Commentary on:
Privilege to Giovanni Giolito di Ferrari for publication of Paolo Comitolo's "Catena in Beatissimum Job," and revocation of Jean Stratius' privilege in the same work (1587)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: va_1587


Commentary on Sec. Bev. Reg. 130 F. 70 (1587)

Jane C. Ginsburg


Please cite as:

Ginsburg, J.C. (2022) ‘Commentary on Sec. Bev. Reg. 130 F. 170 (1587)', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. The Privilege

2. Revocation of Privileges

3. Geographic Scope of Papal Privileges

4. Persons mentioned

4a. Giovanni Giolito de’ Ferrari

4b. Pope Sixtus V 

4c. Paolo Comitoli

4d. Girolamo Mercuriale

4e. Patriarch of Venice

4f. Jean Stratius

4g. Cardinal Scipione Lancellotti

4h. Tommaso Gualteruzzi

4i. Cardinal Antonio Carafa  

1. The Privilege

This privilege was granted to a printer, covering two unrelated works.  (The privileges as published in each book referred only to the present book, and not to the other covered book.)  It was not unusual for printers to request privileges for multiple works, see, e.g., ARM XL v 27 F 4 (4 Feb 1530) to Venetian printers Jacopo Mazochio and Giovanni Tacuino for various books including multiple volumes on Diodorus of Sicily; Tusculan Orations of Cicero; agriculture, and grammar; Arm. XLII 37 F. 62 (13 Jan 1579) to Venetian book seller Francesco Ziletti for various religious books by Giovanni Francesco Porporato, Aymon Gravette, Vincenzo San Marino; Sec. Brev. Reg. 60 F. 376 (1 Oct 1584) to Bartolommeo Grassi for several works, including the “Grammar of Emmanuel” (Manuel Alvarez, De institutione grammatica libri tres, (1585) and Giulio Roscio, Icones operum misericordiae with engravings by Mario Cartaro (1586).  What is more unusual, with respect to one of the covered works, is the privilege’s revocation of a privilege granted a year earlier for the same work, see point 2 below. 

The works were a two-volume book of medical advice by Girolamo Mercuriale, and a Catena on the Most Blessed Job, by the Jesuit Paolo Comitoli.  A Catena (“chain”) consists of excerpts from previous commentators; these excerpts are arranged (and lightly edited, where necessary) to create a new, cohesive commentary. See Shahan, Thomas.Catenae.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.  The full title of the Catena, as published by Giolito de’ Ferrari is:

A Most Complete Catena on the Most Blessed Job Contextualized with explanations from twenty-four Greek men of learning, Translated from the Greek into Latin by Paolo Comitoli, a Perugian, of the Society of Jesus, and published by that one now for the second time, and also enriched with additions of a great many notable things, which the third page will indicate. With an extremely plentiful index of things and words added [and] with privileges. 

2. Revocations of Privileges

Documents posted to this website provide examples of revocations or transfers of privileges for failure to disseminate the work, see, (revoking privilege in Roman Calendar and Martyrology for failure to obtain printing and distribution outside of Rome); Sec. Brev. Reg. 339 F. 44 (1603) (revoking privilege granted to author who failed to pay printers, and granting it to another printer who paid prior debt on condition of transfer of privilege).  This revocation, by contrast, responds to the poor quality of the edition published by the first privilege-holder, Jean Stratius of Lyon.  No petition for the revocation and re-grant was found in the Vatican Archives, but statements by the author of the Catena, Paolo Comitoli, published in the original edition, complaining of its poor quality, and in the subsequent Venetian edition (which received the re-granted privilege), amplifying complaints about the inaccuracies in the original edition and stressing the author’s role in the revised edition (“with us leading and correcting”) suggest that any petition, whether by Comitoli or by the publisher, Giolito de’ Ferrari, would have emphasized the author’s dissatisfaction with the original printing.  The handwritten notes at the end of the privilege, citing the endorsement of Cardinal Antonio Carafa, further indicate Comitoli’s possible involvement in the revocation and re-grant, because Comitoli had dedicated the book to Carafa, and might have felt particularly embarrassed at the association of a powerful patron with such an inadequate edition.

The privilege forcefully establishes the reasons and remedy for the Pope’s order: “Joannes St[r]atius himself already printed but with many mistakes and errors, and therefore it is necessary to print that [work] again, and, for that reason and [stemming] from other worthy reasons which animate our desire, we completely revoke, make void, annul, and terminate the privilege granted and our letters granted, likewise, the contents of each, to the same Joannes St[r]atius . . .”  

