the printing press in Mainz by Johannes Gutenberg were known as Incunables (“from the cradle”), starting in Rome around 1469, and in Spain and Portugal until the Expulsions in 1492 and 1497 respectively.  In the early 16th century Hebrew presses were set up in Italy, the Ottoman Empire, and Central and Eastern Europe.  In Italy Gershom b. Moses Soncino, whose family had printed Incunables in Italy in the 15th century under the patronage of the Sforzas, became the first to print there in the 16th century.  In 1502 Gershom was given permission by the Duke of Fano to set up a press in Fano, where he printed a series of small Latin books in 1502 and a few Hebrew books in 1503.  Between 1502 and 1526, when he left Italy for Salonika and Constantinople, he had printed approx. 66-68 Hebrew books in around 10 different towns as well as about 95 Latin, Italian and Greek books of high quality, many of them with beautiful borders and woodcuts.


Venice became the foremost city in the printing world in the 16th century.  Aldus Manutius was the first printer to use Hebrew letters, but it was with the arrival of Daniel Bomberg, a non-Jew from Antwerp, that Venice first achieved prominence.  He printed first a Latin Psalterium in 1515, and soon after received the right to print Hebrew books from the Venetian Senate and established his printing house.  He printed on quality paper and in beautiful type, and over the next 40 years (till 1548/49) his press produced over 200-250 titles, all of the highest quality and taste, encompassing liturgy, Talmud, Halakhah, philosophy and grammatical works.  These include the first Rabbinic Bible (1516-17), the Jerusalem Talmud (1523-24), the Siddur of the Aleppo rite (Aram Sova), printed by Bomberg in 2 parts in 1527, numbering 817 + 7 folios and of which no complete copy exists.  JLwas determined to lay hands on every fragment he could and the very substantial Val copy contributed to a facsimile edition published in Jerusalem by Yad Harav Nissim in 2008.   Bomberg printed the first Karaite book – the Siddur of 1528-29, and beautiful quarto and folio editions of the Bible, but he is best known for his first edition of the complete Babylonian Talmud in 1519/20- 1523 (the Talmud that King Henry VIII ordered from Italy to facilitate his divorce from Catherine of Aragon). This printing was a major accomplishment considering that almost all of his publications were produced from manuscripts and that the art of Hebrew printing was still in its infancy, and his typographical excellence has never been surpassed.  Bomberg’s Talmud, with its continuous pagination from beginning to end, established the standard followed by all subsequent editions to this day.  Together with Cornelius Adelkind, the manager of his shop, Daniel Bomberg employed a large staff of scholars, and assistants to deal with sales and exports of his books.  There were editors and proofreaders such as Isaiah Parnas (who ended up as an apostate), while the French engraver Guillaume le Be provided six different Hebrew fonts for the press.


Bomberg was succeeded in the mid-16th century by five other gentile printers of Hebrew books, primarily Giustinian and Bragadin.  In the smaller press of the dei Farri brothers, assisted by Cornelius Adelkind, around 15 Hebrew books were printed in 1544.  The Jewish printer Meir b. Jacob Parenzo, who had worked at Bomberg’s press, printed five books independently at the print shop of Carlo Quirino, from 1546 to 1548, with his printer’s mark of a seven-branched Menorah.  These included Meshal ha-Kadmoni, a book of animal fables for moral edification containing eighty fine woodcut illustrations.  Marco Antonio Giustiniani, also assisted by Cornelius Adelkind, published several important Talmud tractates between 1546 and 1551, containing the cross-references and indices of Joshua Boaz, which became part of the standard Talmud of today.  Other works produced by Giustinian in 1545 were Zevah Pesah and Nachmanides’ commentary on the Torah, many of his title pages bearing his distinctive printer’s device representing the Temple.


