PASSAVANTI, Jacopo. Lo Specchio di Vera Penitenzia.

Florence, Bartolommeo Sermartelli, 1585


12mo. Pp. (xvi) 384 (viii). Roman letter. Woodcut headpiece and printer’s device to tp, floriated initials, ornamental woodcut to verso to viii. 1882 Quaritch sale record of Sunderland Library, Blenheim Palace. Ms shelfmark on fep. Slight soiling to foot of tp, a very good clean copy in exceptionally intricate crimson morocco tooled gilt to a mosaic-style design with gilt and black morocco onlaid edging, black and gilt onlaid flowers to top and bottom of centrepiece, centre and corner compartments with floral and volute tools, black morocco border with floral tools, gilt spine with 6 compartments floriated and smaller tools and black onlay, wear at corners, aeg. In morocco pull off case with title gilt on spine and 1710 binding date for Lord Sunderland. Some scuffs to morocco outer case, tear to one corner.

Exquisitely bound in red and black inset morocco gilt, somewhat in the cottage roof style, by the most important religious author of this period. Jacopo Passavanti (1302-1357), educates the reader on essential moral values. Passavanti lived in Florence and became a Dominican when he was a teenager. His impressive academic flair led him to be sent to Paris to finish his theological training, and upon his return to Florence he was appointed prior first of the convent of San Miniato al Monte, and finally given the prestigious position as head of the church of Santa Maria Novella. Passavanti was especially skilled at oratory and preaching, and was made ‘vicario generale’ of the dioceses of Florence between 1350 and 1352.

This is his only surviving work. It is a record of several sermons he gave during Lent 1354 in the form of a chaptered treatise. Key moral principles are provided along with practical examples, and this represents one of the pioneering models of literature that is both instructive and moralising. Indeed, some of these short supplementary tales have become famous in their own right: the story of Carbonai di Niversa can be compared to the account of Nastagio degli Onesti from the Decameron by Boccaccio. The work was first published in Florence in 1495 and is divided into sections on pride, humility, boastfulness, science and dreams. He discusses sin and repentance, and provides a universal guide on good behaviour as well as scintillating and charming early Italian storytelling. “Tutti i quadretti del Passavanti hanno una nitidezza di contorni, una sapiente drammaticità di sviluppo, uno spontaneo senso di plasticità e di vita che basterebbero da soli a far ammirare l’inopacabile Specchio” (Renzo Enrico de Sanctis, Il letto di procruste, cinquanta noterelle di letteratura Italiana da Jacopo Passavanti ad Alfredo Panzini, Istituto di propaganda libraria, 1943, p. 35.) This important work inspired the frescoes in the Chiostro Verde in Santa Maria Novella. Passavanti also practised architecture and construction, supervising the Certosa di Firenze as well as the Palazzo Acciaiuoli.

This volume was finely bound for Charles Spencer, third Earl of Sunderland (1675-1722). He served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Privy Seal, Lord President of the Council and First Lord of the Treasury. The binding is an exceptional example of his collection (e.g., BL IB30218). It was described in the Blenheim Palace sale in 1882 as “the finest binding ever executed for Lord Sunderland”. The sale included rare editions of the great Italian writers notably Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Ariosto, important books and tracts relating to America and early and rare chronicles in Spanish, Portuguese, English and French as well as first editions of the writings of the chief French, Italian and Spanish poets of the 16th and 17th centuries, etc. His collection comprised ‘some 20,000 printed books. A small portion of the volumes were bound in morocco, the bulk in calf’ (de Ricci, 38). The auction was an attempt to save Blenheim Palace from its state of considerable disrepair.

Not in BM STC It.; Adams 394.
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