Taking the Bull by the Horns

When cataloguing the incunabula in the collection of rare books bequeathed to King’s College by Jacob Bryant (1715-1804), I came across a curious and unusual device in a copy of Werner Rolevinck’s Fasciculus temporum, an overview of world history up until the time of the book’s publication (ca. 1490). The title page features two hand-drawn devices: the one at the centre depicts a black bull with horns and nose rings coloured in gold:

Title page of Werner Rolevinck’s Fasciculus temporum (Strasbourg: Johann Prüss, ca. 1490; Bryant.XV.2.6). Underneath the device is an earlier inscription: “Martinus polonus Carsulanensis Ep[iscop]us, hoc Chronicon composuit”, evidently mistaking this work for the chronicle Chronicon pontificum et imperatorum by Martin of Opava (d. 1278). Another owner corrected this misattribution next to the title: “Wernerus fuit collector ha[rum] historia[rum]”.

This emblem appears to have puzzled the staff in King’s Library for over a century. Stuck to the flyleaf opposite the title page is a letter of 3 June 1912 addressed to Arthur Richard Benten, then under-librarian at King’s, by Beckwith A. Spencer of the Royal College of Art. In it, he states that he was unable to identify these two devices despite enlisting the help of Albert van der Put of the National Art Library:

The same device also appears in two other incunabula bequeathed by Jacob Bryant: as an illumination inside the initial of the first page in Guido delle Colonne’s Historia destructionis Troiae (1486):

Detail of leaf a2 recto in Guido delle Colonne’s Historia destructionis Troiae (Strasbourg: Georg Husner, 1486; Bryant.XV.2.7).

and as a tail-piece painted at the bottom of a4 verso in our copy of Robert Gaguin’s Compendium De origine et gestis Francorum (1497):

Leaf a4 verso of Robert Gaguin’s Compendium De origine et gestis Francorum (Lyon: Johannes Trechsel, 1497; Bryant.XV.6.6). The bull device also rears its head as an illuminated initial on leaves b5 verso and g3 verso.

If anyone has any information that may help us identify this device and solve a century-old mystery, please do get in touch!

IJ

One response to “Taking the Bull by the Horns

  1. Suzanne Reynolds

    Dear Incunabula team,

    I’m attaching two draft (and not for publication) entries for the Cambridge Illuminations catalogue on XV.2.6 and XV.2.7. Nothing conclusive, but the Thomas Wrythe/Wriothesley connection may be worth pursuing? You will see that I wondered (in caps!) if the bull’s head was his armorial crest.

    Please keep me posted!

    Very best,

    Suzanne

    _________________

    Dr Suzanne Reynolds
    Curator
    Manuscripts and Printed Books
    Fitzwilliam Museum
    Trumpington St
    Cambridge CB2 1RB

    The Fitzwilliam Museum is now open to the public and is a COVID-Secure visitor attraction. Entry is free, but you need to pre-book your tickets here: https://tickets.museums.cam.ac.uk/events

    As part of our COVID-19 safety measures, Museum staff who can work from home are continuing to do so. I am working partly from home and partly from the museum, and my office hours are normally 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s