New Italian imprints discovered in French libraries

| POSTED BY Graeme Kemp |

A key goal of the USTC is to provide comprehensive coverage of surviving copies, wherever they are to be found in the world’s libraries.  To this end this phase of the project is concentrating increasingly on books now in libraries outside their countries of origin.  These have very often been neglected in national bibliographical surveys, but they will be a key source of new information, as well as providing important insights into contemporary collecting.

The importance of this work is illustrated by a survey now being undertaken by project member Shanti Graheli of Italian books in French libraries.  The allure of Italy for the elites of Renaissance France is well known.  Alongside the conspicuous artistic and architectural influences on French culture, French readers were also captivated by Italian literature, a taste satisfied by a wave of translations of current Italian writings.  But French book collectors also availed themselves of the products of the Italian press, buying books in both Italian and Latin in large numbers.

This week we add to the database over 22,000 Italian imprints, now located in some 25 French libraries.  Over 3,600 of these items have been inspected and fully described by Shanti Graheli.  Contemporary notes of ownership reveal that many were purchased very soon after their date of publication. A great deal of attention was also devoted to the inspection of large collections such as those of the Cardinal Mazarin in Paris, Marquis Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence or Auguste Boullier in Roanne.

Some 300 items are to this point entirely unknown to the USTC or the Italian survey of 16th century books, Edit 16, meanwhile many others were known to exist in only one or two copies within Italy.

From this survey we can also learn a great deal about the sort of books most likely to appeal to French connoisseurs of Italian print.  Many copies were, as one might expect, of texts not available in French editions. One of the largest groups was of legal texts; an area of expertise challenged, but not superseded by the specialist legal printers of Lyon. But French readers also looked to Italian printers for recreational literature. Alongside the many editions of Italian literature available in French editions in French translation, they also bought Italian literature in the original language as well as collections of adages, aphorisms and emblems books.

In the coming year this work on French libraries will be enhanced by a major survey of Italian books in British and American collections, and by work on German books published abroad.  These will form two major steps towards our goal of a complete survey of surviving copies, and will reveal many more editions not previously known through national bibliographical surveys.

(All images Courtesy of Bibl. Méjanes, Aix-en-Provence)