Provenance Mysteries: In Clementinarum volumen commentaria

This week’s provenance mystery features In Clementinarum volumen commentaria, by Francesco Zabarella, printed in Venice in 1579. This is a work of canon law consisting of commentaries on the Constitutions of Pope Clement V (the first to reside in Avignon when the Curia was moved there from Rome). According to the Free Library of Philadelphia website: “Clement’s Constitutions comprise his decretals (papal letters that bear on canon law) and those of several of his predecessors. This compilation, along with five others, formed the main body of ecclesiastical law for the Catholic Church until the early twentieth century. Soon after it was disseminated, the Constitutions acquired a number of commentaries.”

The work is a mystery for two reasons. The first is the scant ownership information on the title page, which consists of the initials B.G., and the second is the manner in which the book has been branded with the words ‘Card. Zabaris. Clement.’ into the bottom fore-edge.

1.     Zabarello title page

The liklihood of identifying the initials ‘B.G.’ is scant at best. While the recording of provenance information is becoming much more common in library and short-title catalogues, there is no ideal way to record initials when the full name is unknown. Searching catalogues for initials will returns thousands of hits, even when restricting date or subject ranges in one’s search. Having said that, the Virtual Authority File and CERL Thesaurus both have an entry for a ‘B.G.’, which is linked to a small prefatory contribution found in Ad Cesaream Regiamqve Maiestates Tuberinus suus cum Priuilegio Cappellanus contra falsas Luteris positiones (castigatum emendatum et revisem per auctorem ipsum), by Joannes Tuberinus, printed in Basel in 1524. Given this publication early date, compared to our work of 1579, however, it does not seem likely that the two people are the same.

The second mystery is how the author and title information was stamped onto the fore-edge. If one examines the photo closely, you will notice that the letters are indented into the paper. This can be achieved in two ways. The first is through branding, using a type of hot iron. The use of such ‘fire marks’ is often found in religious libraries, such as monasteries, seminaries, and colleges. According to this website:, this was a practice typical to Colonial New Spain, although it is highly doubtful that this book originated from outside Europe. The book is bound in limp parchment, which is also typical of such religious libraries.

The second manner is by indenting the letters into the fore edge, possibly with heavy metal type, then inking the indentations. It seems more likely that this was the method used in this book, but due to lockdown we are unable to examine the book in more detail. Whatever method was used, identifying the book on the bottom fore edge suggests that the books were laid flat, and indicating the author/title in this manner would make them easier to find.

If you recognise the initials or branding on show here, or have further comments about the annotations found within this copy, please do get in touch:

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