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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Historic Touchstones

While my collecting focus is on contemporary book art, I have acquired a few works that provide historic glimpses into semantics. In addition to their intellectual content, I treasure these objects for their illustrative integrity, typography, and bindings.  

Displayed here are examples of decipherment and translation that circulated ideas about the meaning of hieroglyphs. The books by Bolzani and Patavini are early attempts to encourage understanding of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

The Böckler engraving and the prints from Hale and Patavini illustrate fascination with newly discovered objects at that time. Both Kosuth and DeForest’s contemporary works pay visual homage to decipherment of two ancient writing forms: Egyptian hieroglyphs and cuneiform.
Giovanni Pierio Valeriano Bolzani (1477-1560), also known as Pierio Valeriano Bolzani.  Hieroglyphica, seu de sacris Aegyptiorum… Lugduni, FR: Apud Thomas Soubron, 1594, originally published in 1556.

Bookplate: Ex Libris Justin Godart, signed in pen on title page “F. Monfouzon”.

Bolzani, an Italian humanist who studied Egyptian hieroglyphs, compiled what is known as the first Renaissance dictionary of symbols. The publication was inspired by Horapollo’s Hieroglyphica manuscript, discovered in the 1420s and published in 1505. This publication contains Horapollo’s text and over 400 other Greek and Latin sources adding knowledge about symbolism found in allegory, emblems, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and folklore. The popular compilation, illustrated with unattributed woodcut engravings, was reprinted several times in Latin, French, and Italian.
Georg Andreas Böckler (1644-1698). Drawing of the Fountain of The Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona, Rome from Architectura Curiosa Nova. Nuremberg, DE: Paulus Furst, 1664, plate 107.

Böckler was a German architect, author, engineer, and author of Architectura Curiosa Nova, which presented his theory of hydrodynamics for fountains and other designs. Commissioned by Pope Innocent X, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) designed The Fountain of the Four Rivers, providing a base for an obelisk that was quarried in Egypt, relocated to Rome, and inscribed during the reign of Domitian (81-96 AD). The Pope commissioned Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) to attempt to decipher the hieroglyphs inscribed on the obelisk.
Laurentii Pignorii Patavini (Lorenzo Pignoria, 1571-1631). Mensa Isiaca … ex Kirchero Chifletioque interpretatio ... Jacobi Philippi Tomasini … Amstelodami, NL: Sumptibus Andraeae Frisii, 1670, first published under a different title in 1605.

Owner mark: inscribed in ink by R. Alberia?

Pignoria, an Italian antiquarian, collector, scholar, and friend of Galileo, compiled this book known as the first European scholarly work on Egyptology. Illustrated with intaglios, the book’s subject is the “Mensa Isiaca,” a bronze discovered in the ruins of the Temple of Isis in Rome in the 1520s. An object of fascination in the Renaissance, the tablet was the subject of decipherment by Athanasius Kircher. This image, originally from Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652-1654), is of Isis with Harpy, mythical bird, surrounded by Egyptian gems.
M. Champollion (Jean-François Champollion, 1790-1832). “Mémoire sur les signes employés par les anciens Égyptiens á la notation des divisions du temps, dans leurs trois systèmes d’écriture” in Mémoires de L’Institut Royal de France, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Tome Quinzième, Première Partie. Paris, FR: Imprimerie Royale, 1842.

Champollion, French historian and linguist, is known for deciphering the Rosetta Stone in 1822 based on his research and of others. The Stone, found by members of Napoleon’s Expedition near the town of Rosetta (Rashid) in Egypt in 1799, was inscribed in Egyptian and Greek. Decipherment of the inscriptions was key to the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. Posthumously published, this is a study of symbols used in hieroglyphic, hieratic, and demotic writing systems recording time.
Charles Reuben Hale (1837-1900), Henry Morton (1836-1902), Samuel Huntington Jones (1837-1894). Report of the Committee appointed by the Philomathean Society … of the University of Pennsylvania to Translate the Inscription on the Rosetta Stone. Philadelphia, PA: The Society and L.N. Rosenthal, 1858, first edition, 400 copies.

