Lot 30: Incunabula.- Catherine of Siena (Saint) Epistole devotissime, extremely rare first issue without the italic type in the woodcut, Venice, [Aldus Manutius], September, 1500.

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November 15, 2016
London, United Kingdom

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Description: Catherine of Siena (Saint) Epistole devotissime, collation: *10, a-y8, A-G8, H10, I-N8, O10, P-Z8, AA-FF8, [10], ccccxiiii [i.e. 411], [1] ff., text in single columnn, 40 lines, type: 2:114R, 10:82R, full-page woodcut depicting St. Catherine on fol. *10v, woodcut decorated initials, many on black ground, somewhat water-stained and foxed, first leaf uniformly browned, a few spots and stains, minor wear to the lower outer corner, late 16th-century vellum over pasteboards, spine with three large raised bands, corners worn, rubbed, folio (298 x 202mm.), Venice, [Aldus Manutius], 15-[not after 19] September, 1500. ⁂ An exceptional copy of the famous Aldine edition of 368 letters by Catherine of Siena (1347-1380). The volume was edited for Aldus by Bartolomeo da Alzano, whereas the publishing initiative was commissioned by Margherita, the widow of the rich and learned German merchant Peter Ugelheimer, the former business partner of Nicolas Jenson. The text of the Epistolae is introduced by a woodcut frontispiece showing the famous image of the Saint holding an open book in her right hand, in which five words are printed (in the majority of recorded copies), which represent the first appearance of the celebrated Aldine italic type, designed and cut for Aldus Manutius by the Bolognese punchcutter and typefounder Francesco Griffo. In the present copy the book held by the Saint is without the words in italics, thereby testifying to an earlier state of the Aldine publication. It is one of very few copies, perhaps only a handful, of the Epistolae in this first issue. The woodcut depicting Saint Catherine was in all likelihood executed by the Paduan illuminator and designer Benedetto Bordon, who was also responsible for the illustrative apparatus of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), the masterpiece of Venetian book illustration. Many details link this woodcut to Bordon: the composition and the balanced blank spaces, the shaded style in the design of the mantle, the figure type, and the resemblance of Catherine's features with that of the Virgin designed by Bordon for the initial 'S' in the Introit for the Pentecost in the Giunta Graduale romanum of 1499-1500. Provenance: Ownership inscriptions 'Di Gian Batta Giacobini' and 'ossia di Suor Caterina Angela Cappuccina' on recto of the first leaf; ownership inscription 'Giovanni Giacobini', dated April 1872 on fol. a1r. Earlier ownership inscription 'Questo Libro e di me Carlo Venuti' on recto of final leaf. Literature: HCR 4688; GW 6222 ; BMC V 562; Goff C281; IGI 2587; Renouard 23.2; Ahmanson-Murphy 36; Sander 1821; Essling 1230; M. Laurent, "Alde Manuce l'Ancien, éditeur de S. Catherine de Siene", Traditio, v (1947), pp. 357-363; L. Armstrong, "Benedetto Bordon, Miniator, and Cartography in Early Sixteenth-Century Venice", Imago Mundi 48 (1996), pp. 65-92; E. Sandal, "Nota di bibliografia cateriniana. A margine dell'edizione aldina delle Epistole", in D. Casagrande - A. Scarsella, Verso il Polifilo 1499-1999, Venezia 1998, pp. 171-183.
Notes: Category: Literature, Manuscripts and History
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