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Princeton University Library Catalog
Alexander, de Villa Dei
[Netherlands : Prototypography, about 1465-1480].
1 vellum leaf ; 21 x 9 cm.
Early works to 1500
Origin and antecedents
Hodgkin, John Eliot
The Doctrinale is a guide to Latin grammar written, for purposes of memorization, in more than 2600 hexameter verses. There is little reliable information on its author, Alexander de Villa Dei (of Villedieu in Normandy, late twelfth to early thirteenth century) except that he was a canon of Avranches in Lower Normandy. The Doctrinale's audience was young students ("clericulis ... novellis", line 1) who had already mastered the paradigms of Donatus. In the later Middle Ages, the Doctrinale became a standard schoolbook. About 400 fifteenth-century editions are known, produced in at least 45 printing towns. From 1480 on, most editions included surrounding gramatical commentaries, more than a dozen such commentaries being recorded. The earliest identifiable printing of the Doctrinale is in the so-called Speculum type (Dutch Prototypography type 1). An unused vellum fragment at Union Theological Seminary, New York City, is preserved as a pastedown in a Cologne binding covering four paper manuscripts, all explicitly dated 1463 and probably bound shortly after completion. It is possible that the Scheide fragment belongs to this same edition. The Speculum type is named after four unsigned and undated editions (two in Latin, two in Dutch) of the medieval picture-text Speculum humanae salvationis (Mirror of Human Salvation). For centuries, various historians of printing argued on tenuous grounds that the Speculum humanae salvationis and other Dutch Prototypography printing pre-dated the Gutenberg Bible, and that printing had been invented in the Low Countries, not in Mainz. However, paper evidence indicates that the first of the Prototypography Speculum editions dates to about 1466-1467, more than a decade later than the Gutenberg Bible. Editions of the Doctrinale were printed both in the Speculum type and, probably somewhat later, the Saliceto type (Prototypography type 5), always on vellum. One complete copy in the Saliceto type is preserved at Cambridge University Library. Besides this, there are about 75 scattered Doctrinale fragments of other editions, all preserved as binding waste. The number of distinct editions they represent cannot be verified, but the minimal number has been calculated as eight.
WHS fragment is leaf 37 (Reichling 2282-2312, 2314-2346) of a 32/33-line edition; Speculum type 1.
Provenance: John Eliot Hodgkin; acquired August 1938.
Hellinga, L. Further fragments, Doctrinale Type 1, No. 11.