Il libro del cortegiano

Venice, Girolamo Scoto, 1556.


8vo. ff. 204. A-2B8, 2C4. Woodcut printer’s device on title, first line of title within small woodcut border, large historiated woodcut initials, C18th engraved armorial bookplate on pastedown with ms. shelf mark above, occasional underlinings.  Light age yellowing, title page fractionally dusty, occasional marginal spot, small oil-stain at gutter of last few quires. A very good, clean copy in contemporary limp vellum.

Rare edition, revised and corrected by Lodovico Dolce from the authors’ manuscript, of the prototype courtesy book and one of the most enduringly popular and influential works of the Italian Renaissance. “The Courtier depicts the ideal aristocrat, and it has remained the perfect definition of a gentleman ever since. It is an epitome of the highest moral and social ideals of the Italian Renaissance, many of them inspired by classical examples. (…) Another section provides similar rules for the conduct of a lady and the book ends with the celebrated pronouncement on platonic love by Bembo.” Printing and the Mind of Man. The work was soon translated into most European languages and Cervantes, Corneille, Shakespeare, Spenser, Jonson and Shelley are but a few of those who are clearly in its debt. The book is based on a nostalgic recreation of Castiglione’s experience at the court of Duke Guidobaldo da Montefeltro of Urbino at the turn of the sixteenth century. It describes the ideal court and courtier, and relates the philosophical, cultured and lively conversations that occurred at Urbino, presided over by Elizabetta Gonzaga. The conversation, which takes place over a span of four days in the year 1507, addressed the topic, proposed by Federico Fregoso, of what constitutes an ideal Renaissance gentleman and is written in refined and elegant prose, spiced with humour. The speakers, prominent nobles and literati in the court of Urbino, include Giuliano de Medici, Pietro Bembo, Ludovico da Canossa Emilia Pia, Elizabetta Gonzaga amongst many others.

Ludovico Dolce, the Venetian humanist, was a prolific author or ‘poligrafo’ who produced several hundred volumes bearing his name, whether as author, editor, translator or critic. He edited 184 texts for the Giolito press alone. “As the most active writer and editor for the most productive Venetian press, Dolce played a decisive role in the dissemination of culture in the cinquecento. (…) Dolce played an important role in promulgating vernacular literature, whether by publishing corrected editions of such classics as Petrarch’s Canzoniere, Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier and Ariosto’s Orlando furioso; by translating Homer, Euripides, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Seneca, and other minor authors; or by publishing original works in the literary genres of widest appeal.” Ronnie H. Terpening. He is known today primarily for his Dialogue on Painting which was much influenced by Castiglione’s ideas in the ‘The courtier’. A very good copy of this attractively printed edition, rare in libraries outside Italy.

Not in BM STC It. C16th. Adams, Gamba, or Index Aurelensis. Cf. PMM 59 (first edition).


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Habiti antichi et moderni di tutto il mondo

Venice, Giovanni Bernardo Sessa, 1598.


8to, ff. [lvi],507. Italic and roman letter, woodcut engraved t-p, floriated and historiated initials, woodcut plates on numbered leaves’ verso, Italian ms. ex-libris on t-p “ Fran. Ant. J. Moccia” with a date “1709”, p.159 C17 ms. monogram. Very clean and good copy in C17 vellum recased.

Second and most complete edition with 507 woodcuts plates, among them 87 new one. This addition includes a section on American countries with 19 plates on Peru, Cusco, Mexico, Virginia and Florida. This edition comports a Latin translation along with the Italian original 1590 text.

This work is considered the apex of Cinquecento costume book achievement. This copiously illustrated costume compendium works from antiquity to modernity and the last discoveries. It presents, in the first part on Europe, the fashions of the different cities of Italy and focus on Venice. Starting with a bare-midriffed and brawny Trojan, the work soon moves on to bejewelled elegant Venetian ladies in rich brocades, richly-gilded merchant’s wives and surprisingly modestly dressed courtesans, a bearded doge, hooded monks, convicts in chains and tradesmen playing their wares. Intricately detailed, including even buttons, shoelaces and earrings, the drawings are appealingly presented in a selection of decorative frames. Many of the subjects appear to be based on manuscript or printed sources, for example those of Nicolas de Nicolay and Pieter de Coeck on Turkish costumes.

The second part of the text covers Asia and Africa, with a further 59 woodcuts. Consciously exotic in the choice of costume with figures wielding scimitars, bows and spears, including a fully-veiled woman, it travels through i.a. Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Persia, Damascus, Syria, the West Indies, Ethiopia, China, Egypt, and the Canary Isles, concluding with a couple of fearsome Americans natives, resplendent in skimpy loincloths.