In general, many petitions and privileges underscore the importance of accuracy; authors and publishers alike viewed privileges’ vesting of control over formats and content as a means to ensure that the printed works would faithfully reproduce the texts or images the privileges covered, see “Justifications for privileges,” 

3. Geographic Scope of Papal Privileges

Gioliti de’ Ferrari’s privileges covered Rome, the Papal State and all of Italy, and specifically reference the censorship authority of the Patriarch of Venice (perhaps in tacit acknowledgement that the Gioliti de’ Ferrari were Venetian printers).  But the privilege revokes a grant to a Lyon-based printer, which raises the question of the geographical ambit of the original, revoked, privilege. 

The geographical efficacy of a Papal privilege outside the specific domain of the Pope’s secular authority (the Papal States) was a matter of considerable controversy.  In the sixteenth century, as indeed today, exclusive rights in works of authorship were territorial.  Each sovereign’s grant of a privilege produced effects only within the borders that sovereign controlled.  Sovereigns did, however, grant foreign authors’ or printers’ petitions for local privileges.  The recipients of many of the Papal privileges for Rome or the Papal States were foreigners, see, e.g., (to Flemish cleric Gerard Voss, of the Diocese of Liège). The French king might grant a privilege in a foreign work, but according to a well-known decision,, a work’s initial publication abroad without the French privilege would disqualify it from subsequent protection in France, even if the foreign claimant had obtained a privilege from his local authorities in the country of first publication.  See Simon Marion, Plaidoyé second, sur l’impression des œuvres de Seneque, revues & annotées par feu Marc Antoine Muret (1586).  Marion addressed his plea on behalf of two Paris printers who sought the annulment of a subsequently granted French privilege on Muret’s Seneca; the Parlement of Paris ordered the cancellation of the French privilege on March 15, 1586.  

Muret’s Commentaries on Seneca had in fact received a Papal privilege, granted to Roman printer Bartolomeo Grassi in 1585.  See Sec. Brev. Reg. 116 F 20 (Nov. 23, 1585). It is unclear whether the privilege extended beyond the Papal States.  The grant reaches “all and individual Christian faithful, especially book printers and book sellers however named, in our City and its district as well as all our ecclesiastic state and all those directly or indirectly subject to the Holy Roman Church” (“omnibus et singulis Christifidelibus praesertim librorum impressoribus, ac Bibliopolis quovis nomine nuncupatis tam in Alma Urbe nostra et illius districtu ac toto nostro statu ecclesiastico nobis et Sancti Romanae Ecclesae mediate, vel immediate subiecto”).  Other drafts of the grant specify its application beyond Italy, but that language has been struck out.  On the other hand, the draft also strikes out language limiting the privilege to persons “subject to the temporal dominion” of the church.     

Some Papal privileges, in any event, explicitly purported to be multiterritorial, thus distinguishing them from those of other sovereigns.  The Pope exercised both secular power over the Papal States (in central Italy) and spiritual authority over all Catholic lands.  Petitioners from within and without the Papal States requested coverage for all of Italy and all lands directly or indirectly subject to the Holy Roman Church.  The Pope’s assertion of authority to issue privileges that would cover Venice provoked the annoyance of the Venetian Senate, See,Motu proprio Controversy, Venice (1596),, complaining that Venetian booksellers and printers were obtaining Papal privileges, to the detriment of the publishing business in Venice, and ordering the beneficiaries of these privileges to renounce them, on pain of confiscation of books and a ten ducat fine per book.  See generally Angela Nuovo, Commercio librario nell’Italia del Rinascimento (1998) at 224–26.

Perceived Papal incursions on local sovereignty underlay another controversy involving the same advocate, Simon Marion, who asserted the nullity in France of any Roman privilege in Muret’s Commentary on Seneca.  Marion obtained the decision of the Parlement de Paris of March 14, 1583, authorizing the University of Paris to print works of Canon Law, notwithstanding a broad Papal privilege accorded to the Popolo Romano publishing house to publish the Corpus iuris canonici. (The basic privilege for the Corpus juris canonici referenced at ASVat Index 313 F 224r No. 349 (July 1, 1580), Pro impressoribus pontefici in Tipografia Popoli Romani, prohibitio ne X/m alibi imprimant, is published in A. Adversi, Saggio di un catalogo delle edizioni del “Decretum Gratiani” posteriori al secolo XVI, in 6 Studia Gratiana 413–26 (1959).  The privilege called into question by Marion is probably that of May 7, 1582, which refers to the privilege of 1 July 1580, and which granted rights for France (in Regno Gallici), to Domenico Basa and the Lyon printer Guillaume Rouillé.  See Sec. Brev. Reg. 52 F 310 (May 7, 1582).  

