The Medieval Review 12.06.32

Delbrugge, Laura. A Scholarly Edition of Andrés de Li's Thesoro de la Passion (1494). The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2011. Pp. 384. 199. ISBN: 978-90-04-19586-8.

Reviewed by:

Núria Silleras-Fernández
Univeristy of Colorado at Boulder

This new book by Delbrugge is, as its title indicates, an edition of Andrés de Li's Thesoro de la passion, first printed in Zaragoza in 1494 by Pablo Hurus, a German from Constance, who set up a successful printing business in Aragon. We don't know too many details about Li, apart from the fact that he was a convert (from Judaism to Christianity) investigated by the Inquisition in 1490, who wrote three books in Castilian (Spanish) all published by Hurus, before he died (around 1521). These include: Repertorio de los tiempos (1492), Summa de paciencia (1493), and Thesoro de la passion (1494). In recent years Delbrugge, who is a specialist in this author, has produced scholarly editions of his two earlier texts: Repertorio de los tiempos (London: Tamesis, 1999); Summa de paciencia (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2003), and now this one. While the first of these works, a sort of expansion of Bernat de Granollach's Lunari (Barcelona, 1485), is comprised of a calendar, a history of time, an astrological text, and a few tables, his other two publications focus on matters religious. The Summa celebrates the rewards of patient suffering; the Thesoro explores Christ's passion.

Li's Thesoro de la Passion is dedicated to the "Catholic Kings": Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon--muy altos y muy poderosos principes, señores y Reyes Don Fernando y Doña Ysabel, Reyes de las dos Españas ("The highest and most powerful princes, masters, and kings of both Spains") (16). This book is recorded as having a place in the queen's library, alongside two copies of his Summa de paciencia. (The latter was dedicated to her eldest daughter, Princess Isabel.) The Thesoro focuses on the most important events surrounding the Passion of Christ, from his temptation in the desert, to the removal of his body from the Cross. Delbrugge notes that it "is characterized by an austere, measured style, frequent explanatory digressions and prayers, as well as plentiful advice on how to apply Christ's example to daily Christian life" (3).

Delbrugge's book is divided in two parts: the first is an introduction in three chapters to Li's work (3–84), while the second is the actual edition of the Thesoro (87–384). Chapter One, "The Thesoro de la Passion as Early Printed Devotional," frames the work in the context of devotional literature--highly popular from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century--and incunabula texts. She analyses Li's and Hurus's business relationship, along with the beginnings of the printing and its regulation in the Iberian Peninsula between 1472 and 1494. The monarchs supported the printers, and it wasn't until 1502 that they decreed that all texts published in Spain had to be approved by both the Crown and ecclesiastical authorities--the Index of Prohibited Books was not established until 1551.

The second chapter, "The Thesoro de la Passion and the Passion Textual Tradition," situates Li's book in the Latin, Castilian and Catalan traditions of this genre, in a "complex network of textual interchange and influence" (33). Delbrugge prefers this more general approach to that of trying to find all of the possible sources that appear in Li's text per se. Among de most important works of the Passion tradition were works in Latin, like the Vita Christi by "the Carthusian," Ludolf of Saxony (d. 1377). This had been commissioned by the Catholic Kings to be translated into Castilian by Ambrosio de Montesinos, and was published in 1502–3. Li's debt to Ludolf is obvious; he quotes him twenty-three times. There were also Castilian texts, like Mendoza's Coplas de la vita Christi, and La pasión trobada by the converso, Diego de San Pedro. And of course, there was also a Catalan tradition of Passion texts, among the most important of which were works by Francesc Eiximenis (d. 1409), such as his Vita Christi (which was translated into Castilian in 1496), and Isabel de Villena's book of the same title. Isabel (d. 1490), a Clare nun, was the only female writer in this tradition. In her text the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ, is even more of a protagonist than her son. In any case, and as Delbrugge points out, it's unlikely that she influenced Li's text because both were writing in close geographical and temporal proximity. Isabel de Villena's Vita was published shortly after her death, again because of Isabel the Catholic's intervention.

Finally, the last chapter, "The Thesoro de la Passion as a Converso-Authored Text" analyses the anti-Semitism that characterized most Passion texts, and discusses how a convert like Andrés de Li dealt with that matter in his own work, which was published only two years after the Jews were expelled from the Crowns of Castile and Aragon by the Catholic Kings (1492), and only sixteen years after the creation of the Inquisition (1478). Delbrugge ventures that "Li's attitudes towards the Jews left no doubt as to the veracity, or perhaps better said, the ferocity of his Christianity, which may have been testimony to both Li's faith and his frustration with those who were not true in their own beliefs." That said, if we take into account that he was interrogated by the Inquisition in 1490 (most likely to clarify his own beliefs regarding Christianity), and that he was trying to work his way into the good graces of the royal family by dedicating his works to them, he had few options but to advertise his beliefs in an exaggerated manner. Indeed, Li doesn't hesitate to complain about the hypocrisy of Jews, Crypto-Jews and false Christians. There are 142 references to Jews in his book, in which he calls them things like "unfortunate," and "a wasted, damned people" (67). This chapter concludes Delbrugge's very informative, well-written, and focused introductory study. This certainly situates the text in its intellectual and cultural tradition, but perhaps it would have been welcome to further explore other historical aspects regarding the society in which Li lived, his readership, and his general goals and intentions as reflected in this and his other two texts.

Delbrugge bases her scholarly edition of the text--the remainder of the volume--in the first edition of Li's Thesoro (1494). Her edition preserves most of the characteristics of the original; she has only added capitalization and punctuation when needed, and expanded abbreviations, but, for instance, she has not added accents. She has glossed it with helpful notes that guide the reader though the text, which is itself provided only in Castilian. An English translation of the text is not included, although the fragments cited in the introduction are translated. The 1494 edition, 110 folios (recto/verso) in length, also had 133 illustrations, and these formed an integral part of the text--a sort of visual manifestation of the words. Although only sixteen of these are reproduced in Delbrugge's edition, she does point out where the illustrations were located and incorporates an appendix at the end with a very useful description of all of them.

In conclusion, Delbrugge's contribution is most welcome and relevant. Devotional literature was very important in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, but very few works are available as scholarly editions--most have not even been published since the sixteenth century. This work is not only going to expand the body of Castilian religious texts available for specialists working on Iberian Studies, but also for those scholars working on religious literature and conversion--if, of course, they have the skills to read a text in fifteenth-century Spanish.

Copyright (c) 2012 Núria Silleras-Fernández

Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login