Cesare Vecellio (1521-1601), painter and engraver, was related to Tiziano Veceli, named Titian, and was probably his assistant. He accompanied Titian to Augsburg in 1598. The Brera’s Museum at Milan has one of his paintings, a Trinity and he is known for his fore-edge painting in the Pilone’s collection. Several important books were illustrated by Cesare Vecellio, one of them, our book, has 420 plates engraved after the drawing of our artist by Christopher Chrieger or Krüger, named also Cristoforo Guerra (German artist from Nuremberg who worked at Venice during the second part of the sixteen century).

A fascinating insight into the fashion of the 16th century.

BM STC It; EDIT 16; Brunet, V, 1104; Sabin, XXVI, 296” Book XII. De gli habiti dell’ A1mericana, leaves 488-507. The first edition does not include this section. The woodcuts are from a drawing by Titian, according to a statement in the third edition, 1664. c. This ascription is considered doubtful by Brunet” ; Lipperheide 22 ; Maggs Bros., Bibiotheca Americana, Part V, 1598 “Libro XII contains full-page woodcuts of the costumes of the inhabitants of Peru, Cusco, Mexico, Virginia and Florida, both men and women”;European Americana, 598/112; Vinet, Bibliographie méthodique et raisonnée des Beaux Arts, p. 266 .


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NICOLAY, Nicolas de


Les navigations, peregrinations et voyages, faicts en la Turquie, par Nicolas de Nicolay.

Antwerp, Guillaume Silvius, 1577.


4to. pp. (xxiv) 305 (i.e. 388) (xxxii). Roman letter, occasional Italic, prefatory epistle in Civilité. Small woodcut printer’s device on title, title within typographical border, historiated woodcut initials and typographical ornaments, 60 full page woodcut plates within typographical borders. Slight age-yellowing, some mostly marginal spotting on first and last few leaves, small single worm hole in blank upper margin of thirty leaves, the odd spot or thumb mark. A very good, clean copy in C19 English calf, gilt oval armorial device of the Society of writers to the Signet at centres of covers, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, re-backed with original spine laid down.

Excellent edition of this seminal and beautifully illustrated work by Nicolay, a detailed account of his travels to the Near East illustrated with sixty spirited full-length portraits of male and female figures of all ages and ranks in local costume. It was first published in Lyons in 1568, with copperplates engraved by Louis Danet from Nicolay’s original drawings, two reproduced in Mortimer-Harvard Fr. 386. According to Mortimer, Nicolay’s illustrations are ‘the first to represent the costume of the Near East in detail,’ and were widely copied in the C16th; this edition is illustrated with fine woodcuts by Antonij van Leest, whose initials appear in the first and other plates, after those of the first edition.

Dedicated by Nicolay to Charles IX, whom Nicolay served as valet de chambre and géographe ordinaire, it also contains a long “Elegie” by Ronsard addressed to Nicolay, and a letter (in a fine Civilité type) from the publisher Silvius to Cornille Pruney. The book opens with Nicolay’s long preface on traveling and the great travelers of history, from Noes and Jason down to Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Pizarro, and many more.

Book I describes, i.a., the Balearic islands, Algiers, Pantelleria, Malta and Tripoli, and its plates depict their women. Book II deals briefly with the Greek islands (i.a. Kithira, Khios, and Paros) and then concentrates on Constantinople describing in detail its antiquities, monuments, harem, mosques (St. Sophia in particular), and Turkish baths. Again, the plates portray women only, including a harem lodger, two women dressed to go to the baths, and one with two children. Contrastingly, Book III is all dedicated to men: Janizaries, the Sultan’s valets, semi-naked wrestlers, the Sultan’s cook, doctors, judges, relatives of Mahomet, pilgrims going and coming from the Mecca, and representatives of four religious confessions, one of whom has his penis pierced with a ring in order to preserve his chastity (p. 184). Book IV deals with Persia, Saudi Arabia, Greece and other Middle Eastern provinces. Its plates include an Arab and an Armenian merchant, a black slave, a Jewish merchant and a Jewish woman, a Turkish courtesan and a ‘Delly’, i.e. a ‘mad and bold man’ with plumed hat and shield, portrayed here riding a horse (p. 238).

Nicolay (1517 – 1583) was, as Ronsard notes in his Elegie, extensively travelled and one of the best draughtsmen of his time. In 1551 he followed Gabriel d’Aramon, the French ambassador, to Constantinople, and visited all of the places mentioned in this book. He could speak nearly every European language and wrote several travel books. A landmark in the history of the travel to the Near East, handsomely illustrated throughout with very accurate costume plates. “His (Nicolay’s) illustrations have been called the most influential introduction to Turkish costumes” (Blackmer). Colas notes “c’est la première série de documents serieux sur les habillements du proche Orient.”

Not in BM STC Fr. C16th. Adams N 254. Brunet IV p. 67. Graesse IV p. 671. Göllner 1664 (the 1576 Silvius edition). JFB N144 (first french edition) “one of the earliest descriptions of the lands and peoples of the Near East.” Alden has a later English translation only.


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