I segni de la natura ne l’huomo.

Venice, Giovanni de Farri & fratelli, 1545


FIRST EDITION. 8vo, ff. [iii], 132. Text in Roman letter, dedicatory epistle in Italic, printer’s woodcut device to title, historiated and anthropomorphic initials. Slight marginal water stain and tiny hole to t-p, very rare minor spots in a few places. Small tears to upper edge of ff. 21-23. A good, clean copy in antique carta rustica, yapp fore-edges, inked title, etc. to flat spine; remains of ties; early ms. case mark to front cover and pastedowns. “Bibliotheca Colbertina” inscribed on t-p.

Nice first edition of this rare early work in two books on physiognomy including its relationship with the arts, from Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s prestigious library. The French statesman Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1685) was at the service of Louis XIV from 1661 to 1683. His superb personal library served him as one of the major sources of information for the administration of government. After his death it passed to Colbert de Torcy, Jacques Nicholas Colbert, archbishop of Rouen and Charles Eleonor Colbert, Comte of Seignelay. In 1728 the family sold the library to Louis XV (Bibliotheca Colbertina, seu, Catalogus librorum bibliothecæ, Paris 1728).

Little is known about the author Antonio Pellegrini, apart from his translation of Erasmus’ “Encomium Moriae” (1539). According to the Pseudo-Aristotelian “Physiognomica” (C4th BC), there is a close relationship between the exterior and interior so the body can make visible the inner spirit and character of a person. This Renaissance anthropology blended philosophy, medicine and astrology, also influencing the pictorial arts.

Pellegrini’s dialogue anticipates Giambattista della Porta’s (1586). Looking at the politics and culture of the Venetian society, it brings together the format of the courtesy book with the analysis of physical features and emotions that characterise treatises on physiognomy. The work covers two days describing an imaginary conversation between the physician Alessandro Dolce (Pellegrini’s alter ego) and two diplomats, the English ambassador Edmund Harvel, and the Spanish consul Martin de Cernoza. They meet in front of St. John the Baptist Church in Murano (Venice) and discuss the aspects of human nature. The debate continues on the second day at Dolce’s house where the gentlemen are joined by Dr. Luigi Quirini, the musician and philosopher Ludovico Fogliano and the theologian Marco del Giglio.

After the dedicatory letter to Ottavio Farnese by Cristoforo Canal and a brief preamble on the purposes of the work – very useful to rulers – the first book explains the difference between natural inclinations and habits, and which emotions of the mind are reflected in the body. At the same time it insists on the concepts of reason, will and experience.

Evidence is provided from history, philosophy and literature, especially Aristotle’s De generatione animalium and Physics, from Hippocrates, Galen and Plato. Interestingly, some pages concern the imitation of nature and models in literature and art. Not only is Pellegrini knowledgeable about the theories on the Italian vernacular and rhetoric (Pietro Bembo and Sperone Speroni), but he also shows a keen interest in visual arts. There are references to classical artists, such as Polyclitus, Parrhasius, Apelles and Zeuxis, and contemporary, particularly Donatello and the Venetians Titian and Giovanni Bellini. The Milo of Croton (1535-37) by the painter Pordenone (Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchi, 1484-1539), inspired by the classical sculpture, is celebrated as an exemplar of physical strength.

The second book focuses on natural inclinations and planetary influence, relating to different professions. It gives a few examples from art history (Jacopo Sansovino and Michelangelo) and describes tapestries representing Mount Parnassus and images of  illustrious men in Dolce’s palace.

The last pages catalogue the body proportions of human and animal species. All parts – from head to feet – are taken into account in judging a particular character, including gestures, sizes, colours and facial expressions.

Only European copies are recorded. Not in Brunet or Graesse. Not in Durling (NLM), Osler, Wellcome, I or Heirs of Hippocrates. Adams, P 588; BM STC It., p. 497.


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