Historiae Venetae libri XII

Venice, Aldus’ sons and Gualterio Scoto, 1551.


FIRST EDITION. Folio, ff. [4], 203, [1]. Neat Roman letter on thick paper; detailed historiated initials, large device of Gualtiero Scoto (with embracing Mercury and Athena) on title and Aldine on verso of final leaf. A perfect, wide-margined copy in elegant crushed dark olive morocco by W. Pratt; gilt panel with flower at each corner, title, editorial data and floral decoration gilt on spine; a.e.g.; very lightly rubbed at head and tail; on front pastedown, bookseller’s ticket of Thomas Beet and modern bookplate of T. Farmer Bailey; small Selbourne Library stamp at foot of title verso and f. 51r; a few faint early marginalia.

First edition of this important history of Renaissance Venice from 1487 to 1513, beautifully printed by Paolo Manuzio and his brothers. Scion of a Venetian noble family, Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) was by far the leading scholar of the early sixteenth-century Italy. A student of Constantine Lascaris and collaborator of Aldus (the famous Aldine font Bembo was named after him), he was patronised by the most illustrious families of the peninsula, such as the Este, Montefeltro and De’ Medici. All his poems, letters and essays encountered enviably long-lasting success. Among many other contemporary linguistic treatises, his Prose della volgar lingua was the one to establish the Italian vernacular as a literary language based on the three glorious ‘crowns’ of the past, i.e. Dante, Boccaccio and especially Petrarch. In recognition of his extraordinary merits, he was appointed cardinal by Paul III Farnese in 1539. In Rome, he spent the last years of his life.

In 1530, the Venetian Senate entrusted him with the care of its priceless library in St Mark’s and the compilation of the official chronicle of the city. Taking further the work of his predecessor, Bembo described in his distinctively polished Latin the events occurring between 1487 and 1513. He drew extensively upon the diaries of his compatriot Marin Sanudo (1466-1535), who, quite ironically, had been the main competitor of Bembo in the race for the position of official historian of the Republic. Published posthumously, the Historiae were immediately pirated in Paris in the 1551, while the following year appeared Bembo’s own Italian translation. In contrast to Renouard’ and Clough’s account, one should consider this princeps as a joint-edition between Aldus’ heirs and (as it is apparent from this copy) the Venetian publisher Gualterio Scoto. Scoto was the one to carry out also the 1552 Italian edition.

Book sixth is particularly remarkable, as it contains a detailed overview of Colombus’ discovery of the New World and the Portuguese navigators’ expeditions to the East.

BM STC It., 80; Adams, B 597; Brunet, I, 767; Graesse, I, 333; Renouard, 152:17 (‘Belle edition (…) peu commune’); Clough, ‘Pietro Bembo’s L’Histoire du Noveau Monde’, British Library Journal, VI, 1978, pp. 8-21; Alden, 551/8; Sabin, 4619.


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