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Speaking on Love

Bembo, Pietro.

Gli Asolani di Messer Pietro Bembo.

Bembo, Pietro. Gli Asolani di Messer Pietro Bembo. Venice, Aldo Manuzio, March 1505.

4° (208x118 mm). Collation: a-m8, n2. Lacking fol. n2 blank. 97 of [98] leaves. Complete with the dedicatory epistle to Lucrezia Borgia (fols. a1v-a2r) and the errata leaf (fol. n1r-v). Italic and roman type. Aldine device on fol. m8v. Blankspaces for capitals, with printed guide letters. Fine binding executed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, signed atfoot of spine by François Bozérian the Younger (‘REL.P. BOZERIAN JEUN'). Red straight-grain morocco over pasteboards, with elaborate gilt roll border framed with gilt and blind fillets. Board edges with diagonal hatch marks atthe corners of covers. Spine with five small raised bands underlined with gilt fillets; compartments richly gilt tooled on pointillé ground, title lettered in gilt on the second one, ‘ALDUS 1505' in gold at the foot. Inside dentelles, pale bluewatered silk doublures with gilt grape roll. Vellum flyleaves. Pale blue silk bookmark. Gilt edges. Extremities of spine slightly worn. An exceptionally fresh, wide-margined copy. Light dusting to the first leaf. The inked note ‘Paris' on the verso of the front silk flyleaf, written in a nineteenth-century hand.

Provenance: from the library of Count Leonardo Vitetti (1894-1973), Italian Ambassador to the United Nations (hislarge engraved armorial ex libris on the front pastedown, with inked shelfmark ‘Sala B, II, 32').

$ 22,000

A fine, wide-margined copy of the first edition, in its first issue, of this celebrated dialogue, written in Italian vernacular by the Venetian patrician and outstanding humanist Pietro Bembo between 1497 and 1504. A milestone in Italian Renaissance literary history. The friendship and collaboration between Bembo and Aldus Manutius began in 1495, when the printer issued De Aetna, which relates Bembo's famous 1493 stay in Sicily and his ascent of Mount Etna. A few years after, the humanist edited two celebrated modern classics for Aldus in the easily portable octavo format, the groundbreaking Petrarch of 1501 and the Dante of 1502. Bembo can rightly be defined as a sort of alter ego of Manutius, and it was he who showed Aldus a Roman coin with a dolphin and anchor carved on one side, an episode that marks the ‘birth' of the most famous emblem in the history of printing. In 1504 the Venetian Senate had granted Manutius a ten-year privilege for printing Bembo's work, and the Asolani appeared in March 1505. In its first issue the Asolani was introduced by Bembo's dedicatory epistle to Lucrezia Borgia, wife of Duke Alfonso I d'Este, dated Venice, 1 August 1504 (fols. a1v-a2r). This address was almost immediately suppressed, and the two pages left blank. The reasons for its removal so shortly after the publication have continually been discussed, and some scholars have suggested that Bembo and Duchess Lucretia could have been lovers. Copies that include – as in the present volume – the final leaf n1, with the errata (‘Errori fatti nel stampare'), are of the greatest rarity. Divided into three Books, the Asolani is a philosophical dialogue on the nature of love, which alternates between prose and verse, based on the model of Dante's Vita Nuova. The fictional conversation is set at Asolo, near Treviso, in the villa of Caterina Cornaro, the former queen of Cyprus. After having examined various conceptions of love, Bembo proposes the idea of neo-platonic or spiritual love, as a contemplative desire for an ideal and divine beauty. The work enjoyed enormous popularity in the Cinquecento, and already in July 1505 was reissued by the Florentine printers Giunta, in spite of Aldus's ten-year privilege. The first edition, especially in its rare first issue, was a ‘must' for the great nineteenth-century bookcollectors, as this fine copy, magnificently bound by the Parisian binder Bozérian the Younger, well shows.

Adams, B-578; Renouard Aldes, 48.1; Ahmanson-Murphy 72; Laurenziana 90; Marciana 105; Aldo Manuzio. Il Rinascimento a Venezia, Venezia 2016, 71; C. H. Clough, “Pietro Bembo's Gli Asolani of 1505”, MLN, 84 (1969), pp. 16-45; C. Kidwell, Pietro Bembo: Lover, Linguist, Cardinal, Montréal 2004.

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