HUMANISM DISPLACES COURTLY LOVE

A MUSIC SCHOLAR’S ANNOTATIONS

Aretefila, dialogo, nel quale da una parte sono quelle ragioni allegate, le quali affermano, lo amore di corporal bellezza potere ancora per la via dell’udire pervenire al quore: et dall’altra, quelle che vogliono lui havere solamente per gl’occhii l’entrata sua: colla sentenza sopra cotal quistione. 

Lyons, Guillaume Rouillé, 1562. 

4to, pp. 164, [4, errata, blanks]; woodcut printer’s device on title, woodcut initials and head-pieces; title lightly soiled with short tear (neatly repaired verso, with no loss); a very good copy in late nineteenth-century roan-backed boards with marbled sides and vellum tips, flat spine filleted in gilt, lettered directly in gilt; joints very lightly rubbed; seventeenth-century ownership inscription ‘Stephani Blancii’ to title, and numerous marginalia in the same hand to over 120 pp. (see below).

£2800

Approximately:
US $3432€3254

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Aretefila, dialogo, nel quale da una parte sono quelle ragioni allegate, le quali affermano, lo amore di corporal bellezza potere ancora per la via dell’udire pervenire al quore: et dall’altra, quelle che vogliono lui havere solamente per gl’occhii l’entrata sua: colla sentenza sopra cotal quistione. 

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Annotated copy, once owned by a music book collector, of the third edition (first 1557) of a remarkable Renaissance philosophical dialogue on the nature of love which marked the culmination of the very divisive ‘questione d’amore’ hotly debated in sixteenth-century literature. 

The controversy saw proponents of ‘love by hearsay’, keen on the courtly-love notion of an ‘unseen beloved’ as the object of pure love, pitched against those who, in the wake of a long philosophical and medical tradition, understood love as a sentiment arising from visual stimuli.  The characters in Ridolfi’s dialogue put their conflicting ideas forward to an imaginary lady, Aretefila (‘lover of virtue’).  They marshal Italian poets, including Petrarch, Boccaccio, Dante, Bembo, the classical Ovid, and the Provençal troubadours; they question evidence from history and literature, they submit a new classification of love from divine down to virtuous, then human, then ‘plebeian’, and even ‘feral’, gradually and inexorably leading to the conclusion which Ridolfi endorses: hearsay loves tend to be literary – not real.  We cannot love what we do not know; we cannot seek a particular form of beauty if we do not have the stimulus of its presence.  Ridolfi’s influential essay sealed the displacement of long-held courtly values carried out by humanistic scholarship nurtured in the philosophy and physical diagnostics. 

The early owner of this book, Stephanus Blancius, appears to have been a collector and student of musical books and manuscripts, as witnessed by the occurrences of his ownership inscription (see for instance S. Clark (ed.), Citation and Authority in Medieval and Renaissance Musical Culture, Suffolk, The Boydell Press, 2005).  His numerous annotations show a deep engagement with the philosophical question of the nature of love – perhaps unsurprisingly: music theory, as much as poetry, underwent fundamental changes in the Renaissance.  One of the most important controversies was set out by Johannes Tinctoris in 1477, when he, adhering to the same philosophical, medical, and scientific premises which Ridolfi embraced, stated that pleasure in listening is not brought about by heavenly bodies, but by earthly instruments, with the cooperation of nature.  Blancius’s study of Ridolfi would have lent itself to a reading in musical terms. 

Baudrier IX, 286; EDIT16 47603. 

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