Friday, May 10, 2013

A Magnificent 16th Century Woodcut On Perspective

by Stephen J. Gertz

The above woodcut, one of the most dramatic of the sixteenth century, is the variant title-page to the first edition of Daniele Barbaro's La Practica della Perspectiva, a virtual summary of contemporary architectural theory and the first systematic treatise on the practical applications of perspective, published in Venice by Borgominieri in 1569.

It's geometrical representation of a mazzocco, or interlaced ring in perspective, surrounded by satyrs and cherubs with drawing instruments.
The first edition of La Practica della Perspectiva was published in two issues, identical except for the date of imprint (1568 for first). Some copies of either issue also contain this variant title-page. A copy that has recently come into the marketplace, for example, is a second issue with the variant woodcut title page. Although this more dramatic title-page is found in both issues, it is far less common in the marketplace.

Many of the schematic woodcuts are closely related to Albrecht Dürer’s artist manuals, and the woodcuts of stage sets borrow from Italian Renaissance architect Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1552), who wrote eight books on architecture 1537-1575, and discussed the use of perspective in the theater in the second book of his Archtettura series, Le premier livre d’architecture... Le second livre de perspective, de Sebastian Serlio..., mis en langue francoise, par Jehan Martin... (Paris, Jean Barbé, 1545).
Barbaro (1514-1570) studied a variety of subjects including mathematics and natural sciences at the University of Padua. He had a diversified career: he was appointed for the creation of the research-oriented botanical garden in Padua, was a Venetian ambassador to the English court, and was made patriarch elect of Aquileia. He also directed the iconographic program for the ceiling of the Sala dei Consigli dei Dieci—frescoed by Paolo Veronese—at the Ducal Palace in Venice.

BARBARO, Daniele. La Practica della Perspectiva. Venice: Borgominieri, 1569. First edition, second issue. Folio [340 x 210 mm]. 195 pp., (6) ff. Variant woodcut titlepage. Approx. 220 woodcut text illustrations. Bound in early vellum, with minor worming and chipping to covers, and title written in ink in an old hand on spine. Quire H4 (pages 57-64) is misbound as Ha, H, Hd, Hc, with all leaves present.

Fowler 36; Mortimer Italian, 39; Vagnetti E IIb23; Wiebenson III-B-7; Berlin Kat. 4694; Kemp, The Science of Art, 76-8; p. 189.  

Image courtesy of Martayan Lan Rare Books, currently offering this title, with our thanks.

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