A SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY COMMONPLACE BOOK, WITH AN UNRECORDED WORK ON FRIENDSHIP

Tragedia di Santa Caterina detta d’Alessandria [with:] Dell’Amicizia [and several other texts].

[Italy, early seventeenth century.]

Manuscript on paper (148 x 104 mm), ff. [172], approximately 25 lines to a page, written in 2 late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century Italian cursive hands in brown inks, the first text with a few corrections, all following texts showing evidence of reworking; small losses to the outer margins of first 2 ff. entering a few letters of text, tear to upper margin of f. [120] with small loss not affecting sense, a few edges a little frayed, one leaf detached but in place; contemporary limp vellum, now detached but for a few stitches, sides cockled, spine a little chipped, ties missing; preserving the original green silk bookmark, now detached.

£3750

Approximately:
US $5187€4345

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Tragedia di Santa Caterina detta d’Alessandria [with:] Dell’Amicizia [and several other texts].

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Remarkably interesting early Italian commonplace book, or ‘zibaldone’, containing the apparently unique version of a literary-philosophical dialogue Dell’Amicizia, and the third known copy of an unpublished Tragedia di Santa Caterina, which survives in two further manuscript versions contemporary to ours (Vienna and Bodleian, this with the alternative title of ‘Massentio imperatore, e Caterina santa vergine’). Our version of the tragedy includes, interestingly, stage notes added in the margins. This text is apparently as yet unstudied – our preliminary reading reveals a skilful embedding of Bembo’s most affecting turns of phrase and of Tasso’s imagery within the well-established genre of sacra rappresentazione. The tragedy occupies ff. [1-76] of this notebook, and it was perceived by the writer as its main content: this is the title penned on the spine. The hand of the writer then changes for the remainder of the book.

The text of Dell’Amicizia appears to be unrecorded. It occupies ff. [100-108] and [125-158]; it consists of a dialogue between one Rovetti and one Astolfi, very likely to be identifiable with the writers Giovanni Andrea Rovetti (fl. 1600–1637) and his contemporary Giovanni Felice Astolfi. Ethical meditations are gently fused with the aesthetic and spiritual reflections in an examination of the grace of friendship that owes as much to Cicero, Aristotle, and Boethius as to the Christian tradition. Montaigne had famously addressed this theme a little earlier in one of his Essays.

Several other texts are also included: a remarkable page provides the classifications of ‘six types of liberty’, then we find studies on the story of the Magi, on the ways to access knowledge of God and His will, on spiritual and theological matters, whilst sonnets or other verses (again, apparently unrecorded) celebrate notable men of the time (Jacopo Peri, Paolo Pansa, Alessandro Spinola).

The commonplace book held at the Bodleian Library which contains one of the two other witnesses of the Tragedia di Santa Caterina is also a similar ‘zibaldone’ (though all its other texts are completely different to ours) and carries a clear Jesuit provenance. Hints of Jesuit authorship in our book, be they textual or, in one case, a small Jesuit monograph at the end, might therefore be supported by the comparison with this affine document.

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