(Venezia: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1568). 257 x 178 mm. (10 1/8 x 7"). 8 p.l., 654 pp.,  leaves (index). Two (continuously paginated) works in one volume. Edited by Girolamo Ruscelli.
Inoffensive 19th century Italian calf over paper boards, flat spine with gilt titling. With woodcut historiated initials, headpieces, full-page architectural title border with a portrait of Ariosto and the Valgrisi device, and WITH 51 FULL-PAGE WOODCUTS WITHIN BORDERS (46 for "Orlando Furioso," five for "I Cinque Canti"). Front pastedown with bookplates of Albert Hooper, Jules Pardonneau of Tours, and James William Ellsworth. Graesse I, 198; Mortimer Italian 29 (citing the 1562 edition). Corners quite worn, joints and edges somewhat rubbed, but the binding solid and perfectly adequate; very top of title page frame trimmed away, blank corner of one leaf restored, bottom half of one engraving with very faint yellowing, intermittent minor foxing of no consequence, other trivial imperfections, but an excellent copy internally, with fresh leaves and pleasing impressions of the woodcuts.
This is the great sprawling romantic epic by Ariosto (1474-1533), 50,000 lines long, 26 years in the making and refining, and one of the most influential works of literature ever produced (among those writers indebted to Ariosto being Tasso, Cervantes, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Shelley). The story of "Mad Orlando" takes places against the background of the war between Charlemagne and the Saracens, when Orlando, one of Charlemagne's finest knights, neglects his duty out of love for the pagan princess Angelica. When she falls in love with a Saracen and elopes, Orlando goes mad, and is only restored to sanity when another knight flies to the moon in Ezekiel's chariot and obtains a magic potion to break the spell. Our copy comes from the Venetian printer Valgrisi, the first to add full-page illustrations to the work in his edition of 1556, this enhancement meant as a stratagem to outsell rival publisher Gabriele Giolito's editions. The fascinating woodcuts, full of intricate detail, depict a number of scenes at once, and Mortimer tells us that "the upper part of the block often becomes a map, offering . . . a tour of the canto." In any case, each of 51 cuts has more than enough action and detail to reward protracted viewing. There were a number of 16th century printings of Ariosto (Valgrisi himself printed it at least half a dozen times between 1556 and 1586), and repeated use of the woodblocks means that the strength of impressions from copy to copy and even from canto to canto within a copy will vary significantly. While this variation is evident to some extent in the present volume, the great majority of the cuts are rich, and even the least-strong impressions here are excellent. While "Orlando Furioso" is certainly available in one early edition or another, the vast majority of copies have now perished from avid use or have been left noticeably injured, and finding an agreeable copy is not very easy. (CMA2201)
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PJP Catalog: 81.103