CONTARINI, Gasparo. Des magistratz et republique de Venise

Paris, René Avril vend Galliot du Pré, 1544


FIRST EDITION thus. 8vo. ff. [xii] ci [iii]. A8, B4, a-n8. Roman letter. Woodcut initials, Gaillot du Pré’s large woodcut ship device on verso of last, “M de Coëthequen 1897” on pastedown, “P Se Cobel” in early hand on penultimate leaf. Light age yellowing, very minor light water-stain to upper and outer margin of last few leaves. A very good copy, crisp and clean in contemporary sheep over thick boards, spine with raised bands, fleurons gilt in compartments, all edges sprinkled red, worn at headband and extremities, in silk slip case.

First edition of the first French translation by Jean Charrier of Contarini’s important treatise on political theory, government and the philosophy of statecraft. The first edition was published in Latin in 1543 shortly followed by a translation into Italian. A most influential translation was made into English in 1599. Jean Charrier also published a translation of Machiavelli’s ‘Art of War’ the same year. A Venetian patrician educated at Padua, Gasparo Contarini (1483-1542) was ambassador for Charles V and later appointed Cardinal by Pope Paul III. Among the numerous personalities he met whilst accompanying the Emperor around Europe was Thomas More. It is More’s ‘Utopia’, first published in 1516, which may have inspired ‘Della Repubblica et magistrati di Venetia’, composed in the 1520s-1530s. Contarini’s influential work is a thorough description of the government of Venice celebrating the perfection of its Republican institutions (the Doge, Senate, tribunals and magistracies) in the age of absolute monarchies, but also suggesting changes to improve them. Its readers should ‘marvel’ at the location, origins and functioning of Venice, ‘the common market of the world’, where political ideal and reality meet to create an exemplary State run by the patriciate

“Contarini is best remembered for his reflections on the government of Venice that he penned, and circulated among his friends, between 1522 and 1525 and then again between 1533 and 1534. These reflections were posthumously published .. in Paris in 1543. .. In drafting De Magistratibus et Republica Venetorum, Contarini drew on both the history of Venice and his own experience to provide a host of normative, historic, and contemporary details that would educate Venetians and foreigners alike about the machinery of Venice’s government. The volume was not concerned with the political behaviour of Venetians, but with a formal institutions by which political aims were realised. The reflections are thus as much of a description of the institutions of governance as they are a prescription for how those institutions ought to work to meet expectations. In this way, De magistratibus contributed to a particular view in the 16th century that has come to be known by modern historians as the ‘myth of Venice’, celebrating the Republic’s well-being and accomplishments and presenting his aspirations and self image as reality.” Filippo Sabetti. ‘Gasparo Contarini’

“The Commonwealth and Government of Venice played a pivotal role in conveying the myth of 16th-century Venice to an English audience. First written in Latin by Cardinal Gasparo Contarini, it was translated into English in 1599 by Lewis Lewkenor.” BL. Shakespeare is most likely to have read this work and its influence is felt in two of his major works ‘The Merchant of Venice and ‘Othello’

USTC 1073. Brunet. II, 242. Renouard. Imprimeurs et libraires parisiens du XVIe siècle. 651.
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