Pius V and Gregory XIII had in fact granted control over many documents emanating from the Council of Trent to the Popolo Romano, then the official Vatican printer, so that even where local printers received territorially restricted Papal privileges carved out or subcontracted from the Popolo Romano’s, see, e.g., Sec. Brev. Reg. 52 F 312 (May 7, 1582) (confirming Popolo Romano’s assignment of rights in the Corpus juris canonici for Venice to Giorgio Ferrari and Girolamo Franzini),  they were required to obtain the master text from the Popolo Romano in order to ensure fidelity to the text. See, e.g., Sec. Brev. Reg. 153 F 346 (Aug. 22, 1590) (awarding Antwerp printer Joachim Trogensius a privilege for lower Germany and the Flemish provinces to print illustrated versions of missals, breviaries and the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but following the models of the Vatican printing office).

In his plea to the Parlement on behalf of the university, the advocate Simon Marion challenged the authority of the Papal privilege. First, he contended that the true purpose of the Papal privilege was to guarantee the accuracy of the text, rather than to grant an economic advantage to its recipient. Accordingly, permitting the very reliable University of Paris to publish the volumes of canon law might conflict with the words of the privilege, but would honor its spirit. See Simon Marion, Plaidoyé premier, Sur l’impression du Droict Canon, reformé de l’authorité de nostre Sainct Pere le Pape Gregoire xiii (1583), inPlaidoyez de Mon. Simon Marion, Baron de Druy, ci devant Advocat en Parlement et de present Conseiller du Roy en son Conseil d’Estat et son advocat general 1 (Paris, Michel Sonius 1598),+plaidoyez&printsec=frontcover.

Second, and far more contentiously, Marion called into question the Pope’s authority to grant printing privileges for territories beyond his secular control.  Marion distinguished between the Pope’s extraterritorial spiritual authority and his temporal authority, confined to Papal lands:

Just as the doctrine of divine things is of purely ecclesiastical authority which extends its effects universally over all the earth but without requiring payment, so the Church, under this pretext, cannot arrogate to itself any privilege concerning the printing of books, because that is of purely temporal law, and entirely subject to the police and secular Princes each in his domain, without in this respect the Pope being able, no more than any others, to exceed the limits of his secular and civil dominion.

Plaidoyez at 4-5.

The spiritual/temporal distinction suited Marion’s client, who wished permission to print, but had no interest in the unrestrained competition in printing the law books that would have ensued had the court denied all effect to the privilege. The report of Marion’s plea does not recount the reason for the Parlement’s permission to the printers of the University of Paris, hence it is not clear whether the permission was granted in faith of the quality printing the University was expected to extend, or because Papal privileges were unenforceable in France.

While this pleading is known particularly for having asserted “that the book be freely printed in this city and by its Booksellers,” Marion, Plaidoyez at 7, one should observe that Marion was not arguing for a true freedom of printing.  In the same pleading, Marion specified that “the true goal of His Holiness is simply that the book be well printed by approved persons.”  Id. at 5. And in his third pleading (in 1586), in favor of the maintenance of the privilege on missels and breviairies initially accorded Jacques Kerver and subsequently transferred to the Compagnie des Usages, Marion emphasized the importance of restraining the freedom of printing in order to ensure fidelity to the text: “The privileges which were conferred have served as a good remedy to the former evil that these books, previously so coarsely produced, shine again today in all elegance and integrity.” Plaidoyez at 25.

