Urbis Romae Topographia.

[Rome, Valerio and Luigi Dorico, September 1544]


Folio, pp. 122 [2]. Italic letter, some Greek. Title page without ornamentation, woodcut initials. 23 woodcuts, several folding, including a double page map of Rome signed by the calligrapher Giovanni Battista Palatino, woodcut printer’s device on verso of final leaf. Bookplate of Archibald Philip, Earl of Rosebery on inside front cover, with extract from catalogue of the Hamilton Palace sale pasted to head, Rosebery’s Beckford sale ms acquisition note on fly. In superb straight-grained red morocco by Bozerian, his name at foot of spine, gilt double-fillet border with leaf and tendril motif, spine gilt in compartments with black bands and floral tooling, mauve watered silk end leaves, inner borders gilt, a.e.g. Tiny hole in a5 with loss to 2 letters,  occasional foxing to edge of  upper margin of some pages, the odd mark or spot; a very good clean and unusually well-margined copy on thick paper.

The most handsome copy of the FIRST illustrated edition of this important guide to Rome, dedicated to Francis I.  The text, first published in 1534 by Antonio Blado with a dedication by Rabelais, was substantially amended and enriched with woodcut plans, views, and sculptures for the present edition.

Bartolomeo  Marliani was born towards the end of the 15th century to a noble Milanese family, and dedicated the whole of his life to the study of Roman archaeology. The result of that life’s toil is this; the pre-eminent account of the antiquities of classical Rome of his day, many of which were to suffer subsequent alteration or disappearance.  Clearly written and laid-out, sumptuously illustrated, this edition is one of the masterpieces of Renaissance classical architecture and has remained justly sought after throughout four and a half centuries. The enduring importance of the work is that it tells us what the city was like before many of its ancient ruins were altered, incorporated or swept away in the great building activities of the later 16th and 17th centuries.

Marliano’s approach to the archeology of Rome differs considerably from that of his forerunners, especially Mazochius, in that he gives far more prominence to architectural and sculptural detail than to inscriptions which had almost solely occupied his predecessors. Illustrations include a map of Rome, depiction of Romulus, Remus and the Wolf, an illustration of the Laocoon, and pictures of the Circus Maximus, the Pyramid, the Pantheon, and the Obelisk. The depiction of the statue of Laocoon is one of the earliest; Marliani had been present in Rome for the discovery of the statue in 1520.

This copy was the property of two eminent book collectors. William Thomas Beckford (1760 – 1844) extraordinarily wealthy English novelist, art critic, travel writer and politician, now chiefly remembered as the author of the Gothic novel Vathek and builder of the remarkable Fonthill Abbey, the enormous gothic revival country house, largely destroyed. Beckford’s fame rests as much upon his eccentric extravagances as a builder and collector as upon his literary efforts. The opportunity to purchase the complete library of Edward Gibbon gave Beckford the basis for his own library, which was extensive, and dispersed over two years in 1883-4.

Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 5 March 1894 to 22 June 1895, succeeding Gladstone. He was a passionate and discriminating book collector, and amassed a large and excellent library. In 1927 he presented the newly-formed National Library of Scotland with many of his more important books and manuscripts; the library he collected at Durdans was dispersed with some books going to the National Library of Scotland and the rest being sold at auction.

BM STC It. p.418;  Fowler p.189; Olschki 17512; Brunet III 1437-8 “Edition ornée de bonne gravures sur bois…..Elle est rare, assez recherchée, et néanmois à bas prix”.  Mortimer, Harvard C16 It. 284 (with 4 reproductions); Censimento 16 CNCE 34273; Culot, Bozerian roulettes 19, 42, palettes 3, 12, signatures 1; Adams M-610; Berlin Kat. 1831; Schudt 605.