Giustinian came into conflict with Alvise Bragadin over the printing of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, both publishing rival editions in 1550, the former printing unauthorized glosses.  This led to a papal review and to Pope Julius III’s decree of August 22, 1553, ordering the confiscation and destruction of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds.  There had been previous book burnings of medieval manuscripts and Incunables in Spain and Portugal under the Inquisition at the end of the 15th century.  Earlier still, at the latter end of the Crusades, the Talmud was condemned by the Pope and confiscated in Paris in 1240.  Twenty-four wagon-loads of Hebrew books were burned at Paris in 1242.  Following Pope Julius III’s decree in August 1553 a vast number of Giustinian’s tractates were destroyed in the infamous book burnings that took place in October in St. Mark’s Square.  An eye-witness states that over one thousand complete copies of the Talmud were burned at Venice alone, besides hundreds of other books, and this was followed by public burnings of Hebrew books all over Italy and the Papal States.  After the book burnings in St. Mark’s Square the Pope resorted to censorship of Talmudic literature or liturgical passages deemed to be blasphemous, often carried out by Jewish apostates such as Vittorio Eliano.  A modified Index of prohibited books came out in Venice in 1564, including books by the non-Jewish authors Paul Fagius (an apostate) and Sebastian Muenster. 


Hebrew printing ceased in Venice for over ten years after Giustinian closed his press in 1552, after which printing resumed in 1563 under Alvise Bragadin, assisted by Meir Parenzo.  Other printers at this time were Giorgio di Cavalli, with his printer’s mark of an elephant bearing a turret, who, assisted by an able Jewish staff, printed over twenty Hebrew books from 1565 to 1567, beginning with the Arba’ah Turim and ending with Ashkenaz and Polish rite Mahzorim.  Giovanni Gryphio, his printer’s mark the family emblem of a griffin, printed less than ten Hebrew books between 1560 and 1567, starting with an Aleppo rite Mahzor, after which he ceased printing due to the competition between printers.  Bragadin, with his printer’s mark of three crowns, symbolizing royalty, priesthood and Torah, produced the first edition of Joseph Caro’s Shulhan Arukh in 1565, and a new edition of the Mishneh Torah, with Joseph Caro’s commentary, in 1574-5.  Both Parenzo and Bragadin died in the mid-1570s, but their families remained associated in printing well into the 18th century.  Alvise Bragadin’s printing house was active for almost 150 years.  During the entire 18th century his sons printed in association with the Foa family of printers, and his printing house amalgamated with Vendramin in the second half of the century.  Another family of printers, the Zanetti’s, was active in Venice from 1564 onwards, the most prolific being Daniel Zanetti who published more than 60 titles between 1596 and 1608.


The press of Giovanni di Gara, who had worked for Daniel Bomberg and is regarded as his heir, printed over 270 books, primarily in Hebrew and covering all Jewish literature except the Talmud, between 1565 and 1611.  An order was issued by the Venice Senate in 1571 forbidding Jews to be employed as typesetters, which led to a drop in standards.  Di Gara’s Jewish assistants were Asher Parenzo, brother of Meir, Samuel Archivolti, whose small crown (“the crown of a good name surpassing them all”) occasionally appeared on the title page; Israel Zifroni and his son Daniel, Leone Modena, and Isaac Gershon of Safed.  From 1579 to 1600 Bragadin and di Gara worked together.  In 1609 di Gara, together with Israel Zifroni, published a beautiful, lavishly illustrated Haggadah in 3 editions, the Hebrew text in the centre of the page and the translations in the outer columns - in Judeo-Italian for Italian Jewry, Yiddish for Ashkenazi Jews, and Ladino, for Sephardim.  The illustrations in this Haggadah were completely new and became a basis for future editions.  This was the first printing of Ladino in Venice.  Yiddish or Judeo-German had been printed there as early as 1548, and the liturgies printed in Venice represent the rites of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Ashkenazi, Italian, Romaniot, Karaite, and the Jews of Aleppo and Corfu.


After di Gara, printing in Venice revived in the early 17th century under Giovanni Cajon (c.1614-1623), followed by Calleoni from 1621-1657, both of whom printed in association with the Bragadin brothers.  Although the quality of printing declined in Venice from the mid-17th century, it was a major centre for over 400 years.  Other centres such as Amsterdam, Livorno and Izmir rose to prominence and Hebrew printing in Venice came to an end in the early 19th century.




