Proverbi figurati. Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, 1634–1718.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.
Proverbi figurati.

Proverbi figurati.

Bologna: [n.p.], 1678.

Price: $16,000.00

Folio: 37.5 x 28.5 cm. Etched dedication leaf, etched title-page, and 48 etched plates.

SOLE EDITION.

20th c. stiff vellum. A tall copy with some mainly marginal foxing; some mended marginal tears with light discoloration, only one entering an etching, small light stain to plate 36 and 38, a few paper repairs in the gutter, far from the image. The etchings are signed and numbered in the plate (sole state.).

A broad-margined copy of the scarce sole edition of this fascinating and lavishly illustrated work on Italian proverbs. The etched dedication leaf, present here, addressed to Francesco Maria de Medici, is found in a minority of copies.

The book is “hard to find even in public libraries, and when a copy is thereby traced, it is often lacking a few plates. The catalogues of antiquarian bookdealers every now and then raise their flag to let everyone know, with great pride, that a Mitelli is available.” ('Proverbi figurati', ed. by Marinese and Manfredi (1963), p. 19).

Son of the painter Antonio Mitelli and a student of Guercino, Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718) was an artist renowned for the familiar, playful, carnivalesque and visionary themes of his etchings, exemplified by allegorical figures and everyday scenes in the streets of his native Bologna.

Epitomizing Mitelli's artistic style, 'Proverbi figurati' looked back to a popular genre—the visual representation of proverbs—dating to the 16th century and found in paintings, woodcut illustrations, broadsides and even playing cards. Mitelli's work combined popular wisdom, realistic landscapes, moralized subjects and symbolic imagery in 48 full-page etchings illustrating famous Italian proverbs, each accompanied by a motto and a three-line explanatory poem (the “subscriptio”.)

The title-page celebrates the allegorical figure of Experience (a fundamental trope of proverbs) as an old woman conversing with Time, saving all that is worth preserving of human wisdom from time’s ravages. Allegorical and mythological figures, such as the Gorgon falling into a ditch (“Envy digs a grave for others and then falls in it herself”), contrast with earthy scenes of human experiences, such as the impoverished invalid soldier (“Those who know peace and don't value it have never before experienced war”).

Pastoral scenes include fishing (“the large fish eats the small one”), fowling (“Don’t say ‘four’ if you don’t have the fourth one in the sack”), and hunting (“I flushed out the hare but someone else caught it.”). Compositions in urban settings include scenes of commerce, theft (“Only he who believes can be deceived”), and murder (“When gold speaks all other tongues stay silent”). Interiors serve as settings for “comic” misogyny (“Unhappy is the house in which the chicken crows and the rooster is silent.”; “Women often have long skirts but are short on brains.”), scenes of desperation (“Who gambles out of need loses by necessity.”), and the comforts of home (a man tapping a keg of wine, a rustic warming his feet by the fire). The book is also notable for its costumed figures, while the iconography of the Fool, Fortuna, Time, and Pride recall the figurative tradition of tarot cards, a successful series of which Mitelli produced in 1660.

Brunet III, 414; Cicognara 1719; Bartsch 67-116; Osmont, I, 477: 'fort rare'; Haym, p. 553: 'raro'. Duplessis, Bibl. parémiologique 431: ‘Ces figures, faites avec une grande facilité et beaucoup de goût, sont rares’; G.M. Mitelli, Proverbi figurati, ed. by L. Marinese and A. Manfredi (Milano: Casa Editrice Cerastico, 1963).

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