Historia Alexandri Magni

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek has the largest collection of incunabula printed in the Low Countries of the whole world. It does not, however, have a copy of the first dated book printed in the Netherlands, the Historia scholastica by Petrus Comestor, printed in Utrecht by Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt in 1473. Despite its date it is not a particularly rare incunabulum. In all thirteen copies are known, four of which are in the Netherlands, for instance in the Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum in The Hague. The nineteenth-century librarians and incunabulists of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Holtrop and Campbell, apparently considered the collection of this museum as such an integral part of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, that they did not feel the need to buy a separate copy of this ‘first edition’ for the library itself, although they must certainly have had the opportunity to do so.

Of 21 out of the 32 printed works attributed to Ketelaer and De Leempt there are one or more copies in The Hague, either in the collection of the Museum or of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, including the Historia Alexandri Magni, the history of the conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), King of Macedonia, discussed here. The Middle Ages took a great interest in Alexander and various adaptations of the text appeared. In the Netherlands a rhymed version of Alexander's exploits in more than 14,000 lines was made in the thirteenth century by Jacob van Maerlant. Shortly after the Latin edition by Ketelaer and De Leempt the first printed Dutch version, Historie van Alexander, was published in Gouda in 1477.

The historiated initial S on the opposite page shows Alexander controlling Bucephalus, his horse with the large ox-head. The illuminator painted horse and horseman on their way to the woods through an opening in the letter S, thus creating a felicitous transition from the letter to the border decoration.

Historia Alexandri Magni. Adapted by Leo Archipresbyter. [Utrecht, Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt, 1474]. 2º, 48 leaves. - Provenance: K.L.Ph. Tross's antiquarian bookshop, Hamm, 1835. - 168 E 20, fol. 2r

Historia Alexandri Magni. Adapted by Leo Archipresbyter. [Utrecht, Nicolaus Ketelaer and Gerardus de Leempt, 1474]. 2º, 48 leaves. - Provenance: K.L.Ph. Tross's antiquarian bookshop, Hamm, 1835. - 168 E 20, fol. 2r

Literature

De vijfhonderdste verjaring van de boekdrukkunst in de Nederlanden. Brussel 1973, p. 90-94
De verluchte handschriften en incunabelen van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. 's-Gravenhage 1985, no. 521.