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Privilege granted to Valentim Fernandes (1502)

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The Travels of Marco Polo is the first book to have been printed in Portuguese under a royal privilege.     

Deslandes, thinks differently, describing the work in question as a translation work rather than as a work that was subject to a privilege («Apontàmos  brevemente algumas noticias que d'elle nos chegaram; são as que seguem: (...) ter traduzido do latim e do toscano em linguagem portugueza a celebre viagem de Marco Paulo aos paizes mais oríentaes no XIII século, bem conhecida dos doutos; o tratado do dominicano Pepino de Bolonha; uma carta da índia do genovez Santo Estevão; e as viagens de Nicolau Conti, escriptas por Poggio, florentino, secretario do papa Eugénio IV; traducção que deu na impressão em Lisboa no anno de 1502, dedicada a el-rei D. Manuel, prestando valioso serviço á litteratura portugueza e á historia dos nossos descobrimento; ter tido a 12 de fevereiro de 1503 o privilegio da impressão dos livros dos Regimentos»).

The privilege was undoubtedly awarded to Valentim Fernandes in 1502. It is stated, in the printed work itself, before the introductory section, that the royal privilege pertains to the Travels of Marco Polo so that nobody is to print or sell such work without the authorisation of Valentim Fernandes («Ho livro de Nycolao veneto. Ho trallado da carta de hÅ©u genovês das ditas terras. Cõ privilegio del Rey nosso senhor. ˜q nenhuÅ© faça a jmpressam deste livro. nẽ ho venda em todollos se regnos e senhorios sem liçẽça Valentim fernãdez so pena cõteuda na carta do seu previlegio.»).

The front cover of the book contains a reference to the royal privilege in question. The insertion of this reference on the front cover became a common trend, although at times the privilege itself accompanied the printed work. 

In this case the original privilege has never been found so that all we have is the printed work itself which contains a reference to such privilege. 

Later on, a trend emerged whereby the privilege itself was printed alongside the work, so as to provide immediate evidence of royal authorisation to print that work. In other instances, the printed work contains both the full text of the relevant royal privilege and of the Churche´s permission to print such work. 

From the viewpoint of the beneficiary, the printing privilege under examination was awarded to a printer, not an author, that is, to one who invested rather than to one who created. The first authors to be awarded privileges, in Portugal, were Gonçalo de Baena and Balthasar Dias, respectively in 1536 and 1537.

This privilege was attributed by King Manuel I to Valentim Fernandes, a German printer who had been printing works of great relevance prior to that concession.

When he first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula, Valentim Fernandes was employed as an interpreter by Jerônimo Münzer, a German physician from Nürnberg, who eventually became known as Jerônimo Monetário. It is said that through such endeavours Valentim Fernandes acquired social prestige and a good network of contacts, travelled around the Peninsula, spoke the language  fluently and eventually moved to Portugal.

In 1495, Valentim Fernandes and Nicolau de Saxónia jointly published a work entitled Vita Christi, authored by Ludolfo de Saxônia. This was tthe first book bearing illustrations to ever have been printed in Portugal and one of the most significant works ever published in Portuguese.

Valentim Fernandes certainly obtained privileges in 1502 and 1503, authorising him to print, respectively, The Travels of Marco Polo and and Regimento dos Juízes e Oficiais (containing rules regarding courts and other public entities), in addition to other privileges.

Overall, the printer and bookmaker Valentim Fernandes, as many other German nationals in those days found a new homeland in another corner of Europe, was a pioneer in the field, became one of the major printers in Portual and was given various printing privileges, including the very first one recorded in Portuguese history.


Commentary by Victor Drummond & Translation by Patricia Akester 


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