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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 .

[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.