MITELLI, Giuseppe Maria.. Proverbi figurati.

Bologna, , 1678

Folio (380 x 270 mm.), dedication leaf, title-page and 48 etched plates. Contemporary boards, manuscrit title on spine. A very fine copy.Remarkably complete copy—including the very uncommon dedication leaf—of the scarce first edition of this fascinating and lavishly illustrated work on Italian proverbs. Son of the painter Antonio Mitelli and a student of Guercino, Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (1634-1718) was an artist most renowned for the familiar, playful, carnivalesque and visionary themes of his engravings spanning allegorical figures and everyday scenes in the streets of his native Bologna. An epitome of Mitelli's artistic taste, ‘Proverbi figurati' looked back to a popular genre—the visual representation of proverbs—dating to the 16th century and found in paintings, woodcut illustrations, broadsides and even playing cards. Mitelli's work distilled popular wisdom, realistic landscapes, moralized subjects and the tradition of Renaissance emblems into 48 full-page etchings illustrating famous Italian proverbs, each accompanied by three explanatory poetic lines. The titlepage celebrates the foundation of proverbial Experience as an old woman conversing with Time and saving from the passing of the centuries the human wisdom worth preserving. Dramatic figures such as the Gorgon falling into a ditch (‘Envy digs a grave for others and then falls in it herself') stand side by side with realistic ones such as the invalid, impoverished soldier (‘Those who know peace and don't value it have never before experienced war'). Country activities including fishing, hare and bird hunting share the same rustic landscapes as the frequent proverbial donkeys (‘Even a subdued donkey, if provoked, will kick back') and horses (‘Mad is the man who walks so that his horse won't be fatigued'). Set in the city are instead scenes of commerce, theft and murder (‘When gold speaks all other tongues stay silent'). The iconography of the Fool, Fortuna, Time and Superbia reprises the figurative tradition of tarot cards, a successful series of which Mitelli produced in 1660. This 1678 edition is ‘hard to find even in public libraries, and when a copy is thereby traced, it is often lacking a few plates. The catalogues of antiquarian bookdealers every now and then raise their flag to let everyone know, with great pride, that a Mitelli is available' (‘Proverbi figurati', ed. by Marinese and Manfredi, 19).


Brunet III, 414; Cicognara 1719; Bartsch 67-116; Osmont, I, 477: ‘fort rare'; Haym, p. 553: ‘raro'.

G.M. Mitelli, Proverbi figurati, ed. by L. Marinese and A. Manfredi (Milano: Casa Editrice Cerastico, 1963).

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