EARLY GUIDE TO THE BORGHESE ART COLLECTION
Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana.
Roma, Lodovico Grignani, 1650.
FIRST EDITION. 8vo. pp. (xiv) 175 (i), lacking a1 (blank). Roman letter, little Italic or Greek. Full-page engraving with Hercules sitting on a stone and Fame as angel playing a trumpet and holding Borghese arms, folding engraved plate with façade of Villa Borghese, decorated initials and ornaments. Minor mainly marginal foxing in places, few ll. slightly browned, small paper flaw to lower outer blank corner of A8. A very good copy in contemporary Italian vellum, traces of ties, double gilt ruled, large fleurons to inner corners, gilt centrepieces with urn and thistle, spine double gilt ruled in four compartments, gilt large fleurons to each, very little worming towards gutter of upper cover and head and foot of spine, modern bookplates to front and rear pastedowns, dry stamp of the Feltrinelli library and autograph c.1700 ‘Philippi Monti’ to t-p.
A very good, elegantly bound copy of the first edition of this work entirely devoted to a monument of Italian Renaissance art collecting. Very little is known about Giacomo Manilli (fl. mid-C17), except that he was caretaker of Villa Borghese and the author of this influential, early guidebook for Grand Tourists, translated into Latin in the C18. ‘The privilege [gave] Manilli and his heirs sole publishing rights for ten years, with a penalty of 500 ducats or loss of stock and type for any offenders within papal jurisdiction’ (BAL 2032). Built for Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1577-1633), the Villa was ‘notissima in tutta Europa’, in Manilli’s words. Situated on the Roman hill Pincio and surrounded by extensive gardens, it was planned to host one of the best European collections of paintings, antiquities and sculptures. His detailed account, written in the engaging tone of a tour guide, provides a priceless overview of its architecture and treasures at a time for which scant information is extant. Manilli describes the layout and sculptures of the famous ‘giardini segreti’ surrounding the Villa—one of which was the first hunting park in Rome—enclosed and subdivided into three areas by small walls. The ‘deliberate geometric integration of the plan of the villa with that of the formal gardens proved influential for later C17 villa designs’ (Paul, ‘The Borghese Collections’, 115). The description of the house includes a thorough overview of the architecture, the sculpted and painted decorations of the exterior and interior. For the sculptures, Manilli provides iconographic subjects, e.g., Bernini’s ‘Apollo and Daphne’, and sometimes his interpretation of ‘what the artist probably wished to show’. Among the masterpieces in the twenty rooms, occasionally glossed with observations on debated attributions, are paintings by Caravaggio (e.g., ‘Christ at the Column’, ‘Putto bitten by a Crab’), Titian (e.g., ‘Venus with Nymphs’), Veronese (e.g., ‘St John in the Desert’) and Giulio Romano (e.g., ‘David and Goliath’). Manilli’s account reveals the manifold surprises reserved to the reader. E.g., the Stanza del Moro greets its guests goodnight with, ‘next to the bed’, a ‘little painting’ (‘quadrettino’) of St Peter by Antonio Carracci and, nearby, a ‘Pietà’ by Raffaello. An outstanding, elegantly bound guidebook, full of gems, on a milestone of Renaissance art collecting.
This copy belonged to Filippo Maria Monti (1675-1754), son of a Bolognese merchant, later marquis. After studying law, he moved to Rome where he attended the Jesuit College with the future Benedict XIV. He was involved in the cultural and political life of Rome as a member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia, emissary to Venice and Secretary of the Propaganda Fide. His famous library, with over 10,000 books and mss, was mostly left to the University of Bologna.
BL STC It. C17, p. 527; BAL 2032. Not in Berlin Cat. C. Paul, The Borghese Collections and the Display of Art (London, 2008).