HANDSOMELY ILLUSTRATED HIEROGLYPHS
Vetustissimae tabulae Aeneae Sacris Aegyptiorum Simulachris coelatae accurata Explicatio.
Venice, G.A. Rampazetto & G. Franco, 1605.
FIRST EDITION. Large 8vo. pp. (xii) 43 (x) + 12 large folding engraved plates. Italic letter, little Roman. Superb engraved vignette with view of St Mark’s Square to t-p, 12 large folding engraved plates with ancient inscriptions and hieroglyphs of the Mensa Isiaca, recto of five ll. filled with woodcuts of ancient seals, other small woodcut text illustrations, decorated initials. Slight yellowing, small light water stain to upper blank margin, and lower outer blank corner of few ll., one blank verso splashed with minimal see-through. A very good, fresh copy in mottled half calf over sprinkled paper boards c1700, raised bands, spine gilt, gilt label, a.e.r., a little rubbed. Modern bookplate to front pastedown, small pencilled casemark to t-p margin.
A very good, fresh copy of the first edition of this important, lavishly illustrated antiquarian work—with 12 superb folding tables by Enea Vico—by the antiquary and collector Lorenzo Pignoria (1571-1631). It is a study of the ‘Mensa Isiaca’, an elaborately decorated tablet of bronze, enamel and silver acquired by Cardinal Bembo after the sack of Rome of 1527 and later by the Gonzaga in Mantua. Though now believed to be of 1 st-century Roman, not Egyptian, origin, it soon began to inspire the study of hieroglyphs and ancient Egyptian cults; Valeriano too mentioned it in his ‘Hieroglyphica’ and Athanasius Kircher wrote on it in 1652. Pignoria’s work, the first scholarly study, ‘has been considered by subsequent scholars as the most valuable, both for the author’s purpose [not to interpret the tablet allegorically but using ancient sources] and for its historical information’ (Leospo, ‘Mensa Isiaca’, 2). Pignoria was ‘willing to hazard an interpretation of the table’s symbols, but his identifications of individual figures were explicitly tentative, and he did not attempt to explain how they related to one another semantically’ (Stolzenberg, ‘Oegyptian’, 46). The sources include Greek epigraphic inscriptions, ancient amulets and seals, many beautifully illustrated; the tablet is also superbly portrayed in the 12 large folding tables. These were originally produced by Vico in 1559, by commission of Torquato Bembo; Vico was granted a ten-year privilege to print them with the title ‘Vetustissimae Tabulae Aeneae’. In 1600, Giovanni Franco had the plates copied and recut, and sold them as a collection of 12 prints, including the t-p. Copies of Pignoria’s edition are recorded (and were probably bound) with a variable number of plates, from none to 12. With 12, this copy collates like Princeton, Bib. Apost. Vaticana (Cicognara) and Bib. Naz. Centrale (Rome). These lavishly illustrated copies were probably deluxe versions, produced by Franco with the addition of Vico’s plates.
Cicognara 2544; Brunet IV, 651. E. Leospo, La Mensa Isiaca di Torino (Leiden, 1978); D. Stolzenberg, Egyptian Oedipus (Chicago, 2013).