Theology and Philosophy Italian Books I

Skeletons, skulls, and bones

[Funeral Bindings]

Missae in agenda defunctorum tantum deservientes. Ex Missali Romano recognito desumptae, cum Ordinario, et Canone, ut in ispis servatur: ad usum, et commoditatem omnium Ecclesiarum . Bologna, Giulio Borzagni, 1690.

(offered together with:) Missae in agenda defunctorum tantum deservientes juxta usum Ecclesiae Romanae cum Ordine et Canone extensae. Bologna, Lelio dalla Volpe, 1744.

Two works in folio. I. (350x234 mm). Collation: A12. 24 pages. Text in red and black, printed in two columns. Title-page in red and black, with a large woodcut vignette depicting a corpse surrounded by symbols of ecclesiastical and monarchic power. Fullpage woodcut on fol. A4v, showing the Crucifixion. Woodcut decorated initials. Musical staves printed in black. Contemporary yellow boards, bearing on both covers a large woodcut framed within a foliate border, depicting a skeleton leaning on a spade. Covers and spine rather worn, a few minor losses to covers and spine. A good copy, traces of use, some stains. In a cloth slipcase. II. (335x230 mm). Collation: A12. 24 pages. Text in red and black, printed in two columns, rubricated. Title-page printed in black and red with large woodcut vignette depicting a skeleton. Full-page woodcut illustration on fol. A4v, showing a Crucifixion. Woodcut decorated initials. Musical staves printed in red and black. Contemporary yellow limp boards, bearing on both covers a woodcut illustration depicting a skull and bones above a mound of earth, set within an ornamental border with floral patterns. Worn and rubbed, several losses to covers and spine. In a modern cloth case. Tears repaired and margins reinforced on several pages, staining and foxing, but overall in good condition considering the fragility of the object.

$ 4,800

Two striking examples of funeral bindings made with illustrated limp boards, executed in Bologna in 1690 and 1744, respectively. Considering the fragility of the material and the practical purpose of liturgical books (the mass for the dead) contained within, these are two extremely rare survivals. These types of bindings drew upon memento mori, i.e ‘remember you must die', iconography, which became a sort of commonplace especially in the age of the Counter-Reformation, and included skeletons and skulls as well as symbols that recall the vanity of wordly goods and pleasures. Further, the boards of the 1690 publication bear a woodcut vignette clearly inspired by the iconic skeleton which first appeared in Vesalius' De humani corporis fabrica of 1543, a work which had enormous influence in the visual arts as well as in medicine. These two editions are extremely rare: of the first, in the United States, there is only a single copy at Harvard University's Houghton Library that bears a similar binding (OCLC, 885161151), while the second is apparently unrecorded.

J.B. de C.M. Saunders - Ch.D. O'Malley, Vesalius. The Illustrations from his Works, Cleveland-New York, 1950, pl. 21; R. M. San Juan, “The Turn of the Skull: Andreas Vesalius and the Early Modern Memento Mori”, Art History, 35(2012), pp. 959-975.

“The vehicle by which the concept of historical development at last entered the thought of Western Europe” — PMM —

Vico, Giambattista (1668-1744)

Principj di una scienza nuova intorno alla natura delle nazioni per la quale si ritrovano i principj di altro sistema del diritto naturale delle genti. All'Eminentiss. Princip e Lorenzo Corsini amplissimo Cardinale dedicati. Naples, Felice Mosca, 1725.

12° (147x78 mm). 270, [12] pages. Small woodcut ornament on the title-page. Woodcut decorated initials, head- and tailpieces. Contemporary vellum, with yapp edges. Traces of ties, title inked on the spine, renewed flyleaves. A good, clean copy. Small, almost invisible tears in the text, skilfully repaired.

$ 78,000

The first edition of the most influential work by the great Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico, whose name appears in the dedication to Cardinal Lorenzo Corsini (the future Pope Clement XII) dated 8 May 1725. Here Vico develops the theory that human history is cyclical. As such, he may be considered the intellectual predecessor of modern philosophers of history such as Oswald Spengler and Arnold J. Toynbee; his theories on history and religion were also used by James Joyce. “Vico inherited the conception of a cyclical pattern in history, an idea revived in our own day by Spengler and Toynbee [...] it was only in the 19th century that he was rediscovered and his influence has greatly increased since [...] Benedetto Croce has done much to spread the knowledge of Vico's contribution to historical scholarship [...]. The 'Principles of a New Science regarding the Character of Nations' [is] the vehicle by which the concept of historical development at last entered the thought of Western Europe” (PMM). The 1725 edition was issued in about 1,000 copies on normal paper, and a dozen others were printed on special paper with wide margins. After the dedicatee, Lorenzo Corsini, declined to cover the publication expenses, the philosopher was forced to pay the costs himself; he attempted to condense the text as much as possible but still ended up having to sell a five-carat diamond ring to raise enough money. Vico was also directly involved in the distribution of the book. He personally gave copies of the first edition of the Scienza nuova to friends, and – as we know from his correspondence – he sent copies to pre-eminent European contemporaries, such as Jean Leclerc in Amsterdam, Johann Burckhard Mencke in Leipzig, Charles-Louis Montesquieu in Paris, and Isaac Newton in London. The edition was sold out immediately, and in 1729 copies were sold for two gold scudi. As Vico states in his Vita “dentro tre anni dalla sua stampa si era fatta rarissima per l'Italia, e se alcuna se ne ne ritruovava, comperavasi a carissimo prezzo” (G. B. Vico, Opere filosofiche, Firenze 1971, p. 47). Several copies of this edition bear manuscript corrections in the hands of the printer, close collaborators, or Vico himself, as the latter went through as many copies as he could to offer the most correct version of the text. The present copy contains textual emendations in Italian, which are certainly authorial, added on Vico's behalf in the printing house, emending misprints or inserting words omitted by the compositor: this is the case of the corrections indicated in the margins of fols. C6r, C6v, C7r, H3r, L5r, and M2r. Similarcorrections are visible in other recorded copies of the 1725 edition, but in variable numbers, and the list of authorial emendations given in 1931 by Fausto Nicolini as an appendix to the edition of the Scienza nuova is merely partial; it does not include, for example, the corrections indicated, in this copy, in the margins of fols. C6v, C7r and M2r. This copy contains another extremely uncommon feature, found in only a handful of copies that were generally sent as gifts to distinguished figures or patrons: on the verso of the last leaf of text (fol. M8v) the printer Mosca has skilfully pasted – always on Vico's behalf – a paper slip covering lines 11-13 which contained numerous misprints; the three lines, recomposed, were reprinted on the slip.

B. Croce - F. Nicolini, Bibliografia vichiana, Napoli 1947, pp. 34-41; PMM 184; G. B. Vico, La scienza nuova prima, ed. F. Nicolini, Bari 1931, pp. 325-336; Idem, Principj di una scienza nuova intorno alla natura delle nazioni. Ristampa anastatica dell'edizione 1725, ed. T. Gregory, Roma 1979, pp. 10-15; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 229.