Ad Capponianas Ruthenas tabulas commentarius. Niccolò Carminio FALCONI.
Ad Capponianas Ruthenas tabulas commentarius.
Ad Capponianas Ruthenas tabulas commentarius.

Ad Capponianas Ruthenas tabulas commentarius. Rome: Giovanni Generoso Salomoni [for the author], 1755.

4to (310 x 216 mm). [40], 136 pp. Title in red and black with engraved vignette of the arms of the dedicatee Cardinal Millo held aloft by two cherubs, text in two columns, 5 engraved plates on thicker paper, two historiated initials, one engraved, signed by Gravignani, woodcut tailpiece. Light foxing to title and a few leaves, a few sheets discolored. contemporary roman presentation binding of gold-tooled red goatskin, covers with roll-tooled rocaille & dogs-tooth borders and floral and foliate dentelle frame, at center the arms of Cardinal Millo, spine gold-tooled and -lettered, pink pastepaper endpapers, gilt edges (scrapes to front cover, scuffing to corners, a few wormholes to upper cover and spine); felt-lined morocco folding case. Provenance: Giovanni Giacomo Millo (1695-1757), Cardinal of Crisogono, supra-libros; Maurice Burrus, bookplate (purchased from the Paris bookseller Arthur Lauria in 1935, as noted by Burrus on small label at end with coded price label). ***

Only edition, the dedication copy, of a privately printed study of a Greek cross-shaped Russian wooden icon, finely painted with a visual calendar of Orthodox saints based on manuscript menologia, bequeathed to the Vatican Library, along with his vast library, by the Marquis Alessandro Gregorio Capponi (1683-1746). Cameriere segreto of the Pope, voracious collector of mainly Italian literature, art and antiquities, Capponi was the first to conceive of a Capitoline Museum, and its first director. Exhibited today with other Russian and Byzantine icons in Room XVIII of the Vatican Pinacoteca, this icon is described by Falconi (Archbishop of San Severino) as dating from the beginnings of the Russian Orthodox church, i.e., the 12th century, but was later easily identified as seventeenth-century. As described in the Vatican hand-outs for visitors (available on the Pinacoteca website), “this 'calendar of sainthood’ presents, round the central nucleus with Christ in Glory, the feast-days of the Saints, as established in the Orthodox calendar, which begins on the first of September. Called menologion, meaning annual calendar ... these icons derived their iconography from the miniatures that illustrated the texts containing the first collections of lives of the saints. They·were displayed in churches on a special lectern called analogion.”

The icon comprises five panels: four equal-sized arms of the cross and a central painting. As meticulously reproduced in the engravings in this volume, the four arms each contain three columns, one for each month, starting with September, the first month of the Orthodox year; each column contains six vertically arrayed scenes depicting groups of the Saints, identified in Church Slavonic, with scenes from their lives. The central panel, in a different format containing 26 small compartments with scenes from the Passion, and one large central compartment showing the Resurrection, represents the moveable feasts, from the ninth Sunday before Easter (Septuagesima) to the first Sunday after Easter (the Orthodox All Saints Day). Three of the panels bear the artists’ signatures.

In the Prolegomena, Falconi provides notes on the icon’s provenance, to the effect that it was intended by a Greek priest as a gift to Peter the Great, and was bought in the Roman antiquities market by Capponi (whose guiding light was the famous scholar-dealer Francesco Ficoroni). A history of the introduction of Christianity into Russia and an account of the Slavonic liturgy introduce the body of the work, clearly a labor of love, containing hagiographies of every Saint shown in the icon, translations of the texts into Latin, and extensive commentary.

In 1834, the authors of a German guidebook to Rome, citing the historian Alexander Turgenev, mocked Falconi’s attributions of the piece as “clearly unfounded,” stating that the names of the artists who signed three of the panels were Russian, not Greek, and that the style of the lettering showed a date not earlier than that of the reign of Peter the Great’s father Tsar Alexis I (Ernst Platner, et al., Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, Stuttgart 1834, vol. 2,325-6).

OCLC locates 3 copies in US libraries (UC Berkeley, Baylor Univ., and Catholic Univ. of America). On Capponi, cf. DBI 19:10-13. Item #2846

Price: $7,500.00