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Book for a Cardinal

Following on from her previous post Sara D’Amico has another discovery to share.

The David Lloyd Roberts Collection is mostly devoted to first editions of English authors, but a significant part consists of early editions of major Italian authors. These books stand out for their incredible looks: the gynecologist and bibliophile gathered a large number of fine bindings dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, like the one you can see below belonging to the Italian cardinal Alessandro Farnese (1520-1589).
The cardinal was a great collector and patron of the arts: apart from assembling the greatest private collection of Roman sculptures, he continued to enlarge his library through the years. Farnese used to enrich his books with 16th-century Italian full goatskin bindings with gilt borders, arabesque designs coloured in gilt and his coat of arms surmounted by a cardinal’s hat in the centre. On the rear cover, he put the Latin motto Domus Farnesiana sempre florida erit. But which book hides behind this richly decorated cover?
Il Petrarcha con l’espositione di m. Giouanni Andrea Gesualdo, printed in Venice in 1553. A commentary on Petrarch, something that was very common in the library of a cleric in the 16th century. Ecclesiastical libraries often consisted of classical literature, but Farnese’s collection distinguished itself from the others due to the heavy presence of erudite works. Petrarch was always held above everyone else in Italian literature. However, the book we have examined presents a curious anomaly. This is what the titlepage of other copies looks like (the picture has been taken from a copy in the Bullock Collection):
The David Lloyd Roberts copy appears to be very different. A closer look to its titlepage reveals something quite peculiar: the imprint has been scratched away using what looks like silver, and the slightest asymmetry of the floral decoration gives it away as a manuscript title, so beautifully done that it seems printed. After closer investigation, it became clear that the original title was painted over with a white pigment, which is starting to show some cracks (you can spot them in the picture below).
The cardinal’s hat drawn over the printer’s coat of arms is contemporary to the rewritten title, which suggests that it was the cardinal himself who made the alterations. If you squeeze your eyes enough, you can probably read the name Enea Vico in the bottom of the engraved titlepage. Vico (1523-1567) was an Italian engraver and numismatic; his first printed work was Le imagini con tutti i riuersi trouati et le vite de gli imperatori tratte dalle medaglie et dalle historie de gli antichi. Libro primo, 1548, which is the book this titlepage originally belonged to. Cardinal Farnese collected ancient coins and commissioned modern medals, so the presence of an essay about coins in his library makes sense, but we don’t know what happened to Vico’s Imagini in Farnese’s possession and why its titlepage was reused. Luckily, the John Rylands Library holds a copy in the Aldine Collection:
If you want to go through Vico’s astonishing engravings, you can find a copy of the Imagini in the Aldine Collection (reference: Aldine Collection R227141.1).

If you want to read Gesualdo’s commentary on Petrarch, you can find a copy in the Bullock Collection (reference: Walter L. Bullock Collection 1547) or you can admire Farnese’s handwork in the David Lloyd Roberts copy (reference: David Lloyd Roberts Collection R52115).

Sara D’Amico (2019 Erasmus Intern)

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