A MONUMENTAL HOAX
Ethruscarum antiquitatum fragmenta.Frankfurt [i.e. Florence], [Giovanni Battista Landini], 1637
FIRST EDITION. Folio, pp. (xxiv) 324. Roman and italic letter, text within frame throughout. ‘Signum Vulterrae’ to t-p, woodcut decorated and floriated initials, decorated headpiece, grotesque tailpiece, charming typographical ornaments with masks or floral designs. More than 200 woodcuts and engravings, some full-page, depicting archaeological finds, inscriptions, monuments, Etruscan symbols, coins. One double-page engraved map of Scornello, four folding plates with two engraved maps of Volterra (ancient and ‘nova’), an Etruscan statue, Inghirami’s family tree. Upper margin of t-p and a few outer edges lightly waterstained, very minor occasional marginal spotting, upper margin of p. 114 ink marked. A very good copy in contemporary calf, loss of leather to lower outer corners, covers double gilt ruled. Spine with raised bands, double gilt ruled in compartments with ornaments at centres, rebacked and remounted, lower compartment replaced. All edges sprinkled red.
Handsome, elaborate and beautifully illustrated first and only edition of Curzio Inghirami’s Ethruscarum antiquitatum fragmenta, including all the original folding plates. The edition was produced in Florence with a fake Frankfurt imprint to evade censorship, presumably by the printer Giovanni Battista Landini (BL German, I54).
An Italian archaeologist and historian of noble birth, Curzio Inghirami (1614-1655) was in his early 20s when he published the ‘Etruscarum antiquitatum fragmenta’. In the book, he presents a series of Etruscan artefacts that he allegedly discovered near his family’s villa at Scornello, in the countryside south of Volterra. He claims that, in 1634, he was fishing with his 13 years old sister in the river behind their house when he found a little capsule of mud and hair containing ancient writings in Etruscan (illegible) and in Latin. The discovery of this artefact, named ‘scarith’, was followed by many similar others, all containing accounts and prophecies by Prospero of Fiesole, an aspiring Etruscan priest (aruspex), from the prehistory of Italy to the fall of Etruria at the hands of the Romans in the I century BC. These texts, the topography of Volterra and several strange objects – such as a lamp and an incomplete statuette – are displayed in attractive woodcuts and engravings throughout the book.
In reality, the discoveries were ingeniously fabricated by Inghirami as a ‘beffa’ (joke) and crafted as a ‘monumental parody’ (Rowland 2004) inspired by the forger of Etruscan antiquities Annius of Viterbo (1437-1502). The Etruscan language was in fact written in the wrong direction, and on paper, which the Etruscans had never known – in 1700, it was also noticed that one sheet bore the watermark of the ducal paper factory. A debate regarding their authenticity arose soon after publication, and Leone Allacci ultimately demonstrated that all texts were fake in his polemic ‘Animadversiones in antiquitatum etruscarum fragmenta’ (1640). Nonetheless, Inghirami continued to advocate the authenticity of his work publishing a response in 1645; in 1985, the scarith were stolen by thieves who thought that they were genuine. Despite being a fake, this work had the merit of “focusing the scholars’ attention on Etruscan archaeology, also anticipating the exaltation of this civilisation and the anti-roman attitude that are characteristic of XVIII century Etruscology” (trad. from Speroni 1988).
Inghirami’s family tree, displayed in the largest fold-out plate, deserves a final mention. In fact, we can see that the author was related to Tommaso Inghirami (1470-1516), a Renaissance humanist raised under the protection of Lorenzo de’ Medici, prefect of the Vatican Library, friend and correspondent of Erasmus.
“Bella e preziosa edizione per l’esattezza delle tavole intagliate in rame e legno, collocate fra il testo, nonché per l’eleganza dei tipi e bellezza della carta non comune in Germania” Cicognara 2590. USTC 4013769; BL German 1601-1700, I54; BL Italian 17th cent. 445; VD17 23:232205D.