Overview of the Valmadonna Trust Library


I can only describe this Library as a treasure trove.  My first impression, as I walked into the study on Shavuot 1982, was of row upon row of beautiful bindings, elegantly and very tidily arranged, and the strong smell of leather.  I noticed many spines saying “Ed. Pr.” (1st edition) and “Unicum”, and also many double or stepped slipcases showing “Var.1” and “Var.2” – variant printings of the same book.  To my left was a wall of Italian 16th century Hebrew books, the spines showing exotic place names like Riva di Trento (where the Library holds all but one book printed there between 1557 and 1562), Cremona, Sabbionetta, Alcala, and some of the most beautiful books with Soncino borders printed in Fano and Pesaro.  (There is also a collection of about 44 very early Latin imprints printed by the Soncino’s, starting with Fano 1502, Pesaro 1507 and Ancona 1514.)  The wall on the right as you enter the study contains only Venice printing, with whole areas devoted to Bomberg printing (starting with the 1517 Bible, with all the Bibles arranged chronologically), and di Gara and Zanetti printing, arranged by size.  I was struck by the huge collection of Venice liturgies – Siddurim and Mahzorim, with the whole gamut of different rites: Sefarad, Ashkenaz, Roman rite, Karaite rite, Aleppo and Corfu rites, Yanina (Greece), and so on.


On another wall in the study, in which most of the 16th century Hebrew printing was housed, were all of our early Salonika and Constantinople books, starting in Constantinople in 1505, where the exiles from Spain and Portugal had arrived at the end of the 15th century and the early 16th century, bringing their craft with them.  A fragment of 2 folios of the Arba’ah Turim, 1493, and the Haftarot and Megillot on vellum of the 1505 Humash were locked up in the vault, but on the shelves were 3 books of Abarbanel printed in 1505 (Nahalot Avot – his comm. on Pirkei Avot; Zevah Pesah, his comm. on the Haggadah, and Rosh Amanah).  Nearby were the 2 Constantinople Polyglot Bibles – the 1546 edition, in Hebrew, Chaldaic, Persian and Arabic, and the 1547 edition, with Greek and Spanish, also exceedingly rare.  Other Constantinople printing includes 12 volumes of the Talmud printed around 1583-1595.  Among the special Salonika books are the 1526 Mahzor of the Barcelona rite, according to the custom of Catalonia, and the first edition of the Yalkut Shimoni, printed in Salonika, oddly Pt.2 in 1521 and Pt.1 in 1526-7.


On the wall opposite the door are the early Polish books: Cracow, starting in 1569, of which we hold 141 books printed before 1640 (still considered 16th century printing), including the Shulhan Arukh by Joseph Caro, printed in Cracow in 1578-80, and the Talmud (1602-5).  Our Lublin collection begins in the 1570s and we have 48 items printed before 1640 including 12 Talmud Tractates printed between 1617 and 1628.  Printing in Poland went into decline after the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648.


Our Prague collection begins with one of only 2 copies extant (the other is an imperfect copy at the B.L.) of the 1526 Haggadah printed on vellum, formerly the property of the Hebrew Congregation of Charleston, South Carolina (some of the provenances are amazing!), the oldest illustrated, dated edition, with over 60 woodcuts.  We have about 110 Prague books printed before 1640.  Dotted around this wall are books whose spines show some unusual places of printing, where only a few Hebrew books were printed in the 16th century, mostly in areas of Switzerland and southern Germany – places such as Thiengen (1560), Hagenau, Tuebingen, Pfortzheim, Isny, Nuernberg (we hold a Bible of 1599, a Tehillim of 1602 and Sefer Nitzahon, 1644); Konstanz (a 1544 Bible), Heddernheim (a Kabbalistic super-commentary on the Pentateuch, 1546), a very rare Mahzor printed in Maguntia (Mainz) in 1584 (Orden de Rosasanah y Kipur), and one Hebrew book printed in Worms in 1529, the Yosippon, with Shalosh Esreh Ikkarim of the Rambam.  To my regret we never managed to acquire anything from Thannhausen, where one Mahzor was printed, or Ichenhausen, where a Bible with Yiddish and another Yiddish book were printed, around the year 1540.  However we have 10 very rare Hebrew books printed in Augsburg between 1534 and 1544: Perush Rashi, Selihot, the Mahzor Ashkenaz rite, Arba’ah Turim and a Humash.  Other very rare books in this room are 3 very early books printed in Safed, including the 1st edition of Sar Shalom, by Samuel Aripol, printed in Safed in 1578-9; Kesef Nivhar, sermons on the Pentateuch by Josiah Pinto, printed in Damascus in 1605-6, where only one Hebrew book was printed; and Sefer Avudraham, Fez, 1521, the first book printed on the African continent.  This was purchased at the very memorable Schocken sale.  The 4th wall in this securely-locked Holy of Holies looks out on a beautiful garden, another of Mr. Lunzer’s passions.