Some privileges, particularly those concerning the distribution of missals and breviaries, were explicitly limited to particular territories outside of Rome. See, e.g.,Sec. Brev. Reg. 14 F 248 (July 28, 1578) (to Christophe Plantin to print and distribute missals and breviaries in Flanders, parts of Germany and Hungary); see also Sec. Brev. Reg. 69 F 2 (Jan. 1, 1581) (to Felice de Zara to arrange for the printing of religious works in “Illyrian”—Serbo-Croatian—language and alphabet).  And some granted a subsequent petitioner a more limited geographical area carved out from a prior grant covering all (Catholic) Christendom. See, e.g., Sec. Brev. Reg. 58 F 216 (Feb. 1, 1584) (granting Lyonnais printer Charles Pesnot a privilege for printing and distributing the works of Peter Canisius in France and Spain, notwithstanding an earlier privilege to Bavarian printer David Sartorius, at Sec. Brev. Reg. 39 F 298 (Aug. 28, 1576)).

Along with fines and confiscation of the books, the principal sanction for violation of an extraterritorial privilege was the supraterritorial remedy of automatic excommunication, a penalty that petitioners must have considered sufficiently efficacious to warrant the effort and expense of obtaining Papal privileges.  Major excommunication, or excommunicatio maior, is the only form of excommunication currently in force, and includes exclusion from various aspects of Catholic Sacraments and parochial life. Boudinhon, Auguste. "Excommunication." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5.". New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.  Excommunications lata sententia occur automatically upon violation of a law or precept, i.e., “if the law or precept expressly establishes [excommunication as a penalty], . . . it is incurred ipso facto when the delict is committed.”  By contrast, excommunication ferenda sententia does not “bind the guilty party until after [the excommunication] is imposed [as punishment for the delict].” 1983 Code c.1314.

Nonetheless, claimants who anticipated that their works would be bestsellers frequently sought, in addition to Papal privileges, multiple privileges from a variety of secular sovereigns, most often Venice, France and several Italian principalities, notably Florence.  For example, the Venetian edition of the Catena not only published full copies of the Papal privilege and the privilege granted by the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II, but also referenced privileges from Venice, Naples, Milan, Tuscany, Urbino, Parma and Piacenza, “and other principalities.”  

Cautum est etiam Privilegiis Serenissimi Senatus Veneti, Viceregis Neapolis, Senatus Mediolani, Magni Ducis Hetruriae, Ducis Urbini, Ducis Parmae, & Placentiae, & aliorum Principum, ne quis, sive Chalcographus, sive Bibliopola hunc librum, sub poenis contentis in ipsis Privilegiis excussum, uspiam imprimat, vel ab aliis impressum vendat. 

It is decreed as well by Privileges from the Most Serene Venetian Senate, the Viceroy of Naples, the Senate of Milan, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, the Duke of Urbino, the Duke of Parma, & Piacenza, & other Principalities, that no one, whether a printer or a bookseller, anywhere may print this book, [which has been] published under [the protection of] the punishments contained in these Privileges, or sell a printing made by others. 

4.  Persons Mentioned

4a.  Giovanni Giolito de’ Ferrari (1554/5-1591) – A printer and publisher active in Venice between 1578 and 1590. Along with his brother, Giovanni Paolo, Giovanni inherited the family printing business from his father, Gabriele (1523-1578), who in turn had inherited it from his father, Giovanni (???-1539). Giovanni’s father and grandfather had expanded the business beyond Venice to include presses in Naples, Bologna, and Ferrara. For more on Giovanni and the Giolito de’ Ferrari family, see Ceresa, Massimo, “Giolito de’ Ferrari, Gabriele.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 55 (2001).  

4b.  Pope Sixtus V (1521 – 1590) – Born Felice Peretti in Ancona, Sixtus V left a life of rural poverty to join a Franciscan monastery at the age of twelve. He came to Rome in 1552, where his career was advanced by both Pius IV and Pius V.  He became a Cardinal in 1570, but retreated from public life after the 1572 election of Gregory XIII, whom he disliked. Despite his absence from public life during the 13 years of Gregory’s papacy, Sixtus was elected Pope in 1585, thanks in part to the support of powerful allies like Ferdinando de Medici, the Duke of Tuscany. Although he ruled for only five years, Sixtus V is remembered as a particularly active pontiff: he introduced harsher penalties on crime, reorganized the Curia and limited the number of Cardinals, brought the Papal State out of debt, and embarked on an ambitious building program in Rome. He died in 1590 of a malarial fever. Ott, M. (1912). Pope Sixtus V. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

