Twespraec der creaturen

One of the few things that we know for certain in connection with the Twespraec der creaturen is that Gerard Leeu, the printer, was the most important man for the dissemination of this text. More than a hundred years after it was created, probably in northern Italy, he printed the Latin text for the first time, on 3 June 1480, in the Dutch town of Gouda. Like many incunabula the book has no title page, and does not mention the name of the author at all. Seven Latin manuscripts are known from the pre-1480 period, two of which do mention an author, albeit different ones: Nicolaus Pergamenus, and Mayno de Mayneriis.

The text consists of a collection of fables and exempla, rendered in 122 dialogues, for instance between the swan and the crow, the old man and the goat, hills and valleys, and finally between ‘living man and death’. Gerard Leeu has illustrated his text with more than 120 woodcuts, often very attractive ones. The edition proved a success, and he himself reprinted the Latin edition four times. A reprint was also made in Cologne - without the illustrations - and in Stockholm with mirrorwise copies of all illustrations but one: the representation of hills and valleys from the Low Countries must have been unacceptable for the Swedish woodcutter.

Leeu printed two editions in Dutch, in addition to a French translation. A copy of the first Dutch edition was acquired by the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in 1867 at the auction of the Enschedé collection. In 1658 the copy had belonged to Frans Coerten, ‘a famous 'afsetter' in his lifetime’, as the title page of the 1668 auction catalogue of his books informs us. ‘Afsetten’ was the word used at the time for the colouring of maps, prints and books by hand. Coerten has coloured his copy at the beginning and the end. On the last, blank page he has expressed in his own handwriting the wish for the next owner to be a lover of antiquities, and to take good care of this rare old book, that still looks so beautiful and for which he paid so much. In 1863 Johan Enschedé added the words: ‘So far this wish of Frans Coerten's has been granted. May this continue to be so!’

Twespraec der creaturen. Gouda, Gerard Leeu, 4 Apr. 1481. 2º, 126 leaves. - 170 E 26:2, fol. q5r

Twespraec der creaturen.Gouda, Gerard Leeu, 4 Apr. 1481. 2º, 126 leaves. - 170 E 26:2, fol. q5r


B. van Selm, 'The auction catalogue of Frans Koerten's books (1668)', in: Theatrum orbis librorum. Liber amicorum presented to Nico Israel. Utrecht 1989, p. 477-491
L. Hellinga, 'Dialogus creaturarum moralisatus. Gouda: Gheraert Leeu, 31 August 1482', in: Vision of a collector. The Lessing J. Rosenwald collection in the Library of Congress. Washington 1991, p. 91-95
A. Schippers, 'Dit boeck hoort toe: bezitters en lezers van de "Dialogus creaturarum" en de "Twispraec der creaturen"', in: Een drukker zoekt publiek. Gheraert Leeu te Gouda 1477-1484. Delft 1993, p. 162-183.