A florilegium of fables, beautifully illustrated by the Pico Master, the only known copy of this edition
45 Fiore di virtù. Questa sie una utilissima operetta acada uno fidel christiano chiamata fior de virtuVenice: Matteo Capcasa (di Codeca), 15 January 1493. Third edition by Capcasa.
4°, 188 x 146 mm. 30 leaves, complete: a-c8, d6. – 2 columns of 39 lines per page.With 38 woodcut illustrations and several woodcut initials. – An oval stamp on title page erased, but partly still visible. – 19th-century marbled paper boards.
PROVENANCE: S1. Landesbibliothek Gotha (according to Sander). 2. Sold in Munich in 1932. 3. Helmuth Domitzlaff, bookseller in Munich. 4. Collection Otto Schäfer, Schweinfurt, OS 1388.
TEXT: This popular guide to human nature and behaviour is ascribed to the Bolognese friar Tommaso Gozzardini (1260-1329), but he is probably the author of a later commentary rather than the text itself. Other names connected with the authorship of the Fiore di Virtu are Tommaso Leoni, Francesco Sachetti, Giovanni Antonio Traversagni and the Franciscan Cherubino da Spoleto (1414-84). This remarkable secular text, apparently written before the canonization of Thomas Aquinas in 1323, since he is simply referred to as a friar, was popular throughout the 14th century. The Flowers of Virtue is a compilation of aphorisms on virtues and vices, accompanied by exempla and short narratives which often draw parallels between humans and animals, and thus represent a cross between bestiaries and fable collections. The ultimate source for animal fables is the bestiary, adapted here to define and explain vice and virtue, a typical literary end in late medieval society. It compares, for example, gaiety with the behaviour of the cock singing at every hour of the day, liberty with the freedom of the eagle, prudence with the restless and laborious ants, falsity with the fox pretending to be dead in order to attract his prey, and fortitude with a lion sleeping with its eyes wide open, ready to attack its aggressors.The Fiore di Virtu is one of the most significant examples of medieval Italian literature in the vernacular. The first edition of the appeared c. 1471 in Italy (GW 9913). German and Spanish translations appeared as early as the 15th century, English, French and Dutch editions followed in the 16th century, etc.
ILLUSTRATION: The book is attractively decorated with 38 woodcuts and several woodcut initials.As in most editions, the large title woodcut shows a Franciscan monk in a walled flower garden, surrounded by birds and animals.Above, in an arch, is God the Father, holding a book in his right hand.The monk is often identified as Cherubino di Spoleto (e. g. Sander 1949, p. 477) because a similar woodcut was used for Cherubino’s Vita spirituale bellissima printed in Venice 1503. 35 charming woodcuts in column width illustrate the narratives with vivid animal scenes, and there are representations of the Annunciation and the Nativity at the end.The origin of these two woodcuts – obviously not used here for the first time – is unknown. The title woodcut and most of the small illustrations were made by the so-called ‘popular designer’ (Hind), who recently has been identified as Master of the Pico Pliny, a prolific book illuminator working in Venice from 1465 to 1495. He began as an illuminator of manuscripts, then of printed books, and finally became a designer of woodcuts. The Pico Master was the leading practitioner of the ‘popular style’ of Venetian woodcut, which is typified by characters dressed in contemporary costume, by the use of playful images to decorate borders, and by populating the entire composition with animals, birds and flowers. The designer creates much of his effect by using outline to construct forms rather than relying on shading or parallel lines. The Pico Master was responsible for the woodcuts of many lavishly illustrated books printed in Venice. One of them is the famous Malermi Bible of 1490, the first fully illustrated bible to be printed in Italy. Another is the renowned Divine Comedy printed by Matteo Capcasa and Bernardinus Benalius in March 1491, one of the most important illustrated editions of Dante printed in the 15th century. Incidentally, the figure of God the Father in our title woodcut was first used within the architectural borders of that particular Dante.
PRINT: The edition at hand, the third (of five) by Matteo Capcasa, is almost unrecorded. Apart from the date given at the end of his books, there are variations of title and illustration in each of his prints.The preceding edition, of 14th July 1492, for example, contained a depiction of the life of St Jerome at the end, whereas in the following edition, of 3rd June 1493, the woodcut showing the Nativity is combined with a Flight into Egypt instead of an Annunciation. Having learned the art of printing in Parma, Matteo Capcasa established his own press in Venice, then the capital of printing in Italy. He signed his prints Matheo di Codeca da Parma. His first book appeared in 1482.
RARITY: The only known copy of this edition. Though printed frequently (58 different Italian prints are recorded in the GW), all 15th century editions are very rare, several of them surviving in only one or two copies.We could trace no Italian incunabular edition on the market in the last four decades.
LITERATURE: GW 9929; ISTC if00185150; Sander 1942, no. 2729. Hind 1935, pp. 464-506, esp. p. 480 and fig. 242; Essling 1907, no. 387-403.