1541: Il Libro del Cortegiano

Rylands Castiglione, annotated title page

Rylands Castiglione, annotated title page

Baldassare Castiglione was an Italian diplomat, soldier, count, and author, who was born into an illustrious family in Mantua in 1478. His book of etiquette, Il Libro del Cortegiano – an elegiac philosophical conversation which paints the classic picture of the ideal renaissance courtier, prince, and enlightened ruler – was first published in 1528 by the Aldine Press.

Henry Howard Earl of Northampton, by Sylvester Harding

Henry Howard Earl of Northampton, by Sylvester Harding

The John Rylands Library holds an outstanding collection of editions of the Libro del Cortegiano printed in Venice by the Aldine Press, including a trilingual edition (French, Italian, and English). This copy of the 1541 edition is especially notable due to its numerous reader annotations throughout, which are attributable to Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton (1540-1614). Howard’s calligraphic signature is visible in the lower and outer margins of the title page, accompanied by a variety of mottoes and quotations in Greek, Latin, and Italian. There are also over two hundred marginal annotations throughout the text, all of which are in the same hand as his autograph.

In his study The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano (Pennsylvania: Penn. State Press, 1995), Peter Burke discusses the Rylands copy in detail as a prime example of the influence of the book on the aristocracy in Renaissance England, describing the marginalia as ‘the fullest and most systematic annotations on Castiglione known to me’ (pp. 79-80). Most of the notes are in Italian, but some are in Latin (quotations from Cicero, etc.).

Rylands Castiglione

Rylands Castiglione

Henry Howard was the second son of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (d.1547).  As a crypto-Catholic and supporter of Mary Queen of Scots, he was suspect in Elizabeth’s eyes, but he rose to a position of great power under James I. He was commissioner for the trials of Sir Walter Raleigh (1603) and Guy Fawkes (1605).  He was the friend of Bacon (indeed Bacon chose him as ‘the learnedest councillor’ in the kingdom to present his ‘Advancement of Learning’ to James I), but he was the bitter foe of Ben Jonson.

After his death, Henry Howard’s library was purchased by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and the books were part of the sixth Duke of Norfolk’s gift (at the diarist John Evelyn’s instigation) to the Royal Society in 1667.  The bulk of these books were subsequently sold by the Royal Society in 1873 to Bernard Quaritch. More recently the book was owned by the Oxford physician and bibliophile Bent Juel-Jensen (1922-2007). It was purchased by the John Rylands Library at the sale of Aldine imprints & early printed books from the library of Kenneth Rapoport, on at Swann Auction Galleries of New York on Tuesday October 23, 2012.


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