A hand-coloured book

I am Marina Franceschi and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, currently doing an internship within the Rare Book Collections. While doing some research, I got very interested in one book entitled Notitia utraque cum orientis tum occidentis ultra Arcadii honoriique Caesarum Tempora Illustre Vetustatis Monumentum (K.63.b). Do not be afraid of the very long and dull book name! Far from being boring, as the title in Latin could have suggested, this military operations book contained several hand painted illustrations. According to the Ursus Book and Prints website the book was “a collection of works on the late Roman Empire, comprising a profusely illustrated guide to the workings of the Imperial Rome during the beginning of the 5th century, derived from a 9th or 10th century Greek manuscript”. This edition was published in 1552. Yet, the colours are still vivid and shining. This book exists in different copies but the very specific particularity of the National Library of Scotland one is the quality of its illustrations. For instance, there was a copy sold by Christies in March 2012 but the illustrations are not coloured as you can notice on Christies’ edition.

The book is about military operations and most of the images are personifications of the colonies and cities of the Empire. Rome is therefore depicted like a woman warrior sitting on a throne.


Personification of Rome

“Urbs quae aliquando desolata, nunc gloriosior, piissimo imperio restaurata” [the city that sometimes has been ruined now has established the most glorious, devoted imperium]



There are also illustrations of countries such as Italy.

This book was printed in Basel in 1552 by the very famous editing and publishing house Froben On the title page is the device of Johann Froben, as usual with books from his press, but this one has been hand-coloured.

the design of the device was attributed to Hans Holbein the Younger, who also painted Froben’s portrait.

The editor was Sigismund Gelenius who also wrote the“introduction”. According to the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle by Pierre Larousse, Gelenius, or Ghelen, was “one of the most important scholars of his times”. He was introduced to Johannes Froben by Erasmus who was impressed by his knowledge.

Emblem Froben

Title page