BEMBO, Pietro. [with] SANNAZZARO.
PHILIPPE DESPORTES’S COPY
Gli Asolani [with] ArcadiaVenice, heirs of Aldo Manuzio and Andrea Torresano, 1515 (with) 1534
4to, two works in one, pp. 129 (iii); 91 (iii). Italic letter, Aldine device to both t-ps and versos of last. Little ink splash to upper edge of 3 initial ll. and foredge of two others in first work. A very good, well-margined copy, crisp and clean, in C17 French calf, edges gilt, spine with gilt raised bands, gilt fleurons and scrolls in compartments, a.e. sprinkled red, minor repair to upper joint and head and tail of spine. Contemporary ms. cancelled inscription and autograph of Philippe Desportes (1546-1606) to first t-p, bookplate of John Lea Nevinson (1904-1986) to front pastedown.
A remarkable combination of two classics of Italian literature. This edition of ‘Gli Asolani’ is the second by Aldus, reprinted from the first of 1505 with the dedication to Bembo’s lover Lucrezia Borgia, which was suppressed from many copies of the first. Sannazzaro’s ‘Arcadia’ is also in its second Aldine edition (first 1514) and it includes Aldus’ dedication to the author.
This copy of ‘Gli Asolani’ bears the distinctive signature “Philippes Desportes” of the French Baroque poet Philippe Desportes (1546-1606), abbot of Tiron (Eure-et-Loire). He is known as the French Tibullus, for the sweetness and ease of his verses.
Born in Venice, Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) was a scholar, poet, critic and later cardinal. After his studies at Messina and Padua, he travelled extensively in Italy. His love for the Tuscan vernacular, which he considered the perfect language for Italian literature, developed during a stay in Florence. In 1525, he published ‘Le prose della volgar lingua’, a ground-breaking work of philology and literary criticism celebrating the cultural value of the vernacular versus Latin and electing Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio—masters of the Tuscan vernacular whose works he also edited—as the highest models for Italian poets. His codification of the Tuscan written dialect as a literary language constitutes the basis for the development of the modern Italian language. ‘Gli Asolani’ is Bembo’s first important work and a bestseller, comprising a series on dialogues on love set in Asolo (a city in Veneto). In the first book, the unfortunate lover Perottino talks about the negative aspects of love; in the second the fortunate Gismondo argues in favour of love’s positivity; in the third, Lavinello refutes both thesis and presents his theory of Platonic love. The Italian noblewoman and femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI, was among the first to read this work in manuscript in 1503.
Jacopo Sannazaro (1457-1530) was a Neapolitan poet and humanist, a member of the intellectual circles of Giovanni Pontano and Frederick of Aragon, King of Naples, whom he briefly followed in exile to France in 1501. A few years later, he returned to Naples, where he spent the rest of his life. Interestingly, in the 1520’s, he exchanged letters with Bembo. Sannazaro is most famous for ‘Arcadia’, his masterpiece and an international success. A pastoral romance in verse and prose, ‘Arcadia’ tells the story of the shepherd Sincero (Sannazaro’s persona), who abandons the city of Naples to live among the shepherd-poets in Arcadia. Sannazaro wrote in an elegant vernacular inspired to the models of Petrarch and Boccaccio and he “was the first Renaissance poet to set his action in Virgil’s hallowed Arcadia (…) he paid tribute to the continuing effect of Virgil’s eclogues upon the Renaissance imagination by transforming Latin Arcadia to suit the highly developed taste of contemporary Italian verse” (Kalstone). ‘Arcadia’ circulated in manuscript for a few years, and it became so popular that unauthorised editions were printed in 1501-1502. Aldus then approached the author to publish his book, but Sannazaro gave the rights to the Neapolitan Pietro Summonte instead, who printed the first edition in 1504. All Aldus’ following editions are based on Summonte’s official text approved by the author.
From the library of the John Lea Nevinson (1904-1986), costume historian and British Museum curator.1) USTC 813366; Adams B579; Renouard 112:5; Brunet I, p. 766: “Petite édition devenue fort rare”; BM STC It., p 80; see Gamba 132. 2) USTC 854665; Adams S320; Renouard 72:5; Brunet, V p. 129: “la meilleure édition des poésies italiennes de Sannazar”; BM STC It., p. 606; see Gamba 891. D. Kalstone, The Transformation of Arcadia: Sannazaro and Sir Philip Sidney, Comparative Literature 15/3 (1963)