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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

Brucioli's Italian Bible

Title page with woodcut vignette showing figure kneeling and holding a crossAntonio Brucioli's Italian BibleThe spread of the printing press, the revival in knowledge of the ancient and classical languages which characterised the Renaissance and the belief in the individual’s responsibility for his own salvation through personal understanding of the will of God, engendered by the Reformation – all these factors combined to make the words of the Bible accessible to more and more people, as it was translated into language after language throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In many Protestant European countries Biblical translation received the encouragement and sanction of the state, but in Catholic Europe the translator often faced considerable official opposition.

Antonio Brucioli (14871566),who was responsible for the first complete Italian translation of the Bible, a copy of which is shown here in its 1551 edition, was banished from his native Florence for suspected heresy. Settling in Venice, he produced an Italian New Testament in 1530, an Italian translation of the Psalms the following year and in 1532 a complete Italian Bible.

Brucioli lacked the scholarship of the great Biblical translators and his version is stylistically crude and sometimes obscure, but his translation nevertheless enjoyed considerable popularity, particularly with Italian Protestants.

As the title page claims, this was a translation made from the Hebrew and Greek originals, rather than from the Latin Vulgate, although it is likely that Brucioli relied heavily on an interlinear Latin translation of the Old Testament published in Lyon in 1528.

The wood engraving of St Jerome in the desert would therefore seem an attempt to mollify the Church authorities by a misleading identification of Brucioli’s version with the Vulgate. If that was the case, it proved unavailing; Brucioli’s Protestant sympathies were too well known for his work to escape censure and his translation was placed on the first edition of the Index librorumprohibitorum issued by the Vatican in 1559.

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