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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Paul Stallebrass

I have always had a love of books and a love of Venice, the former thanks to my grandfather who was a keen collector and the latter to my parents. Some years ago, I decided to combine the two and start a collection of Venetian books, as Venice during its heyday in the 15th and 16th centuries was one of the absolute centres of book publishing. I started with Aldine press octavos, but as my knowledge of the book trade expanded, I rapidly realised that Venetians would not only have had access to books printed in Venice but to books from all over Europe.

I then formed the idea of creating a collection of books that a Venetian with my interests (including being a bibliophile) might have had in the 16th century. I collect in a wide range of areas, but nothing printed after 1600 and with a focus on first editions and contemporary bindings as far as possible. In addition to the books themselves, I have developed a fascination with the stories that lie behind them and what they tell us about the history and interests of the time.

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Bernardo Giustinian.
De vita beati Laurentii Justiniani Patriarchae Venetiarum, ad Monachos Carthusienses.
Venice: Jacobus Rubeus, 10th May 1475

First edition of this life of Lorenzo Giustinian by his nephew Bernardo Giustinian. Lorenzo was the first patriarch of Venice and a Roman Catholic saint. It is a quintessential Venetian text and probably published as part of a campaign to have Lorenzo canonised (which didn’t occur in fact until 1690). From a bibliophile point of view, it is interesting as it is one of the very few copies printed on vellum – you can also see manuscript corrections from the time which would have been made either by the printer’s corrector, or possibly the author, as they only appear in the vellum copies.

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Dante Alighieri.
[Divina commedia]: Le Terze Rime.
Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1502.

I have many of Aldus Manutius’ octavos which form a core part of my collection, so it was difficult to choose one for this. The 1502 Dante is a classic of the series and was edited, like the earlier Petrarch, by Pietro Bembo. This copy is in particularly fine unsophisticated condition in its original contemporary Venetian blind stamped dark morocco binding.

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Franchino Gafurius.
Practica musicae.
Milan: Gottardo da Ponte, 1508

First edition in Italian of Gafurius’s key musical treatise originally published in Latin in 1496. Gafurius was a composer but is chiefly known for his work on musical theory. He lived and worked in Milan at the court of Ludovico Sforza, where he got to know Da Vinci and is most probably the subject of Da Vinci’s “Ritrato di Musica” now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana. Music is one of my great passions, so I try when possible to find books about it from the period. The illustrations are rather fun!

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Pietro Aretino.
Lo Hipocrito, comedia.
No printer [but Venice: Francesco Marcolini], 1542.

The core of anyone’s library in the 16th century would, as today, have been contemporary literature. One of the most enjoyable areas that I have discovered and explored whilst collecting is that. The greatest and most popular writer in Italy of the mid 16th century was Pietro Aretino. He has been described as the First Modern and was probably the first writer to make money solely from his pen as well as being the forerunner of modern journalism, the creator of the craze for publishing letters, and the author of some quite ground-breaking plays. This is the first edition of his comedy Lo Hipocrito. The frontispiece is based on a portrait of him by his great friend Titian.

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Claudius Ptolomaeus.
La Geografia di Claudio Tolomeo Alessadrino, Nuovamente Tradotte di Greco in Italiano da Girolamo Ruscelli.
Venice: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1561.

One of the most important effects of printing and the circulation of books in the 15th and 16th centuries was the new availability of knowledge about the world in relation to science, history, geography, other countries, etc. This takes many forms but one of the classics are atlases (which often took as a starting point Ptolemy’s classical geography). This is a good example of a Venetian atlas from the period produced by Girolamo Ruscelli and Vincenzo Valgrisi. The binding is contemporary and an unusual survival as it is made from Venetian red velvet.

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Bartolomeo Scappi.
Opera di ... cuoco secreto di Papa Pio Quint, divisa in sei libri.
Venice: Michele Tramezzino, 1570 

Cookery is another of my great passions. This work by Bartolomeo Scappi is one of the great historical cookbooks, and arguably the first, in that it includes proper recipes (almost 1000) that you could still make today. Elizabeth David was referring to it 400 years later!  Scappi was one of the most famous chefs in Italy and served Popes Pius IV and V, but this book, written after he retired, is his enduring legacy. This is the first edition – and it includes more fun illustrations!

Paul Stallebrass