PETRARCH. Il Petrarcha con l’espositione di M. Gio. Andrea Gesualdo.

Venice, Jacomo Vidali, 1574.


4to. 2 parts in 1, separate titles, continuous pagination, ff. [28], 419, [1, blank]. Italic letter, little Roman. Woodcut printer’s device to titles and last versos, small woodcut of Petrarch and Laura to *4 verso and full-page woodcut map of Vaucluse to ***2 verso of I, 6 ¼-page allegorical woodcuts of II, decorated initials and ornaments. Few ll. slightly browned, tiny hole to outer blank margin of title, light age yellowing, minor mainly marginal foxing or browning, ancient repair to lower outer blank corner of BB2-3, light water stain to some ll. from gathering TT, small splash to upper outer corner of final gatherings. A good copy in C16-style calf, brass cornerpieces and bosses (one missing), raised bands, spine gilt-lettered to style, the odd early ms marginal annotation.


Later edition with Gesualdo’s commentary, revised and illustrated, of Petrarch’s complete works. Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-74) has been called ‘the father of Humanism’ and the initiator of the Renaissance due to his ground-breaking rediscovery of classical texts like Cicero’s letters. A prolific author of verse, epistles and essays, Petrarch lived between Italy and France, where he allegedly fell in love with Laura, an inspirational muse of whom little is known, except the fact that she was probably married. This edition is devoted to his ‘cose vulgari’—his texts in the vernacular—as found in a holograph ms preserved by the humanist Pietro Bembo. The ‘Canzoniere’ is a collection of over 300 poems written for Laura, whose name reprises the ‘laurel’ of great poets. The author looks back to his unrequited love, his ‘sighs’ and ‘first error of youth’, for a lady who is physical, holy and ethereal at the same time. Inspired by the triumphal progresses of ancient Rome, ‘Trionfi’ celebrates in verse the allegorical figures of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity, providing reflections on the fleetingness of human existence which also permeate Petrarch’s entire production. Together with Dante and Boccaccio, Petrarch became one of the three models for the Italian literary language based on its Tuscan variant.

 Giovanni Andrea Gesualdo’s commentary is likely the source of Thomas Wyatt’s famous metaphor of the ‘amorous chase’ in ‘Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is An Hind’, dedicated to Anne Boleyn. Gesualdo was also among the first to connect the ‘impudent prostitute’ of the Avignonese church in Petrarch’s ‘Babylonian sonnets’ (i.e., n. 136-8) – here present and untouched, but often found censored or removed from copies or editions – to the apocalyptic Whore of Rome. Gesualdo’s first edition did not include the map of Vaucluse, whilst the ‘Trionfi’ were illustrated by different woodcuts. The illustrations in this edition reprise those of the famous commentary by Alessandro Vellutello. ‘Trionfi’ are illustrated with six exquisite allegorical woodcuts. The full-page map of Vaucluse was based on that drawn by Vellutello, after two visits to Avignon. ‘This map […] struck the phantasy of the Petrarchists of the Cinquecento. It reappears, in one form or another, in twenty of the hundred-odd editions of the “Canzoniere” published in the next hundred years’ (Wilkins, ‘Vellutello’s Map’, 277). The map, together with a life of the poet and a short essay on the places he visited, were additions intended to assist the reader—‘hugely influential in satisfying the taste for both Petrarch’s poetry […] and details of his life and Laura’s’ (Trapp, ‘Petrarchan Places’, 4).

EDIT16 CNCE 38605; Brunet IV, 552. E.H. Wilkins, ‘Vellutello’s Map of Vaucluse’, Modern Philology 29 (1932), 275-80; J.B. Trapp, ‘Petrarchan Places’, JWCI 69 (2006), 1-50. Not in Sander or Gamba.