Census of Opera by Baldus de Ubaldis (1327-1400)

Research Project

In the book market of the 15th to 17th centuries, the voluminous opera of Baldus de Ubaldis (1327-1400) constituted an essential part of the sources of Ius Commune. This was particularly true for the author’s commentaries to the civil law and the canon law. Bibliographies of incunabula list circa 170 pertinent titles, thus more than five percent of all juridical incunabula and more than ten percent of the respective production in Italy. The printed collection of his legal opinions (Consilia) comprises 2,518 items, thus more than a quarter of all Consilia edited in print before 1501.

In order to be carried through effectively, the project required an interdisciplinary approach. Thousands of catalogues of manuscripts were perused. Libraries which had no printed catalogue were visited. Numerous manuscripts which had so far been incompletely known were analysed and described. A census of manuscripts is forthcoming. It comprises 680 manuscripts in libraries in Europe, North America and Japan. To this day most manuscripts are situated in the same geographical region where they had been at the end of the fifteenth century. Consequently, the locations of the manuscripts largely mirror the wide dissemination of Baldus’ works in the various regions of Europe by that time. They were abundantly disseminated in Italy, but also very numerous in German-speaking regions. Such results can be brought together with studies on the dissemination of incunabula in the last decennia of the fifteenth century.

The census of manuscripts is designed to serve as a tool for studies on the manifold forms of extant Baldus-texts. It throws light upon the history of their transmission. This can be used to reconstruct the author’s original text and to search for possible revisions the author made, and to distinguish various re-elaborations, abridgments, adaptations, etc. by other persons. Such research requires that scholars be reliably guided to the full spectrum of extant manuscripts and printed editions.

Research of the kind may even lead to identification of specific volumes which had served for the author’s personal use (‘Autoren-Exemplare’ = authors’ personal specimens). Indeed, twelve volumes which are now in the Vatican Library turned out to originate from the private archives of Baldus. They contain large portions of Baldus’ private minutes of his legal opinions: his so-called “Transcriptio in ordine”. The main text was penned by secretaries, but many sheets bear additions penned by Baldus’ son Franciscus, or at times even by Baldus himself. This discovery opened possibilities to search for other extant volumes which Baldus had used in person. In the course of further research several personal specimens of various exegetical works by Baldus came to the light, e.g. of the Lectura Codicis, Lectura Feudorum, and Lectura Digesti Veteris. It has to be kept in mind that personal specimens of an author do not necessarily deliver his final version of a text. They could even well deliver different stages within his process of creating a text (or updating it). For this reason the detected specimens were collated to numerous other transmissions of the text in question, to situate them in the right place within the textual history of Baldus’ work.

Baldus maintained an office, staffed with several secretaries and other employees. While they kept archiving his legal opinions, they also penned for him intermediate copies of his exegetical works, and at times even final neat copies. Baldus’ extant personal specimens of his Lecturae prove that the author kept reworking his texts many times, up to their publication and even beyond: namely his personal specimens also comprise complements and supplements which clearly had not existed in his first published text. Scholars, thus, who collate manuscripts of works by Baldus must always be prepared for surprises. Even if a manuscript starts and ends with the usual wording, it may nevertheless comprise unusual text passages in between. Baldus produced layers of additions to his works. They may be present in one manuscript and absent in another (cf. pertinent articles in Ius Commune 25, 26, 27, and in Colli, Giuristi medievali …, 2005).

It came to light that the many printed editions and manuscripts transmit indeed diverging redactions of Baldus’ works. Consequently the history of their composition and transmission was canvassed. This investigation focussed in particular on the relationship of early printed editions to specific strains of the manuscript tradition – thus aiming to develop a ‘textual bibliography’, viz. a grouping of incunabula according to their textual affinity. Not alone the manuscripts diverge substantially. So, too, do the printed editions. Subsequent editors got aware of text passages which had previously been skipped by inadvertence, or they discovered author’s complements and supplements which had not been edited so far.

Some texts by Baldus have exclusively come down to us in printed editions as no manuscripts of them are extant. This is the case, for instance, for substantial portions of his collection of Consilia. Research has ascertained, however, that the printers of the incunabulum in question had based their text on a specimen used by Baldus in person.

Baldus’ Consilia deserve special attention. Altogether ca. 4000 were recorded in this research. The extant twelve volumes from Baldus’ private archives contain only ca. 2000 of them. Outside these twelve volumes, about 170 other manuscripts transmit single Consilia by Baldus, or small groups, or (in a few remarkable cases) even anthologies which cover selected topics. A considerable number of these other Consilia were never printed.

Baldus’ activity as an issuer of legal opinions can be traced throughout the three last decades of the 14th century. Because other works by Baldus often refer to some specific consilium which he had issued, and as the consilium in question can often be dated (thanks to the volumes from his private archives), it thus became possible to write a comprehensive intellectual biography for this famous lawyer, in chronological order, with detailed dates for the composition of his works, and for various phases of their development. Even Baldus’ voluminous exegetical Lecturae on the civil law and canon law can now be put in context with stages in the author’s course of life, thus diachronically showing the development of his ideas and juridical doctrines.

The entire research project is oriented by one central concern: namely to publish a final comprehensive monograph on Baldus. This forthcoming book shall also comprise a Census of pertinent manuscripts, and ‘Directions for use’ of such printed editions as are frequently drawn upon (16th century), together with several Repertories: for the Consilia, for other works, for First words (‘incipit’), Last words (‘explicit’), etcetera. The monograph shall be outfitted with multiple entry points, to serve the variety of readers who might be interested in Baldus, his works, and their transmission.

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