An Exaltation of the Italian Language and an Exploration of Platonic Love, Wrapped in Red Morocco


(Venegia [Venice]: nelle case d'Aldo Romano e d'Andrea Asolano, 1515). 170 x 100 mm. (6 3/4 x 3 7/8"). 129, [1] (blank) leaves Second Aldine Edition.

ATTRACTIVE EARLY 19TH CENTURY RED STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, GILT, covers with gilt floral border, bands very slightly raised, compartments with delicate gilt floral motif or gilt lettering, gilt turn-ins, all edges gilt. With printer's device on title and final page. Lowry, "World of Aldus Manutius," pp. 155-58; Harry Ransom 122; Renouard 1515:5; Adams, B-579; Edit16 4988. For a detailed discussion of the different states of the first Aldine edition, see C. H. Clough, "Pietro Bembo's Gli Asolani of 1505" in Modern Language Notes, vol. 84 (1969), pp. 16-45. Just a hint of rubbing to joints and extremities, tiny separation at foot of spine, a couple of short, shallow scratches to lower cover, but the very pretty binding extremely well preserved; title a little foxed, an occasional breath of foxing elsewhere, other very trivial imperfections in the text, but A FINE COPY INTERNALLY, the contents uniformly clean and bright.

This is an important literary work written by a major Renaissance figure, intended to raise the status of the vernacular back to the exalted levels of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Pietro Bembo (1470-1547) was a cardinal, poet, and scholar whose greatest influence was on the development and standardization of the Italian language. Convinced that the vernacular was the equal of Latin as a literary medium, he was able, through the example of his own writings, to rescue Italian from the disordered stylistic eclecticism of his day. The present text is one of his most famous works, a dialogue on Platonic love, reflecting the notions promulgated by humanist philosopher Marsilio Ficino (the dialogue occurs near the court of Caterina Cornaro in Asolo, hence the name "Gli Asolani," or "People of Asolo"). Speaking of the first Aldine edition of 1505, Lowry says it is a "fascinating glimpse of high society, an important literary experiment, a popularisation of Ficino's theories of love, and an edition which commands attention because of the personalities concerned, and because of its connection with political developments in Rome and Ferrara." Early editions of this work are also of interest for Bembo's dedication to Lucrezia Borgia, Duchess of Ferrara, a woman whose romantic alliances included an affair with our author--or at least a notably passionate correspondence (300 years later, Lord Byron would call their missives "the prettiest love letters in the world"). But as Clough notes, this dedication is only present in some copies of the first edition--either it was suppressed for political reasons (possibly owing to Bembo's desire to distance himself from the court of Ferrara), or the text was delivered to Aldus after he had already begun printing the work. However, it appears in all copies of our second Aldine edition, printed a decade later. Of interest for its content, use of language, and position in the world of Renaissance printing and politics, our copy is also desirable for its lovely condition and handsome binding.

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PJP Catalog: BibWk21.013