Rare Books Blog

May 21, 2012

In the previous post I discussed a book by Johann Peter von Ludewig (1668-1743), one of the leading German jurists and historians of the early 18th century. I would be remiss if I did not mention that our Rare Book Collection includes a book from Ludewig’s personal library.The book is De nobilitate, de principibus, de ducibus, de comitibus, de baronibus, de militibus, equitibus (Amsterdam & Leiden, 1686) by Antonius Matthaeus, a treatise on the nobility and church government of the Netherlands.

The volume bears Ludewig’s enormous bookplate, commemorating an honor conferred upon him by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, and it also has Ludewig’s autograph on the verso of the title page.

Rare Book Librarian


May 18, 2012

One of my spare-time projects is trolling the Rare Books stacks looking for law  books with illustrations, and also bookplates (you can see the most recent finds in our Flickr photostream). That’s how I discovered the allegorical frontispiece to the Vita Iustiniani M. atque Theodorae (1731) by Johann Peter von Ludewig, shown below.

For many years this book was the standard biography of the Roman emperor Justinian (483?-565) and his consort Theodora. Edward Gibbon quoted from it frequently in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Ludewig (1668-1743), one of the leading jurists of his time, was a professor of history and chancellor of the University of Halle.

The upper portion of the allegorical frontispiece celebrates Justinian’s achievements in law, architecture, and warfare. At center, Justinian and Theodora sit on their throne. To their right is Tribonian, the jurist who drafted the Corpus Juris Civilis, the reworking of Roman law that still forms the foundation of most western legal systems. Next to Tribonian is an architectural plan for the great Hagia Sophia cathedral. At left is Justinian’s famous military commander Belisarius.

It was the bottom of the image, however, that caught my attention. In the lower left are some demonic-looking beasts and a pile of disordered books with the label “Furiae Procopii”. This is a reference to the Secret History of Procopius. A courtier of Justinian, Procopius wrote two works praising the emperor’s accomplishments, The Wars of Justinian and The Buildings of Justinian, that circulated widely in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. However, many centuries later a manuscript of his Secret History surfaced in the Vatican Library, and was published in 1623. This tell-all exposé depicts Justinian as cruel and corrupt, and Theodora as a lascivious tyrant. The frontispiece thus announces that Ludewig’s book will defend the imperial couple against the scandalous accusations of the Secret History.

There is more to be gleaned from this image, such as the male Medusa-like figure at bottom, and Justinian’s depiction.


Rare Book Librarian 

Frontispiece, Johann Peter von Ludewig (1668-1743), Vita Iustiniani M. atque Theodorae, augustorum nec non Triboniani: Iurisprudentiae iustinianae proscenium (Halae Salicae: impensis Orphanotrophei, 1731).

May 12, 2012

The Lillian Goldman Law Library is one of the few U.S. libraries that owns a set of the Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire (Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii). We now know that our set is an Imperial set, one that came from a palace of the Tsars.

Tatjana Lorkovic, Curator of Slavic and East European Collections, Yale University Library, provides a detailed account of the set’s acquisition in her recent article, “The Past as Prologue: Building Yale University Library’s Slavic and East European Collection from the Beginning of the Twentieth Century until Today; Part One: 1896-1956,” SOLANUS: International Journal for the Study of the Printed and Written Word in Russia and East-Central Europe, New Series, vol. 22 (2011), pp. 43-62. In summary, it came about as follows.

In 1927 Professor George Vernadsky, a Russian emigre, was hired by Yale to teach Russian history, and also to help the library develop its Russian holdings. Vernadsky reported that the most significant gap in Yale’s collection was a set of the Complete Collected Laws of the Russian Empire (Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii), a 232-volume set. Vernadsky found a set for sale and warned that it could be Yale’s last chance to acquire a complete set. The hefty price tag was initially an obstacle, but Law Librarian Frederick C. Hicks (1875-1956) stepped forward and committed the Law Library to the purchase. The set was purchased from a New York dealer, Simeon J. Bolan, who specialized in Russian books.

The 1920s-30s were the Golden Age for accessioning choice items of Russian origin as the Soviet State sold off unwanted early books in order to earn desperately needed foreign currency and finance ambitious economic plans.

The set is bound in a stunning bright green morocco with the Imperial arms in gold stamped on the front cover as a super libros (see the image below). The Imperial arms are sufficient to indicate Imperial provenance, but precisely to whom did the set belong? The answer lies in at the base of the spine, where the Russian text identifies the origin of the set as the Elagin Palace (see the image at right).

The Elagin Palace, located on the Elagin Island in St. Petersburg, became the summer home of the Empress Maria Fedorovna (1759-1828), mother of Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825). The original building was commissioned by I. P. Elagin, a St. Petersburg merchant, who is believed to have retained Giacomo Quarenghi (1744-1817), the most noted architect of his day in Russia and a pre-eminent practitioner of the Palladian style, to design the edifice. Emperor Alexander purchased the Palace to ease the burdens of travel for his mother, who found the trip to the outlying palaces at Tsarskoe selo to be too strenuous. Carlo di Giovanni Rossi (1775-1849) was retained to redesign and enlarge the estate. After the death of Maria Fedorovna, Elagin Palace declined into a summer residence for the Imperial family and gradually a place of diversion for Russian prime ministers, among them S. Witte (1849-1915) and P. A. Stolypin (1862-1911). The buildings sustained heavy damage during the Second World War. After restoration the palace became and remains a museum devoted to porcelain, glass, and some folk arts. The island is a popular park these days and has been used in Soviet films as a backdrop.

Although Empress Maria Fedorovna had a bookplate (represented in the Yale bookplate collection), the Collected Laws of the Russian Empire was published shortly after her death and therefore represented a “Palace set” rather than a personal copy.

  • W. E. Butler, Dickinson School of Law, Pennsylvania State University

    Mike Widener, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School

May 7, 2012

“Monuments of Imperial Russian Law,” now on display in the Yale Law Library, is perhaps the first rare book exhibit in the U.S. to focus on the history of Russian law. The exhibit’s lead curator, Professor William E. Butler of Penn State, will give a talk on the exhibit on May 9, in Room 121 of the Yale Law School (127 Wall Street, New Haven).

Butler is the pre-eminent U.S. authority on the law of the former Soviet Union. He is the author, co-author, editor, or translator of more than 120 books on Soviet, Russian, Ukrainian, and post-Soviet legal systems. He is a member of the Grolier Club, the leading U.S. society for book collectors, and the Organization of Russian Bibliophiles. He is also a leading bookplate collector who has authored several reference works on bookplates, and serves as Executive Secretary of the International Federation of Ex-Libris Societies.

The exhibit features principal landmarks in Russia’s pre-1917 legal literature. Among these are the first printed collection of Russian laws, the 1649 “Sobornoe ulozhenie”, and three versions of the “Nakaz”, the law code that earned Empress Catherine the Great her reputation.

The exhibit is on display through May 25, 2012 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, located on Level L2 of the Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 127 Wall Street. The exhibit is open to the public, 9am-10pm daily.

Image: Portrait of Empress Catherine the Great, the frontispiece from Instruction donnée par Catherine II., impératrice et législatrice de toutes les Russies: a la commission établie par cette souveraine, pour travailler à la rédaction d’un nouveau code de loix (Lausanne: François Grasset & Comp., 1769). Rare Book Collection, Lillian Goldman Law Library.

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