Delle vite dei sette santi protettori di Napoli.

[Naples?, Giuseppe Cecchi?], 1576.


FIRST EDITION thus? 8vo. ff. (ix) 84, *4 **5 A-I8 K8 L4. Italic letter, with Roman. Printer’s device and decorated headpiece; fine woodcut portrait of Paolo Regio within ornate oval cartouche on verso; decorated initials and headpieces. Occasional light browning, slight marginal foxing in a few places, outer margin of first and second ll. a little thumbed, single worm trail to inner margin of a few gatherings. A very good, well-margined copy in stunning contemporary Italian (probably Roman) red goatskin over pasteboards, traces of ties. Blind-tooled double-ruled outer border, gold-tooled centre block à la fanfare with single rule border, interlacing ribbons, gouges, hatched curving leaves, cherub’s heads and birds to each corner, inlaid centre oval with gilt single fillet and arms of the dedicatee Cardinal Massimiliano Palombara to upper and gilt motto ‘MERITI PARS PARVVLA MAGNI’ to lower cover, edges gilt and gauffered with twisted rope coils. Spine in four compartments, gilt curly tendrils to each, raised double bands with gilt single rule border, minor repair to one corner and at head of spine, a couple of tiny worm holes and minor cracks. Early ms ‘ISD’ (price?) and bookplate of Maurice Burrus to front pastedown, little ‘+’ to t-p.

The superb binding à la fanfare is the same as that made in Rome c.1560-70 in Davis III, 337. The centre oval in Davis shows an empty heraldic escutcheon within a gilt double-ruled border which follows from that of the surrounding interlaced ribbons. In this copy an oval in red goatskin was inlaid to the covers, and the gilt border redrawn to a single rule. The armorial decoration indicating the cardinal’s status on the upper cover was hand-painted in gold; since it reprises in detail the design in Davis, this was probably made by the same binder.

Very good, only recorded copy of the second edition of Paolo Regio’s hagiographic masterpiece. Regio (1541-1607) was Bishop of Vico Equense, an erudite scholar of the Neapolitan academies and a prolific author of lyrical-religious poems, theological and moral treatises. ‘Delle vite dei sette santi’—first published in 1573 and based on Davide Romeo’s ‘Septem sancti custodes ac praesides urbis Neapolis’ (1571)—narrates the legendary lives of Sts Gennaro, Agnello, Aspremo, Agrippino, Sereno, Eusebio and Atanagio. A milestone in the development of Southern Italian hagiography in the vernacular, it focused on ancient local saints, encouraging new models for personal devotion, civic patriotism and collective worship promoted by the Counter-Reformation. ‘Delle vite’ devotes ample room to martyrdom and presents the seven saints, whose bodies lay buried in the local area, as Neapolitan ‘celestial citizens’, whilst contextualising their lives within the topographical and historical world of the Campania region. The section on St Gennaro, the most worshipped patron, describes his long torments, from incineration to torture, imprisonment, famished bears and his beheading in the ‘solfatara’ of the Vesuvio, near Pozzuoli. It concludes with his posthumous miracles, including the ‘blood of St Gennaro’ which every year turns liquid again on a specific day. Regio dedicated a few final lines to the ‘stolid Calvinists’, deniers of the spiritual value of the worship of images of the Saints as a help to reach God and withstand suffering.

This edition is currently recorded only in ‘Scrivere di santi’ (Viella, 1998), p. 11, where it is misidentified (or mistranscribed?) as the first published in 1573. The colophon is that of the first edition, with ‘MDLXXIII’ amended in print to ‘MDLXXIIIIII’; the t-p bears the correct date ‘MDLXXVI’. This edition replicates the 1573 except for Regio’s portrait, a different dedication, an additional poem, the inversion of the decorated initial in the proem and an extra final gathering (L4) added between K7 and K8. It was probably printed, like the first, by Giuseppe Cecchi in Naples.

No other copies recorded.

Not in BM STC It., Brunet, Graesse or Adams. J.-M. Sallmann, Naples et ses saints à l’âge baroque: 1540-1750 (Paris, 1994); G. Luongo, ‘Paolo Regio agiografo del Regno di Napoli’, Studi Rinascimentali 9 (2011), 169-83.


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