Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Finding Something Never Lost: A "Ghost" Edition of Ovid

Typically, references to “ghost” editions indicate the absence of a physical book. The volume appears in letters, auction catalogs, library checklists, or the footnotes of other works, but its tangible existence still eludes the bibliographer. This edition, however, is the reverse; we have the book in hand, with a clear colophon and a shred of provenance, and yet it has left no trace in the abstract bibliographic record. I undertook research on the volume, in the hopes of illuminating some as-yet feature that would contextualize it more solidly, but the “ghost” edition is, in fact, a ghost. What I accomplished instead was some strenuous exercise of my bibliographic toolkit for early modern books, a comforting return to my academic roots in Classical literature, and a few more drops of information on the volume itself.

The book contains two of Ovid’s later works, the Heroides and Ibis, each with accompanying commentary. Alongside the Heroides, as usual for such renderings of the period, appear Angelo Sabino’s letters, in which he posed as Ovid’s poetic friend Sabinus. The volume is consistently formatted as a folio in sixes, except for the final gathering of four. The pagination is sloppy, both in structure and typography. Of 94 folios, only the first forty-two are foliated, and of those, the foliation statement is: 1-22, 24 [23], 23 [24], 25-36, [37], 38, [39-40], 41, 43 [42]. The printer prefers “Y” to “V”, and sticks with an uppercase set until page thirty-one, at which point he starts to mix upper and lower cases. New chapters in both the main text and in the surrounding commentary begin with wood-block initials, except for the start of Ibis, which is missing its decorated “T”. The running headers are entirely in uppercase until near the end of Hermione’s letter to Orestes, at which point they follow normal capitalization rules for proper nouns. The text is in an anonymous sort of Roman type, with the title in Gothic.

Overall, the book appears to represent the work of a somewhat adept printer, who had little taste for frills and less for consistency. The colophon attributes the edition to “Caligulam Bacielerium Civem Bononiensem”, or Caligola Bazalieri of Bologna, thanks to VIAF authority records. Bazalieri was active form 1490 to 1512, and thus this volume, printed in 1501, marks the midpoint of his career. Bazalieri’s brother, Bazaliero Bazalieri, was also a printer, and the two adopted similar styles. We have suggested that Caligola Bazalieri’s version of the Heroides mirrors an earlier edition printed by his brother, but since Caligola was also an author and translator, the attribution is murky. Seventeen of Bazalieri’s supposed forty-two editions are known only through bibliographies, making the possession of one at all, and especially one unrecorded, particularly rare. Bazalieri’s significance to the history of the book comes not from the Classical or religious literature that comprises most of his body of work, but from his printing of Buovo di Antonia, a medieval romance originating in the British Isles. Bazalieri’s 1497 edition of the text is believed to be the source of the edition printed a short time later by Elye Bokher, which was the first non-religious book to be printed in Yiddish (Rosenzweig, 29).

The book’s other foothold is in its provenance. A penciled library inscription attributes the volume to the library of the Durazzo family, particularly the avid collector Giacomo Filippo Durazzo III, and indicates that it was bound by Carlo Zehe. These two statements make sense together; Zehe was Durazzo’s legatore di fiducia, or trusted personal bookbinder, and his name is scattered throughout Alberto Petrucciani’s catalog of Durazzo’s collection of incunabula (Petrucciani 1984, 301). Durazzo amassed a vast collection of books and other natural and cultural curiosities, which he eventually housed in a private villa called “Cornigliano” and displayed as a sort of museum. In keeping with the fashion of the time, Durazzo at one point asked for all his incunabula to be washed of marginalia (Jensen, 153). Thus, while the 1501 imprint on this particular volume has probably kept it just barely out of a catalog, it also saved the black and brown hand-written annotations that fall on many of its pages. Though the book is bound in a style not uncommon to Zehe – quarter red morocco with red morocco tips and light red paper over boards and gilt work to the spine – there are no clear marks of provenance. There are some shelf marks on the endpapers, but otherwise the volume is anonymous and attributing it to the Durazzo library is largely speculation. The book remains a tangible ghost.


Jensen, Kristian. Revolution and the Antiquarian Book: Reshaping the Past, 1780-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Petrucciani, Alberto. "Bibliofili e Librai nel Settecento: La Formazione della Biblioteca Durazzo (1776-1783)." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 24 (98) Fasc. 1. Genoa, 1984.

