1501: Le cose volgari

Following the success of the octavo edition of the works of Virgil in 1501, the Aldine Press published a collection of Petrarch’s vernacular works in the same format, also printed in italic. Le cose volgari di messer Francesco Petrarcha was printed in Venice in July 1501, having been edited by the humanist scholar, Pietro Bembo. A letter from Lorenzo da Pavia dated 26 July 1501 informs us that fifteen copies were printed on parchment and would cost no less than 5 ducats.

The John Rylands Library possesses three copies of this edition, two on parchment and the third on paper. Both parchment copies are from the Spencer Collection, one bearing the arms of the influential Barbarigo family (15442), the other with Bembo’s arms (20957).

first page petrarch bembo arms

Petrarch, Le cose volgari, front page with Bembo arms

Bembo’s copy is of particular interest, not only because it contains some of Bembo’s original marginal annotations, but also because of its colourful history. On the front flyleaves, there are several inscriptions:

Dedications on inner flyleaf

Inscriptions on inner flyleaf

After Bembo’s death in 1547, his copy of Petrarch was probably passed onto his illegitimate son, Torquato. According to Cecil Clough, writing in the 1970s, the copy was likely stolen from Bembo’s library in Padua around 1585 by Troiano Boccalini. It then passed on to Achille Cromer later that year, and was subsequently donated by him to Charles Clusius. When Clusius died, the book was passed to Franciscus Raphelengius, publisher and Professor of Hebrew at the University of Leiden. In October 1652, Bembo’s Petrarch was in possession of Professor Adolf Vorstius, who lent it to Graf Gustaf Adam Banér. It was returned to Vorstius and subsequently left in his will to noted philologist and geographer, Jean Läet of Antwerp. By the 1800s, the copy was in possession  of the Duke of Cassano Serra of Naples, having previously been owned by Dr. Niccolò Francesco Lupi da Gravina of Rome. It was purchased by Spencer in 1819, along with the rest of the Cassano’s library.

Red moroccan bindings

This edition also has another distinction in being the most detailed record in our library catalogue, including notes on all the previous owners and their names indexed.

For more information on Bembo’s copy of the 1501 Petrarch, see:
‘Notes and News’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library, 55 (1973), 253-263

Our travelling team have just seen (and rubbed) another copy on parchment at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York: http://corsair.themorgan.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?BBID=175651

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