4c.  Paolo Comitoli (1545-1626) -- Born in Perugia to a prominent family, Comitoli began training to be a Jesuit priest when he was 13 or 14.  He taught classical languages and theology in cities around the Italian Peninsula, including Perugia, Roma, Milan, Piacenza, Bologna, and Forlì. In addition to his pedagogy and scholarly works, he was known for his strong opinions and willingness to critique his superiors, which may have contributed to his somewhat peripatetic life. Diccionario histórico de la Compagnia de Jesús: Biográfico-temático, edited by Charles E. O’Neill and Joaquín M. Domínguez, 4 vols. (Rome: Institutum Historicum S.I., 2001

4d.  Girolamo Mercuriale (1530 - 1606) -- Professor of medicine who taught at the universities of Padua, Bologna, and Pisa. In addition to his work in medicine, Mercuriale also translated the works of Hippocrates and other Ancient Greek authors into Latin. For more on Mercuriale, see Ongaro, Giuseppe. “Mercuriale, Girolamo.Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 73 (2009).

4e.  Patriarch of Venice - The title awarded to the Bishop of Venice. In 1587, the position was held by Giovanni Trevisan (1503-1590), who was also the abbot of the San Cipriano monastery in Murano. Before Trevisan, the position of patriarch was usually held by lay prelates, whose appointment was politically motivated. Trevisan’s election was part of a broader Venetian effort to improve relations with Rome and to regain some autonomy in the Republic’s governance. This effort was at least partially successful, since Trevisan went on to participate in the third Council of Trent (1562-63) (his predecessors had not participated in the first two Councils). For more on Trevisan, see Gullino, Giuseppe. “Trevisan, Giovanni.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 96 (2019).

4f.  Jean Stratius (active 1577-86) – There is little biographical information about this Lyonnais bookseller and publisher; what there is tells us his name was spelled “Stratius” rather than “Statius,” as is clearly written in this original privilege and subsequently copied in the official printed version.  He is listed in a 2011 bibliographic survey as having published five law-related books, see Olivier-Jean Wagner, L’édition juridique à Lyon au XVIe siècle, at p. 22. Luckily, Stratius’ disappointing edition of the Catena survives and can be viewed via this link. This edition does not include the Papal privilege (although the frontispiece asserts a Papal privilege); instead, it includes Comitolo’s admonitio (“warning”) to the readers: 

A necessary warning to Christian readers by the Translator

From the margins of this our Catena, in which the name of the Author of the Catena is written on several of the first pages, we have decided that each [instance] should be removed. First, because the name of each Greek Catena is absent. Second, because nowhere has [an addition] been written by us in our Latin. Finally, because [the work] mixes up and confuses the explanations of the Learned [Authors].

4g.  Cardinal Scipione Lancellotti (1527-1598) - Born in Rome to an upwardly mobile family (his grandfather was one of Pope Julius III’s physicians), Lancellotti studied at Bologna; at 18, he was appointed a consistorial lawyer by Pope Paul III.  This auspicious start marked the beginning of a long and fruitful career working as ambassador of sorts for the papacy, which often sent him to deal with foreign powers on its behalf. His efforts did not go unrewarded, and in 1583 he was made a cardinal by Pope Gregory XIII. As a symbol of his and his family’s power, Lancellotti embarked on an ambitious building project in the early 1590s, combining the buildings around his family home on the Via dei Coronari into a grand palazzo. For more on Lancellotti and his career, see Teodori, Raissa. “Lancellotti, Scipione.Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (Volume 63) (2004).

4h.  Tommaso Gualteruzzi (active 1585-90) – A Franciscan friar and Secretary of Papal Letters (brevi) under Sixtus V. Little is known about his background or biography, although he seems to have published at least one work, a collection of privileges, laws, and other “wonderful things,” which can be viewed via this link.  

4i.  Cardinal Antonio Carafa (1538-1591) – A member of a powerful and political Neapolitan clan, Antonio came to Rome following the election of his uncle, Gian Pietro Carafa, as Pope Paul IV in 1555. Carafa’s cousin, Cardinal Alfonso Carafa, paved the way for Antonio to enter the Curia, where he served as privy chamberlain and cupbearer to Paul IV. In 1559, Carafa was forced to leave Rome after Paul IV turned against the Carafas, ordering their execution or exile and stripping them of their titles and property. The election of Pope Pius V in 1566 saw the rehabilitation of the Carafas, and Antonio was able to return to Rome. In 1568, he was made a cardinal. In 1585, he was elected Librarian of the Holy Roman Church. For more on Antonio Carafa, see Cruciani Troncanelli, M. Gabriella. “Carafa, Antonio.” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani – Volume 19 (1976).

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