In the next room, the sitting-room or lounge, I can only mention briefly a beautiful collection of Mantova books, a collection from Basel comprising about 150 items, most from the 16th century, including 10 volumes of the 1578-80 Talmud printed by Froben, the 4-volume Constantinople 1509 edition of the Alfassi, and the magnificent 6-volume Chatsworth copy of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible, printed in Alcala-en-Henares, in Castille, in 1514-17.  Also in this room is the Amsterdam collection, one of the major collections in Val, with 1664 titles.  It includes a wonderful collection of Amsterdam Spanish liturgies and of Menasseh ben Israel prints, starting with an “Orden” of 1617.  One of my favourite sections, which had to be put behind glass, is a display of tiny liturgies, mostly in original bindings and chronologically arranged, consisting, as in the Venice and Livorno collections, of all the different rites of the Jewish population of Amsterdam through the centuries, starting with the Spanish and Portuguese rites, and encompassing the Polish and Ashkenaz rites, the Selihot of the Frankfurt Rite, and liturgies of the Bohemian, Polish, Moravian and Austrian rites.  We have Seder ha-Ashmorot, 1763, according to the rite of Carpentras and another edition of the Avignon rite.  There is also a Siddur, 1757, of the Ceylon (Shingili) and Cochin rite.


In the back garden is a converted out-building used to house the fast-growing library in the eighties.  This became the home of the vast Livorno collection – to date 1413 items, starting at 1649 and again serving many communities with their different rites, from the Mediterranean and North Africa to the Ottoman Empire.  Rites I have come across under Livorno liturgies are Spanish and Portuguese, Ashkenazi, the Italian, Roman and Livorno rites, Ferrara, Modena, the Ancona rite of the Turin community, Tunis, Algiers, Tripoli and Djerba, Fez, Aden, Ceylon and Baghdad.  Also in the garden out-building is the Jerusalem collection – 1238 items, starting at 1841, with the first Jerusalem Siddur printed in 1842 by Israel Bak, who was forced to move to Jerusalem after the earthquake in Safed in 1837.  The latter Constantinople, Salonika and Izmir collections were later moved to the top floor of the house, while Baghdad, India and Aden remained in the garden house.  The Indian books, a source of great pride and affection, were augmented by the acquisition of the Sassoon collection in the late nineties, and with this purchase came another unique and mostly unrecorded collection of Indian and Shanghai journals.  The Baghdad collection numbers 364 items (114 of them in Judeo-Arabic), Bombay numbers 407 items, Calcutta 191 items, Poona 34 and Cochin 26.  From Bombay and Poona we have 285 items in Marathi or with Marathi translation, the language of the Bene Israel, and include 2 very important Haggadahs with Hebrew and Marathi on facing pages printed in Bombay in 1846 (lithographed) and Poona in 1874, with many illustrations depicting the Bene Israel in distinctive Indian dress and postures; and a lithograph from Calcutta, c.1880, in Urdu with Hebrew letters, a play with similar illustrations in Indian dress.


