SANSOVINO, Francesco. Venetia città nobilissima et singolare, Descritta in XIIII libri da M. Francesco Sansovino

Venice, appresso Iacomo Sansovino., 1581

Quarto (228 x 160mm.), woodcut printer’s device on title-page, tables bound at front, woodcut initials. Red silk binding over pasteboard, gilt edges, old black slipcase lined with patterned gilt paper, some deckle edges, a few small stains, errata leaf damaged and laid down (obscuring colophon on verso), quires Ccc-Ggg, Kkk-Lll and Ppp somewhat browned, extremities slightly worn, lacking 4 pairs of ties. A very fine copy.

Rare first edition of Francesco Sansovino’s celebrated guide to Venice, the first detailed topographical description of the city, of greatest importance for art history, and one of the earliest books to describe the monuments of Venice for travellers. This work set a standard for all subsequent guidebooks to Venice, and proved invaluable to Ridolfi and Boschini in the seventeenth century, to Zanetti in the eighteenth, and to Moschini in the early nineteenth. “This book established a sixteenth-century provenance for innumerable works of art. It contains detailed topographical descriptions and gives information on works since lost or destroyed. The iconography of many of the paintings inside the Doge’s Palace is explained, and it becomes clear that Francesco himself devised the literary programme for those in the Sala delle Quattro Porte” (J.M. Fletcher, in the introduction to the facsimile edition of 1968). “This is the best illustration of Venice not without errors, but based at least on good sources” (Cicognara). The author Francesco Tatti da Sansovino (1521-1583) was a prolific polygraph, author of literary, historical, rhetorical proses, commentaries on classics, translations, poems, guides and writings on art and architecture, and was himself an editor for his own typography. Born in Rome, he fled the Eternal City with his family after its sack in 1527 and reached Venice, bound to become its adoptive homeland. This comprehensive guide is the last episode in a sequence of three publications that Sansovino devoted to the city of Venice, comprising Tutte le cose notabili e belle che sono in Venezia, published in 1556 under the pseudonym of Anselmo Guisconi, and the Cose notabili, published in 1561. Each one of these three works enjoyed great success and went through several reprints long after its first publication. The triptych shared the same aim, that is, the celebration of the greatness of the Serenissima Repubblica, and at the same time the celebration of the author’s father, Iacopo Sansovino, one of the major sculptors and architects of the sixteenth century and responsible for the introduction of the High Renaissance style into Venice. As Superintendent of properties (Protomaestro or Proto) to the Procuratori di San Marco, Iacopo Sansovino planned a transformation of Piazza San Marco into a unified arrangement of interrelated structures; although his plan was incomplete at the time of his death (1570), his influence on the urban landscape in the end proved to be decisive. Sansovino articulates his in-depth descriptions following the division of the city in its six sestanti. In addition to the sites and monuments (churches, palaces, libraries, statues, paintings…), he records the laws of the citystate, its main businesses, the contemporary local costumes and fashions, as well as notable historical events. Overall, the book stands as a vivid portrait of Venice during a particularly rich moment of its history, as well as an encyclopaedia on the city from its origins until the author’s time.

Cicognara 4379-4380; Schlosser Magnino, 367-369; Cicogna 4465-4467; Fossati-Bellani 2393.

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