Lucianus Samosatensis (ca. 125-after 180).
Διάλογοι. Florence, Lorenzo de Alopa, 1496.
Folio (330x235 mm). Collation: Α-Β8, α-ω8, αα-ηη8. 262 of  leaves, lacking the first and last blanks. Text in one column, 41-44 lines. Type: 5:IIIGk. Blank spaces for capitals, with no guide letters. Opening page framed in a fine and lavishly illuminated full-border, with small flowers, acanthus leaves, fruits, birds, and gold-rayed discs. At the top two cornucopias, the lower panel containing a large cartouche including a blue lion coat of arms, flanked by the gold initials 'IO' and perhaps 'M' (smudged). The right panel exquisitely painted, depicting a scholar, quite surely Lucianus himself, with long curly hair, sitting and reading a book. On the same leaf a ten-line gold initial 'a' with interlaced branches on black ground, and a portion of a portico supported by a cherub. Seventeenth-century limp vellum. Spine with five raised bands underlined by gilt fillets, compartments decorated with floral tool, title in gilt on red lettering-piece. Edges slightly speckled purple, A very good copy, with wide margins. A few early ink stains, foxing and browning in places. In the last quires pale waterstain to the lower blank margins, a few minor stains to the gutter of the two final leaves. Early inked foliation, and marginalia in Greek and Latin, in the same hand. On the front pastedown the early inked shelfmark 'A. 58.', and an erased, not legible annotation.
A magnificent example of a Florentine incunable receiving a high-quality illumination: the rare editio princeps of Lucianus' Dialogues edited by Ianos Laskaris, an absolute chef d'oeuvre of early Greek typography. It is one of the three dated editions published by Lorenzo de Alopa, the first Florentine printer to produce books in Greek, the others being the Anthologia Graeca of 1494 and the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius, which appeared in 1496. The text of Lucianus was set in the third Greek type cut for Alopa, a lower-case with accents and breathings, used also for the commentary surrounding Apollonius' Argonautica.
The opening leaf of the sumptuos copy presented here represents a highly original artwork, and was executed by an artist of considerable skill. The decorative pattern of the border, the particular palette of colours and tones, the illusionistic three-dimensional composition, the hair- and beard-style of the figure reading a book on the right panel – doubtless a depiction of Lucian himself – have many similarities to illuminations attributed to the miniaturist known as 'Petrus V', possibly originating from Lombardy. This artist was also active in Padua and Venice in the 1470s in the production of illuminated incunables, creating masterful illustrations for a distinguished clientele, as demonstrated by the magnificent Glasgow copy of the Breviarium Romanum printed in 1478 by Nicolaus Jenson (Glasgow University Library, B.f.1.18). From Veneto he moved to Rome, where he worked in the 1480s and 1490s, receiving several commissions from prestigious patrons for illuminating printed books.
A refined work for a refined patron: the smudged coat of arms included in the border is similar to that of the famous and wealthy Sforza family, while the capital letters painted in gold may be read as 'IO' and 'M', suggesting the possible identity of the first owner of the present copy: Giovanni Maria Sforza (d. ca. 1520), the son of Francesco, Duke of Milan. As a Protonotary Apostolic he was a member of the Roman curia, and in 1498 was appointed Archbishop of Genoa. The Elmer Belt Library of the University of California at Los Angeles preserves a single leaf from Book II of the Nicolaus Jenson edition of Pliny the Elder's Historia naturalis of 1476, whose border and first initial were possibly illuminated for Gian Galeazzo Sforza (1469-1494). In this leaf the inscription, only partially legible, 'OPVS PETRI V M' supports “the Lombard origins of this intriguing artist. The letters of Petrus' surname suggest Vimercate, the name of a town midway between Milan and Bergamo, earlier the patria of another illuminator, Guinifortus de Vicomercato” (The Painted Page, p. 178).
HC (+Add) 10258*; GW M18976; BMC VI, 667; IGI 5834; Goff L-320; Rhodes Firenze, 416; Flodr Lucianus, 1; Hoffman III, pp. 29-30; Legrand I, 19; Staikos, Charta, pp. 277-278; J. J. G. Alexander (ed.), The Painted Page. Italian Renaissance Book Illumination, London-New York 1995, pp. 178-180 (catalogues entries nos. 86-88 by L. Armstrong); M. Conway, “The Early Career of Lorenzo Alopa”, La Bibliofilia, 102 (2000), pp. 1-10; L. Armstrong, “Opus Petri: Renaissance Book Illuminations from Venice and Rome”, Eadem, Studies of Renaissance Miniaturists in Venice, London 2003, 1, pp. 339-405; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 38.