New acquisition: Albertanus de Brescia, Liber de arte loquendi et tacendi

In December 2018 the Endowment Fund for Books and Literature acquired a rare Antwerp incunable, which it donated to the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library. The Liber de arte loquendi et tacendi by Albertanus of Brescia was printed in Antwerp in 1485 by Gerard Leeu.

Albertanus of Brescia (c. 1195 – c. 1251) was an Italian notary and lawyer specialised in legal advice. His career as author began in 1238 when he was a prisoner of war in Cremona. In his works Albertanus places his professional experience in a broader perspective. In his treatise De doctrina dicendi et tacendi (‘On teaching about speech and silence’, 1245), Albertanus discusses the role of the notary: not only should he give sound advice to his clients or superiors, but he should also know when to keep silent and let them decide. Albertanus develops this idea further, considering the position of specialists and officials in public life. In thirteenth century Italy public servants were a newly emerging group with growing influence, as goverments employed more and more professionals to build well-oiled and effective administrations.

The Liber de arte loquendi et tacendi influenced many Northern European authors, such as John Gower, Geoffrey Chaucer, Christine de Pizan, Dirc Potter and Jan van Boendale (c. 1280 – c. 1351). The latter was secretary of the city of Antwerp and wrote narrative and didactic verse, such as the Brabantsche yeesten and Der leken spieghel. It is generally assumed that Boendale was also the author of the text Hoemen ene stat regeren sal (‘How to govern a city’), which is based on Albertanus’ treatise.

In the first century of printing, dozens of editions of Albertanus’ Liber de arte loquendi et tacendi appeared. In Antwerp Gerard Leeu printed at least five different editions, of which this is the second. It is no coincidence that this text was so popular in this period: the growing civic bureaucracies of Netherlandish cities were in search of their own identities, and were looking for humanistic models like Albertanus.