-----. "Gli Incunaboli della Biblioteca Durazzo." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 28 (102) Fasc. 2. Genoa, 1988.

Rosenzweig, Claudia. Buovo d'Antona by Elye Bokher. A Yiddish Romance: A Critical Edition with Commentary. BRILL, 2015.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Great Omar and the Modern Renaissance of Jeweled Bookbinding

Last week, Anne Bromer gave a thorough and informative lecture before the Ticknor Society on the twentieth-century resurgence of the art of jeweled bookbinding and the twisted saga of The Great Omar. Below is an abridged version of the talk, so that those who were absent can appreciate the story and those who attended can further explore its details.

The Sangorski-bound Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, otherwise known at The Great Omar, is the greatest, and possibly only, book to be bound thrice in the same sumptuous manner over an eighty-year period. The first iteration, the true Great Omar, was crafted by the co-founder of Sangorski and Sutcliffe, Francis Sangorski, at the commission of John Stonehouse, the manager of the antiquarian bookseller Sotheran’s, to celebrate the coronation of George V in 1911. It featured 1,051 gems arranged to highlight the upper cover’s three peacocks, the lower cover’s model Persian oud, and the serpent of Eden, skull, and poppy on its interior covers. After a series of setback preventing the book’s direct sale and its shipment to the United States, it finally began its voyage on the ill-fated Titanic. The Great Omar, in its oak casket, was buried on the ocean floor. The second Great Omar met an equally tragic fate. Remade by Stanley Bray according to Sangorski’s original drawings, this instantiation was ruined by the German Blitz of London in 1941, its metal and leather melting the heat from the bombs. In 1989, Bray, at the age of 82, completed the third Great Omar, using the stones that remained from the second. Though this third binding cannot compare in precision or brilliance to its predecessors, it nevertheless marks the mastery of its original designer, the dedication of its reproducer, and the incomparable and consistent artistry of the Sangorski and Sutcliffe firm.

The Lindau Gospels, now held at the Morgan Library

As much as The Great Omar was itself a masterwork, it was also a revival piece. At the founding of Sangorski and Sutcliffe and the inspiration for The Great Omar, jeweled bookbinding had been out of fashion, and thus long out of the artistic realm of bookbinding, for about three hundred years. The style had been popular throughout the medieval period as a symbol of wealth and status. Jewels also adorned the bindings of religious texts, like the Lindau Gospels, as a way of foreshadowing the riches of God’s kingdom and hailing His blessings on earth. Many of these bindings were destroying during the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries. This eschewal of the connection between luxury and religion, compounded with the shift in taste from jewels to velvet, embroidery, pearls, and silk bindings, the art of jeweled bookbinding fell by the wayside.

Whereas medieval jeweled bindings frequently used large gems in simple geometric layouts, Sangorski and Sutcliffe’s designs relied on their deliberate integration of the stones into an intricate motif. Their rival, the firm of Robert Rivière and Son, challenged Sangorski and Sutcliffe in this modern style subtle thematics. Rivière and Son’s master calligrapher and miniaturist was Alberto Sangorski, Francis Sangorski’s brother. Two of Alberto Sangorski’s pieces, Keat’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci (21406) and Poe’s Annabel Lee and Other Poems (21734), dazzle the eye with carefully set gemstones surrounding and embellishing the authors’ initials. Their interiors are no less splendid, featuring calligraphy, miniatures, and illustrations all completed by Sangorski’s hand. They, like The Great Omar, are incredible bindings on incredible books.

The art of jeweled bookbinding continues today, albeit in small pockets of the bookbinding world. Shepherd’s Bookbindery recently recreated the first Sangorski and Sutcliffe jeweled binding, a copy printed on vellum of Epithalamion & Amoretti. Other examples pop up in miniatures, which are perhaps less costly but certainly more intimate and needful of surer hands than “full-size” volumes. An excellent example is Derek Hood’s binding on the miniature Shall I Die? Shall I Fly? written by Shakespeare and published by Anne and David Bromer. Following the tradition begun by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, it artfully incorporates twenty garnets into a larger motif of cubist question marks, complementing the indecision of the text. The art of jeweled bookbinding, far from lost, is primed for a second revival.