Italian Books II: il nuovo catalogo Philobiblon - dal Blog PrPh

Il nuovo catalogo di Philobiblon & Libreria Antiquaria Pregliasco: Italian Books II.

Presentato in occasione dell'ultima New York Antiquarian Book Fair, svoltasi nella consueta sede del Park Avenue Armory dal 5 all'8 marzo 2020, Italian Books II è dedicato ad esemplari stampati su carta azzurra.

44 volumi, spesso in copia unica e sempre di grande rarità, dal XVI alla metà del XIX secolo: esemplari emblematici, capaci di tracciare la storia non solo della stampa su carta turchina, ma anche del collezionismo di questa particolare tipologia di libro.

Tra i volumi degni di nota spiccano, per il Cinquecento, l'Orlando Furioso illustrato, stampato da Giolito de' Ferrari nel 1546, e le Lettere di Pietro Bembo impresse a Roma dai fratelli Dorico nel 1548.

Per il XVIII secolo si possono menzionare Le vite de' dodici Cesari di Svetonio, nell'edizione veneziana del 1738, in esemplare appartenuto al Senatore della Serenissima Giacomo Soranzo (1686-1761) e poi passato nella collezione di carta azzurra del Console britannico Joseph Smith (ca. 1682-1770). Dalla biblioteca di un altro appassionato collezionista di carta azzurra proviene l'esemplare de Il Tempio della Filosofia di Orazio Arrighi Landini (Venezia 1755): ne fu proprietario il mercante Amadeus Svajer (1727-1791).


La Prefazione completa del catalogo è disponibile qui di seguito in lingua originale inglese.


Blue comforts the heart, for it is the Emperor of colours
(Sone de Nansay, 13th century)

The second catalogue of our series Italian Books is a special issue, devoted entirely to printing on blue paper. The forty-four volumes presented here – often unique copies but all of the greatest rarity, and extending from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century – trace an itinerary in printing on this coloured paper, and in blue-paper collecting as well.

The vogue for printing on blue paper was particularly widespread in Italy. Moreover, the first person to introduce this special support to the world of publishing was one of the most celebrated Italian printers of all times: Aldus Manutius. In 1514, possibly in early autumn, Manutius issued the first book ever printed on blue paper, the agricultural collection traditionally known as the Libri de re rustica, of which the only extant copy printed entirely on blue paper is now preserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.

It is not surprising that the first to introduce blue paper to publishing was a printer active in Venice, a cosmopolitan city with strong trading links to the East, and especially to the Ottoman Empire. The Eastern influence on Venetian life and industry is particularly striking from the ninth century onwards, as demonstrated through the magnificent exhibition Venise et l'Orient, held at the Institut du monde arabe in Paris in 2006/07, and subsequently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2007, which exhibited the richness and variety of such material, artistic, and intellectual interactions. Turkish and more generally Islamic influences are evident in Venetian textiles, glassware, and ceramics, as well as in techniques and styles used for producing refined bindings or filigree doublures. Blue paper should likewise be considered in the context of this ‘shared world': it was used in China from the third century, mostly as a support for religious texts, and its use later extended to other eastern regions, above all to Constantinople.

Venice was not only at the center of a large commercial network; it also maintained a thriving dye industry, thanks in large part to the vegetal dye called indigo or indicum which it imported from the East – the ‘blue from Indes'. Indigo was used for dying blue rags and textiles; for centuries, until the introduction of the pigment known as Prussian blue, it was also used in the production of coloured paper in all shades – from light azzurra, to medium turchina, and to the darker blu – to be used by artists, draughtsmen, engravers, and of course, beginning with Aldus Manutius, printers.

Amongst the sixteenth-century books presented here, the names of Venetian printers are therefore prevalent: Francesco Marcolini, Giuseppe Comin da Trino, Bartolomeo Imperatore, and above all Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari, who, like his illustrious predecessor Manutius, used blue paper for volumes he considered exceptional and which were evidently commissioned by distinguished clientele, for whom they served as a less expensive alternative to vellum.

Already by the first decades of the Cinquecento, the production and use of blue paper for printing extended to other Italian printing centres beside Venice, and the content of the works selected for blue-paper publication had likewise become markedly varied. This variety is clearly evident in the selection offered here which ranges from literary works, as with the illustrated Orlando Furioso, issued on this support by Giolito de' Ferrari in 1546, or Pietro Bembo's Lettere, finely printed by the Roman Dorico brothers in 1548; to religious and devotional writings, as with Lorenzo Davidico's Columba animae, published in Milan in 1562 by Vincenzo Girardoni; to an architectural treatise, in the form of a rare edition of Serlio printed on blue paper by the Venetian Marcolini in 1540, in which the woodcuts representing Roman antiquities and decorative elements stand out impressively against the carta blu. A special mention should also be made here of the extraordinary blue-paper copy of Euclid's Elements, in the Italian translation by Federico Commandino which was published in Urbino in 1575 by Domenico Frisolino; for such special publications, Frisolino used blue paper produced in the paper mill located in the small town of Fermignano, and owned by the Montefeltros.

