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Unseen Hands: Women Printers, Binders and Book Designers    
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The Nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli
Italian, active 1476-1484

"Incunabula," from the Latin for "swaddling clothes," are the earliest books printed in the West, specifically those dated before 1501. The first documented instance of women actually employed in printing comes from a manuscript kept at the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence. Perhaps because their printing works was supervised by two male friars, the women's contributions have been little noted until recently. In 1999 the convent's Diario, a type of account book and daily log, was published with a commentary and transcription by Melissa Conway.

As is evident in the colophon shown here, the nuns gave themselves no credit in the works they printed. This example, The Conspiracy of Cataline by the Roman historian Sallust (86-34 B.C.), shows that these women were skillful and accurate -- although not artful -- compositors. Their work is nevertheless of great importance to the history of women, as are their contributions to scholarship, particularly their magnum opus -- and the last imprint of San Jacopo di Ripoli -- the first complete printed edition of the works of Plato, published in 1484.

Crispi Salustii De coniuratione Catilinae liber incipit, printed by the Nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli

Crispi Salustii De coniuratione Catilinae liber incipit, Impressorum Florentiae, apud Sanctum Iacobum de Ripoli, 1478.
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Princeton University Library, Graphic Arts Collection
Rebecca W. Davidson, Curator of Graphic Arts
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Last Modified: February 13, 2004