GUTIÉRREZ DE LOS RÍOS, Gaspar. Noticia general para la estimacion de las artes (…)

Madrid, Pedro Madrigal, 1600


FIRST EDITION. 4to, pp. (xxxii) 340 (x), lacking final blank. Roman and italic letter, text within frame throughout, woodcut historiated initials. Printer’s device to t-p, one woodcut geometric diagram. T-p a bit dusty with early repair to upper edge, tiny wormholes to lower margin of a few initial ll. (not affecting text), first two gatherings with slight waterstain to upper and lower blank margins, some marginal pencil marks. A very good copy in c. 1700 Spanish sheep, gilt palmette motif and four blind lines to outer borders, central panel with two gilt rolls of leaves and creatures (boar, fox, rabbit, dragon) forming a large rectangle interlaced with a lozenge, fleurons to outer corners, centrepiece with gilt interlaced triangles surrounded by small flower and ornamental tools. Spine with gilt ruled raised bands, gilt fleurons and flowers in compartments, a bit rubbed at joints and extremities. Early ms. numeric annotations and bookplate of the architect Jose Menéndez Pidal y Alvarez (1908-1981) to front pastedown, ex libris and acquisition note of Juan Pérez Villamil (1754-1824) to recto of fep.

An attractive copy of the first Spanish treatise on the nature of art. This is the first edition, in a handsome Spanish baroque binding with charming interlaced motifs of leaves and animals.

Gaspar Gutiérrez de los Ríos (c. 1566-1606) was a lawyer of Salamanca. After moving to Madrid, he took interest in a lawsuit filed by the Council against silversmiths, embroiderers, painters and sculptors, who refused to serve as soldiers in the army on the grounds that they were artists. The Council lost, and this event inspired Gutiérrez de los Ríos to write “Noticia general para la estimacion de las artes”, an extremely fascinating treatise aimed at explaining the difference between mechanical and liberal arts. Classifications of human knowledge and activities were common and discussed in antiquity: liberal arts were those in which the mind played a leading role, thus worthy of free men; while mechanical arts were those performed by the body, and therefore ‘servile’ and reserved to slaves. Remarkably, this Spanish author “described arts and occupations (both liberal and mechanical) as processes of learning, innovation and inspiration. (…) Decided that as all higher classes of labour depended upon the lower ones, and mechanical arts generally all used liberal arts (e.g. a tailor must use geometry), then mechanical arts could become liberal ones.” (Mackay).

After a general introduction on the origins of the arts and their definition, Gutiérrez de los Ríos explains the difference between the two types of art according to ancient sources and his own personal interpretation. Two large central chapters (Book III and IV) are the most inspiring: the first is a defence of painting and sculpture, which must be considered liberal arts – despite being ‘mechanic’ – in virtue of their close relation with history, poetry, philosophy, rhetoric and even medicine and mathematics. The second, perhaps more provoking, demonstrates that agriculture is a liberal art, “porque produce grandes efectos de virtud en el ánimo” and “porque es hermana del arte militar” – it makes the soul virtuous and it is ‘the sister of military science’. A final section contains an exhortation to honour and respect work, as opposed to laziness and inactivity. Throughout the text, Gutiérrez de los Ríos supports his theses using countless quotations from ancient Greek and Latin authors.

This copy bears the ex libris of Juan Pérez Villamil (1754-1824), Spanish erudite politician, lawyer and book collector. He was appointed director of the Real Academia de la Historia (Madrid) in 1807 and held important positions under Carlos IV and Fernando VII. Interestingly, in his manuscript acquisition note, he wrote: “I bought this book in the Royal Library, but I was not given a reason for the price because it (the volume) had not yet been appraised. I am therefore responsible for its value”.

USTC 336766; BM STC Sp. 16th century, p. 95; Graesse III, p. 187; Palau 111670. Not in Adams or Brunet. R. Mackay, \"Lazy, Improvident People\": Myth and Reality in the Writing of Spanish History (2006).
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