DELLA BELLA, Stefano. Livre pour apprendre a designer pour les Ieuns Orfevres.

Amsterdam, F. de Wit, [1640s].


Tall 4to. 10 + 2 unnumbered ff. Engraved title, first 10 ll. with 40 numbered small engravings of faces, hands, scenes or animals (e.g., a camel), some after Rembrandt, printed on 37 copperplates, last 2 ll. with full-page engraved personification of Art (undated, c.1612-52, numbered I), with Visscher’s printed device, probably after Hondius, and a study of hands (numbered II). Slight browning and soiling, few lower blank margins a bit frayed, tiny hole at blank foot of fol.9. A remarkable survival, in modern boards, early ms ‘Amesterdam’ to title, early inked sketch copying engraving n.8, ms Roman numbers to outer blank margin of fol.4.

A remarkable quasi-ephemeral survival – one of Stefano della Bella’s famous illustrated books to teach the art of drawing to artists and craftsmen, in this case jewellers. Unrecorded in major bibliographies, such practical books were indeed intensely used and easily discarded. Della Bella (1610-64) was an Italian printmaker and draughtsman from Florence, trained as a goldsmith. After studying in Rome, he was in Paris in 1639-50. There he produced numerous skilled engravings for artists’ books like the present, many inspired by the works of Rembrandt, which he first saw in Paris. Several of Della Bella’s engravings were inspired by Rembrandt’s ‘tronies’, i.e., etchings of faces (at times Rembrandt’s self-portraits) with a particular expression or representing, qua genre painting, a particular type of subject (e.g., an old man, a smoker, a young lady, etc.). Here, engravings nos 18 and 28 bear a resemblance to Rembrandt’s style, whilst no.14 is after Leonardo. The remainder include studies of hands, legs, eyes, mouths and hair, bearded old men, putti, a man in armour, a camel’s muzzle, and two genre scenes with popular characters, such as a one-legged beggar. ‘Especially through his manuals for teaching the art of drawing, Della Bella contributed to the diffusion of Rembrandt’s fame in Europe. His engravings, produced with high print-runs by his [French] publishers and probably used by numerous artists, were also copied by Dutch publishers’ (Rutgers, pp.22-3), as here by de Wit. An early owner of this copy was certainly an artist, as he practiced copying two faces just above engraving no.8. The last two full-page engravings have long been bound with Della Bella’s book and bear consecutive numbers (I, II). The first, with a similar foolscap watermark as the Della Bella book, portrays a personification of Art attributed to Hondius; the Visscher printer’s mark points to the period 1612 to 1652, when the printer was active. The second engraving, stylistically dating to the same epoch, bears no clues as to a possible printer, nor watermark. It was not uncommon for illustrated books to survive bound with contemporary, albeit unrelated, engravings, sold separately by booksellers. An extremely rare, most interesting work.

Not in USTC or WorldCat. Unrecorded in the UK or US, and solely in 4 copies at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. J. Rutgers, ‘Stefano della Bella en Rembrandt: de Franse connectie’, De Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis, 1-2 (2004).
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