In the centuries that followed, the panorama of Italian printing on blue paper became even richer and more vast, in terms of both textual themes and printing locales. Further, the carta azzurra, carta turchina, and carta blu became one of the favourite supports for publishing academic homages, festival descriptions, and occasional writings in prose or verse developed around the births or weddings of monarchs, crown princes, or members of pre-eminent families.

Many of the copies included in our catalogue bear marks of distinguished provenances, pointing to some of the greatest names in this special sector of book collecting. We should mention firstly the Venetian senator Giacomo Soranzo (1686-1761), prior owner of the marvelous copy of Svetonius's Le vite de' dodici Cesari presented here; in its Italian version printed in Venice in 1738, the volume is supplemented with the portraits of Roman Emperors which reproduce the outline of Hubert Goltzius' series of chiaroscuro medallions. This very copy subsequently passed into the hands of another passionate collector of blue-paper books, the British Consul in Venice Joseph Smith (ca. 1682-1770). It is also highly probable that another item offered here previously belonged to Smith's private library, which was sold in Venice in 1755: a copy of Michelangelo Biondo's Della nobilissima pittura issued on carta Turchina by the Venetian printer Bartolomeo Imperatore in 1549. Noteworthy, too, is Il Tempio della Filosofia by Orazio Arrighi Landini, published in Venice in 1755, presented here in a copy once owned by the Venetian merchant Amadeus Svajer (1727-1791), another important collector of volumes printed on blue paper, as well as two books once preserved in the ‘Casa Trivulzio': the splendid copy of Tacitus' Opere, which appeared in Padua in 1755, and is possibly the same copy offered at the sale of the celebrated library of Maffeo Pinelli in London in March-April 1789; and the equally fine copy of the Favola d'Aragne by Ottavio Rinuccini, which was published in Florence in 1810. The copy of Boccaccio's Teseide, printed in Lucca in 1548, was sold in 1847 at the sale of the book collection amassed by Guglielmo Libri (1802-1869), and the same provenance is traced in a volume gathering works by Luigi Tansillo and Niccolò Franco, which was published in Paris in 1790 by the Milanese Giovan Claudio Molini. Finally, one more name of note stands out: that of Raoul Chandon de Briailles (1850-1908), the universally known founder of the Chandon de Briailles mark of champagne, and one of the greatest collectors of blue-paper books of all time: his ex-libris, or that of his heirs, mark the copies of three sixteenth-century editions presented in this catalogue: the Concordantiae Poetarum, Philosophorum & Theologorum by Giovanni Calderia (Venice 1547), the Heroici by Giovanni Battista Pigna (Venice 1561), and the exceedingly rare first edition of Livio Sanuto's Italian adaption of Claudian's poem De raptu Proserpinae, presented here in an outstanding copy privately printed for the Bishop of Trent, Cristoforo Madruzzo, and housed in a superb morocco binding produced for the Doge of Venice Marco Foscarini (1726-1797).

The catalogue contains other finely bound volumes as well, including a copy of Antonio Maria Cecire's theological work La dottrina della Chiesa sulle indulgenze of 1791, housed in an armorial binding and issued on blue paper as commissioned by the author for a distinguished patron, Cardinal Gregorio Antonio Maria Salviati. Another example of a presentation copy is the Apologia de gli Academici di Banchi di Roma by Annibal Caro, printed in Parma in 1558, and immediately gifted by the author to his close friend Marco Antonio Piccolomini, who inscribed on the title-page, in his own hand, ‘Di M. Anto piccolomini & degli Amici mdlviii Dono dell'Autore'. The copy of the Descrizione by Camillo Rinuccini, which provides a detailed account of the festivities organised for the wedding of the Crown Prince Cosimo II de' Medici to the Archduchess of Austria Maria Magdalena in 1608, may also have been offered by the author to a member of the Florentine Vettori family, their coat of arms being stamped on the binding.

Significantly, however, all blue-paper copies were intended for presentation or prepared as special commissions; it thus matters little if they are – as in such notable examples mentioned above – further supplemented with a dedication in the author's own hand or housed in a precious armorial binding. Regardless of a blue volume's content or size, the choice of its paper as a ‘distinguished' support for printing – evidently more expensive than ordinary white paper – always signals a desire to honour the intended recipient, to present them with the gift of a special copy, as a sign of admiration, gratitude, respect, or even political or academic calculations: the dedicatee of the work, the coveted patron, the necessary financial backer, the valued subscriber, and the powerful statesman are all examples of such cherished recipients, as are the influential professor, co-founder of a journal, fellow of an academy, beloved woman, or the closest of friends. It is above all for this reason that the selection of blue-paper books presented here cannot simply be considered mere typographical oddities or beautiful curiosities; they are especially important as objects representing the sharing and broadening of personal social networks. As with unquestionably rarer, but more heavily analysed vellum copies, the study of books printed on blue paper allows for connections to be drawn between and among authors, dedicatees, patrons, friends, and acquaintances, with these striking objects providing the material evidence of such historical relationships. Far from a footnote in the heritage of the Book, the history of printing on blue paper bears exceptional testimony to the complexity of the Book as a multi-level object, in which intellectual, cultural, personal, and material realms are all deeply interrelated.