ASTOLFI, Giovanni Felice.


Historia universale delle imagini miracolose della Gran Madre di Dio riverite in tutte le parti del Mondo.

Venice, Fratelli Sessa, 1623.


FIRST EDITION. 4to. pp. (xviii) 877 [i.e., 887] (i). Roman letter, little Italic. T-p with engraved architectural border of angels playing trumpets, female figures, putti and a vignette of the Virgin. T-p torn and repaired to blank verso without loss. Slight toning in places, light water stain and little worm trail to lower margin (repaired on a few ll.), 12 ll. in KK-LL oxidised but clearly legible, small tear from lower blank margin of T 2 , minor marginal spotting, marginal ink burn to 3O 5 affecting a letter of side note. A perfectly acceptable copy in vellum c.1900, yapp edges, C17 casemark to t-p and a handful of contemporary marginalia.

A very rare, fascinating work on worldwide popular cults of the Virgin Mary—one of the earliest systematic works on the subject—an Americanum and Japonicum unrecorded in major bibliographies. Felice Astolfi (f. 1603), of whom little is known, was the author of an important historical work (‘Dell’officina storica’) and of several on miracles, a very popular subject in Counter-Reformation print. ‘Historia universale’ explores miracles and the popular cult of the Virgin Mary in the Old and New World, and in the Orient, through hundreds of fascinating anecdotes painstakingly drawn from Jesuit letters, and geographical and travel accounts like Botero’s. The variable collation of the preliminaries reflects the troubled history of its printing in the Autumn of 1623; the present is an early issue, with a blank where later issues display an additional dedication or a shorter gathering. ‘Although [it] built on a long medieval tradition of devotional literature, the miracle stories took on
new significance in the context of the early modern religious debates about the immanence of God. Astolfi addressed one of the major theological concepts debated in the early modern period: what is the proper role and function of miracles?’ (D’Andrea, ‘Miracles’). His narrative is especially concerned with the intercessory power of Marian images and their cult, and the immanence of God in physical objects. It begins with a life of Mary followed by a list of the relics (her body and clothing), with details of those preserved in Venetian churches. The first nine parts discuss the foundation of the earliest Marian churches and monasteries, accounts of miracles, the power of sacred images, iconoclasm, the miracles and local cult of specific images. From part 10 onwards are approx. 40 pages of accounts devoted to the wider world: Africa, where the Virgin makes Christian slaves escape the Moors’ prison, miracles in Manomotapa, Ethiopia and Angola, Christian fights by land and sea against the Moors; India, where a man’s rosary saves his sick, unchristened son, a bloody cross appears over the unburied body of a converted native, Monaian castle is reconquered after a procession, and Our Lady of Bengala is worshipped; the Caribbean, with a vessel haunted by demons at sea and saved by the Madonna of Guadalupe; Japan, with miracles during earthquakes, the miraculous healing of the sick in Bungo, the cult of Our Lady of Japan and Our Lady of Chitaoca, the burning of the Bonzi’s idols, the Marian cult encouraged by the Queen of Tango, devotion in the city of Amangucci, exorcisms, four crosses appearing on a tree; Brazil, with the foundation of the church of Nostra Signora dell’Aiuto, the conversion of a cannibal, the destruction of relics at the hand of Protestant colonists; Mexico, with praise for the natives’ treatment of the sick and management of hospitals, a Marian apparition to the sick, the Virgin’s feeding a sick woman; Peru, with the Marian cult in the mines of Potosi and a miracle against a demon pretending to offer help to miners, the care of the sick, the apparition of the Virgin to a dying native, the sad fate of a girl lying in confession, a healing prayer taught to a native; and China, with apparitions of the Virgin in the sky. Very scarce, fascinating and unusual.

Only one copy of this first ed. recorded in US (California State), and only 3 overall.
Not in Cordier, Church, Sabin, JFB or Alden (paper or online). BL STC C17, p.54 (1624 ed.). D. D’Andrea, ‘Miracles: An Inconvenient Truth’, in A Linking of Heaven and Earth, ed. E. Michelson et al. (2012).


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ACOSTA, Emanuel [with] MAFFEI, Giovan Pietro


Rerum a Societate Iesu in oriente gestarum…. Accessere de Iaponicis rebus epistolarum libri 4, item recogniti, & in latinum ex hispanico sermone conuersi

Dillingen, Sebaldum Mayer, 1571.


FIRST EDITION. 8vo. ff. (viii) 228 (iv). Roman letter. Historiated woodcut initials, ‘liber collegi moguntini socetatis Jesu’ (Mainz) in contemporary hand on title and verso of penultimate leaf, crossed out, stamp of ‘Dom S. Aloys Jerseiens S. J’ (Jersey) on title, small C19th label of ‘Dom. Laval S.J.’ on pastedown partially covering contemp. bibl. note, small C19th stamp on fly with shelf no. pasted beneath, couple of early ms notes in Latin and German above. Title fractionally dusty, the odd marginal mark. A very good copy, crisp and clean, in contemporary blindstamped pigskin over boards, covers triple blind ruled to a panel design, panels with blind floral rolls, blind fleurons at center, spine with raised bands, blind tooled in compartments, later calf label gilt, upper joint cracked at head, a little worn and rubbed.

Rare first edition of the first attempt to write a detailed history of the Jesuit missions in the East, especially in Japan, and one of the most important and diverse compilations of letters relating to the Jesuit mission in the Far East; prefaced by Acosta’s important “Commentarius”, the work includes some 39 letters dating from between 1548-1564, most of which relate to Japan. As early in the 1550’s influential Jesuits argued for an official synthesis of letters from the missions, motivated in part by the fear that someone else would do it for them, and in part to promote their enormous successes in the east. The text is based on a manuscript ‘Historia dos missiones do Oriente até o anno de 1568’ written by the Portuguese, Manuel da Costa. Da Costa, a Jesuit missionary and bibliographer who taught at Coimbra where most Jesuit letters were available in uncensored form. His manuscript was sent to Rome, translated into Latin, and was given to the young novice Giovanni Pietro Maffei (1533-1603) to prepare for publication. Maffei added the ‘De Japonicis rebus epistolarum’ containing abridged Latin translations of letters sent from the Jesuits working in Japan until the year 1564. In his introduction Maffei congratulates Da Costa on his effort in summarizing the contents of the letters together in the commentary. Maffei was later to write the hugely successful ‘Historiarum Indicarum libri XVI’, much praised for its excellent treatment of Japan.

The letters begin with the Japanese convert Paul’s letter from Goa written in December 1548, followed by two famous letters of St. Francis Xavier published here for the first time. The first of these is written from Malacca in June 1549, the second on his arrival in Japan dated Kagoshima, November 1549. Letters by Frois (1532-1597), Vilela (1525-1572), and Almeida (1525-1583) are of particular interest in that they give much detail of Japanese religion, culture, and customs. This work was reprinted and translated many times, and made a significant contribution to early European perceptions of the east. A very good copy of the rare first edition of this seminal work that paints one of the earliest detailed pictures of Japan, from the Jesuit college in Mainz now the Johannes Gutenberg University.

BM STC C16 Ger. p. 2. Cordier, Japonica 58.


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