Previous ownership marks: Robert H Sayre and Anna Lloyd Reilly.

First edition of the first complete English translation of the Rosetta Stone and one of the first books entirely produced by chromolithography in America. Facsimile of an illuminated manuscript prepared by members of the Philomathean Society Committee of the University of Pennsylvania. Illustrated with text and scenes representing Egyptian life by Philadelphia based printer Louis Rosenthal. On view is a copy of a drawing of the Stone in the British Museum by Charles Hale, one of the authors.

Plate from Report of the committee appointed by the Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania to translate the inscription on the Rosetta Stone (1859)
Title page from Mensa Isiaca by Laurentii Pignorii Patavini
Sarah Hulsey. A Universal Lexicon. Somerville, MA: Sarah Hulsey, 2018, no. 27 of an edition of 30, signed by the artist. Translated by Stillman Drake.


Sarah Hulsey is a visual artist whose work draws on linguistics:

“… Galileo compared the act of understanding the universe to reading a book in the language of mathematics… This artist’s book uses the vehicle of translation—between languages, of text to image, and across domains of language—to illuminate the mathematics and science of linguistics underlying Galileo’s text. Illustrations representing the sounds, syntax, and logic alternate between Italian and English, providing a route through the arguments of the text.”

From the artist’s website, December 2023.
Cathy DeForest. Our Immortal Soul. Ashland, OR: Jubilation Press, 2015, no. 2 of an edition of 8, signed by the artist.

Images and text are printed on Hahnemühle German Etching paper. English and Arabic translation of the Manifesto of the Poets of Baghdad written by Iraqi poet Abdul-Zehra Zeki and translated by Inam Jab. Cloth covered portfolio box by Bookbinder Sabina Nies.

Cathy DeForest is a book artist who works in a range of media integrating etchings, letterpress printing and photography. Our Immortal Soul was created as part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project, an international response to the 2007 bombing of the bookseller’s street in Baghdad. This work includes several parts: hand inked intaglio etchings of cuneiforms dating from the 5th century; the Manifesto of the Poets of Baghdad and a map of the Fertile Crescent. The Box is embellished with a paper clay reproduction of a cuneiform.
Joseph Kosuth. Place de L’Ecriture, Cinq Oeuvres … Place of Writing, Five Works by Joseph Kosuth from ‘One to Three Chairs’ to ‘Ex-Libris, J.-F. Champollion (Figeac)’. Arles, FR: Actes Sud, Musee Champollion, 2002.

Shown with stamped postcard issued by the French Government in honor of the Kosuth installation.

American conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth has a longstanding interest in language evidenced in his works that explore ideas and images. This book documents his stone slab version of the Rosetta Stone paying tribute to Champollion in his hometown, Figeac. Kosuth was particularly interested in “the communication of the Rosetta Stone and how it really linked the modern with the ancient. I got a key to the province for it. And a postage stamp in my honor!” 

Joseph Kosuth interview with Scott King (Interview Magazine, December 2018).
Didier Mutel. La Pierre Rosette (The Rosetta Stone). Orchamps, FR: Atelier Didier Mutel, 2015, no. 15 of an edition of 50, signed and dated by the artist.

Eau forte etching on copper, printed in black on Arches paper. Printed at a 1.1 scale with its ancient precursor and contains three original alphabets
designed by Mutel.

Object description provided by bookseller Gerald W. Cloud.

This work excites me as it draws a direct line from then to now with lineage to the Rosetta Stone. Engraver, intaglio printer, and professor Didier Mutel creates artists’ books and engravings. In this work, he emulates the arrangement of the Rosetta Stone with three sections, from top to bottom: the names of Mutel’s pantheon of artists including Joseph Kosuth; titles of artworks; and a prose poem by Mutel. The Atelier Didier Mutel traces its history to the oldest engraving workshop in France, one of the establishments chosen to print plates for the Description de l’Égypte.