Trattato de gli instrumenti di martirio.

Rome, presso Ascanio and Girolamo Donangeli, 1591.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (iv) 159 (ix). Roman letter, with Italic. T-p in red and black, 47 superb engravings executed by Antonio Tempesta, framed by woodcut tendrils, of scenes of martyrdom, decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Light age browning and marginal thumbing in a few places, outer margin of t-p and first restored, slight foxing, faint marginal waterstaining to a few gatherings, barely visible repair to outer margins of three ll., tear from lower blank corner of p. 89 at gutter. Engravings in very good impression, ink mark to ll. 97 and 99. A very good, clean copy in contemporary vellum over pasteboards, gilt lettered spine, all edges blue. C19 bibliographical note to front pastedown, the odd C19 annotation.

A very good, stunningly illustrated copy of the first edition of this blood-curdling celebration of martyrdom. Born and raised in Rome, Antonio Gallonio (1566-1605) was a member of the Congregation of the Oratory of St Philip Neri, which inspired his interest in the early history of the Church. Later translated into Latin and dedicated to Pope Clement VIII, the ‘Trattato’ is his most famous work—an illustrated, historiographically sound encyclopaedia of ancient instruments of martyrdom based on a thorough study of the Acts of the Martyrs and authors like Cicero and Valerius Maximus. Gallonio painstakingly examined the instruments and techniques of torture used against the ‘glorious soldiers of Christ’. Each torment is dissected in all its nuances—e.g., crucifixion by nails or poles, with ropes used to keep martyrs hanging from a cross by one limb or over a burning fire, or after being smeared with apple juice to let their flesh be devoured by bees and flies. The engravings, designed by Giovanni Guerra and executed by Antonio Tempesta, official painter of Sixtus V, were conceived as visual aids for readers, with captions identifying specific torments. Surrounded by placid Renaissance landscapes with architectures, tempietti and classical columns, the tormented martyrs allowed the artists to display their mastery in the depiction of human bodies contorted with pain. The violent scenes, expunged of all gore like contemporary medical illustrations, are also reminiscent of ethnographic representations of tortures inflicted by ‘savages’ of the New World onto colonisers and missionaries. A masterpiece of Counter-Reformation ecclesiastical history.

USTC 831605; Brunet II, 1468: ‘Édition originale, recherchée, parce qu’elle contient les premières épreuves des fig. en cuivre d’Ant. Tempesta’. Not in BM STC It., Mortimer, Harvard Italian C16, Sander or Adams.


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