A DOGE’S BINDING – WILLIAM BECKFORD’S COPY
La Hecuba, Tragedia.
Venice, Gabriele Giolito, 1543. (with)
Venice, in casa haer. Aldo I Manuzio, 1547.
FIRST EDITIONS. 8vo. Two works in one, ff. 47, 42, separate t-p to each, first with blind stamp of Wigan Public Library (sold). Printer’s device to titlepages and recto of last. Occasional very light age browning, outer margins of titlepages and a few ll. a bit thumbed, slight marginal foxing to a couple of gatherings, the odd small marginal mark. A very good, well-margined copy in C18 red morocco, marbled pastedowns, covers bordered with gilt dentelles and palmettes, centrepiece with gilt arms of Doge Marco Foscarini to covers, fronds surrounding, coronet above. Spine in six compartments, gilt double-ruled dentelle border, cornerpieces and acorn tools to each, joints a bit worn and cracked at head, minor loss to corners. Bookplate of Sir Philip Mansfield and C19 label ‘G FS 3’ to front pastedown, C19 bibliographical inscriptions in ink tracing the copy to William Beckford’s library to verso of first and in pencil to recto of second front ep, the odd early annotation.
The handsome binding was produced for the bibliophile Marco Foscarini (1696-1763), a poet and diplomat who served as 117th Doge of Venice between 1762 and 1763, when his office was cut short by illness and death. The binding is an almost exact match with Folger PA6278 A3 1575, dated 1761, except for the gilt cornerpieces on the spine and decoration on the raised bands.
The provenance can be traced to William Thomas Beckford (1760-1844), famous author of an important Gothic novel, ‘Vathek’ (1786). A great art collector, Beckford amassed an enormous library at Fonthill Abbey. This copy was part of the Hamilton Palace sale run by Sotheby’s in 1883 (n.708).
Very good copies of the first editions of these two important Renaissance tragedies in Italian. Lodovico Dolce (c.1508-68) was a Venetian humanist and prolific author of essays, historical biographies of classical and contemporary writers, dozens of translations and editions of classics, and literary works of all genres. In the 1540s and 1550s, Dolce wrote several successful verse tragedies in the vernacular on subjects adapted from the works of classical authors. Following the example of ancient drama, the tragic world of the protagonists is populated by shadows of murdered characters, unreliable and often absent gods and a ‘choir’ lamenting the evils of fate. Inspired by Euripides’s namesake play, translated into the vernacular by Matteo Bandello in 1539, ‘Hecuba’ tells the story of King Priam’s wife, once Queen of Troy and now enslaved by the Greek victors, and her revenge for the death of her son Polydorus. It was published by Gabriele Giolito, with whom Dolce collaborated as editor and translator for some time. ‘Didone’ narrates the Queen of Carthage’s star-crossed love for Aeneas and her tragic death, famously told in Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’. In the dedicatory letter, Paolo Manuzio explained how he had wanted to be the first to publish the play so that people could enjoy reading it as much as he had enjoyed performing in it as a boy in the role of Ascanius (Cupid’s clever disguise).
I) USTC 827058; BM STC It. p. 239; Brunet II, 791; Annali di Giolito I, 51. Catalogue of…the Beckford Library (London, 1882).
II) USTC 827065; Rénouard 141:8; BM STC It. p. 220; Brunet II, 791.