I should also mention the manuscript collection, consisting mainly of Italian and Indian items, for which there is a printed catalogue, and the broadside collection of about 600 broadsides or single leaves, and a long-awaited and very special publication devoted specifically to them came out in summer 2015.  These broadsides have survived through the ages and include communal notices, official Edicts in Hebrew and Italian, e.g. dress regulations for the Jews of Mantova, odes, wedding riddles and poems, some beautifully decorated or headed with angels blowing trumpets, prayers for the sick, for rain, and so on.  This collection includes 82 Wall Calendars, starting around 1547 with 3 from Constantinople and including a whole run of 47 Mantova wall calendars, almost consecutive from the year 1559; a similar run of 26 Venice wall calendars, starting in 1597, and one very early wall calendar from Sabbionetta dated 1560.  The JNUL has only one 16th century wall calendar.  Our collection was purchased mainly en bloc from a book dealer with Italian connections, who I believe discovered them in an attic, already starting to rot.


There are around 363 Ladino books in the collection, including 77 printed in Constantinople, 67 in Salonika, 30 in Izmir, 30 in Venice, 67 in Livorno and 63 in Jerusalem.  Our earliest Ladino items are Hanhagat ha-Hayyim (by Almosnino, Salonika 1564), and Hovot ha-Levavot (Salonika 1569, by Bahya b. Asher).  The Library has many items known to be unique copies.  Amongst these are 4 16th century Venice items: a small liturgy, Me’ah Berakhot, Spanish rite, printed by Bomberg in Venice in 1548, for which Mr. Lunzer got carried away at an auction in Geneva in 1989 and exceeded his own intended bid by at least double; another small liturgy, Seder Berakhah, Ashkenaz rite, printed by di Gara in Venice in 1592; an unknown Venice 1596 miniature Sephardic Siddur printed by Bernardo Giustinian in association with Daniel Zanetti, and a Humash dated 1595, printed by di Gara.   


The Valmadonna Library also contains an exceptional collection of de-luxe printing – books printed on blue and coloured paper, even on silk, and books printed on vellum.  There are 47 items printed on vellum, including 4 incunables, 3 of them Bibles from Ixar (Hijar) and Lisbon.  Between 125 and 140 Hebrew Incunables are known to have been printed before 1500, and of these, Valmadonna has 71, starting with 6 items printed in Rome c.1469-73.


The concept of enhancing beautiful books to elevate their content, holiness and importance has been part of Jewish culture since time immemorial.  It is based on the principle that “Torah is enhanced in a beautiful vessel” (Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit).  In the 13th century work Sefer Hasidim: “You would buy a beautiful casket to store silver and gold, how much more fitting that you should acquire a beautiful case to store your books”.  Profiat Duran (d. c.1414) wrote: “Study should always be from handsome and exquisite books, using fine script and parchment, and enhanced by splendid appearance and covers … and the places of study … in beautiful and pleasant buildings … because anyone seeing noble structures, engravings and illustrations will be uplifted and it will inform and strengthen his soul …”.  Akiva Eger (1761-1837) instructed his son in the same vein: “I beg you, my dear son, to pay particular attention that it [referring to the publication of his works] should be printed on beautiful paper, with black ink and nice letters … When on studies from a beautiful and exquisite book, the spirit is uplifted, knowledge is broadened, and meaning is brought to light”.  [One wonders what they would have thought about digital or e-books].


There are many examples of censorship in the Library – burnt out passages or text heavily inked out but which, curiously, can now be seen as the ink has worn thin.  We also hold copies of Papal Bulls and Indexes of prohibited books.  Book-burnings, confiscation and censorship of Jewish books continued through the centuries in different parts of Europe.  The Valmadonna Library is thus a witness to the survival, despite all the odds, of the earliest Hebrew printed works, restored with the greatest love and care, in the finest copies available.


As Mr. Lunzer has said, “‘The People of the Book’ takes on a new meaning.  These rare books are our links to the past which we treasure so highly”.  In July 1992, when he was in Perth, Western Australia, he wrote: “Hounded, libelled, tortured, untold discrimination has been the order of the day.  That the Hebrew book, be it in printed or manuscript form has survived at all is truly remarkable.  If the Valmadonna Trust Library survived, intact, it will have been worthwhile”.

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