ALCIATUS, Andreas Diverse imprese…tratte di gli emblemi

Lyon, Guillaume Rouillé, 1551


8vo, pp. 191, [1]. Italic letter, little Roman; title and printer’s device within rich architectural woodcut border, couple of historiated initials; 180 high-quality woodcut illustrations, including eleven trees; every page but one within an ornamental, all’antica, architectural or grotesque border, all different; occasionally light browning, very light damp stain at head of some ll., few leaves slightly foxed; small marginal tear to p. 99, just affecting border. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum; yapped edge, contemporary ms title and monogram ‘WE’ to spine; rear cover a bit stained, lacking ties; on title, contemporary ex libris ‘di Giulio de Nobili’ and shelfmark ‘n. 491’ in his hand; A.H. Bright’s bookplate to front pastedown.

Second edition of the Italian translation of a Renaissance masterpiece, the collection of emblems by Andrea Alciato. Alciato (1492-1550) was a prominent humanist and professor of law from Milan. His historical and philological investigation of Roman law was crucial for the revival of ancient sources in juridical studies, influencing in particular the sixteenth-century French school. His Emblemata, first published in 1531, attained incredible and long-lasting success throughout Europe, with many vernacular translations and hundreds of editions over more than four centuries. The work consists of a collection of allegorical depictions with explanatory concise Latin verses disclosing a moral teaching. While emblems had been created in the Middle Age, the use of classical mythology as the main literary and iconographic reference was an original and distinctive contribution by Alciato. The Emblemata were so successful and influential that they truly marked the rise of a new literary genre.

This Italian translation of the work was undertaken for the sake of people ignorant of Latin and dedicated to the Venetian Doge Francesco Donà. Accomplished by Jean Marqual – a French bookseller active in Venice and closely connected to Gabriele Golito -, it was curiously printed for the first time in Lyon, in a joint edition by Rouillé and Macé Bonhomme in 1549. Its beautiful woodcuts are the same as those in the princeps. Many of them bear at the bottom the initials ‘P.V.’, regarded nowadays as the signature of the Parisian engraver Pierre Vase, otherwise known as Eskrich. Eskrich was a key collaborator of Rouillé and a very skilled artist, able to replicate the style of his illustrious colleague Bernard Salomon.

Giulio de Nobili (1537-1612), former owner of this book, was a learned Florentine patrician. Following his studies at the University of Pisa, he became senator and member of the order of St Stephen. He wrote for his son Pierantonio an unpublished moral treatise in Italian, warning him against the vices and troubles of adult life. The Galateo by Giovanni Della Casa is clearly De Nobili’s main source, but it is very likely that he took advantage of the educational mottos and examples provided by this translation of Alciato’s Emblemata.

Green’s collation copy. Graesse, I, p. 63: ‘Édition tres rare.’

BM STC It., 16; Adams A 599; Brunet, I, 149; Graesse, I, 63; Green, 50; Landwehr, 55.
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