4to (257 x 200 mm). Engraved architectural title and 71 engraved portrait plates, 33 unsigned, the rest signed or with the monograms of Nicolò Nelli (26), Martino Rota (8), Domenico Zenoi (5, including title). All but 13 are oval portraits set within elaborate ornamental and emblematic borders. a fine, wide-margined copy, with dark impressions of the plates (early marginal repairs to the front fly-leaf, title, and one plate, title a bit soiled). Contemporary flexible parchment, traces of two fore-edge ties, manuscript title on spine (old repair to upper cover); modern red half morocco folding case. Provenance: early ownership inscription on title, “Jure haereditatis sum Venetiis [or Vaneis?] [?ai] Hegemillers a Duberi Weiller”; Thun-Hohenstein family, Tetschner Schlossbibliothek inkstamp on front flyleaf (sold 1934); “v. Engelshofen,” 20th-century inkstamp on title, with stamped shelf number 624; 20th-century Spanish bookseller’s description tipped in at back.***
Only edition of a rare series of Renaissance portrait engravings. The 71 engravings depict contemporary or recently deceased European sovereigns, church dignitaries, war heroes, and other notables, including sixteen women. Most are medallion portraits, set within a sumptuous variety of ornamental strapwork borders, many with fantastic grotesque figures, whose limbs occasionally encroach upon the portraits. During the sixteenth century the true features of powerful or influential personages began to be available for the contemplation of ordinary people through the medium of print collections such as this one, which reproduced paintings or other prints. The imaginative borders, of which no two are alike, added considerably, and still do, to the appeal of the collection.
Depicted are various male and female members of the Medici, Este, Gonzaga, Farnese, della Rovere and Orsini families, but the cast of characters is international. Celebrities of the day, they include a Pope (Pius V), Holy Roman Emperors & Empresses (Charles V, his wife Isabella of Portugal, Ferdinand I, Maximilian II), Kings and Queens, including several of the British Isles (Edward VI, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots), an art collector and advisor to the Emperor (Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle), aristocrats on both sides of the religious controversies (Albrecht, Duke of Prussia, who converted to Protestantism, and Heinrich II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, one of the leading Roman Catholic German princes opposing the Reformation), a doctor (Johan Van den Broeck) and the wife of a doctor (Violante Pigna, wife of a physician who was secretary to Alfonso II d’Este); and a single literary figure, Massimo Trioano, who could boast the largest portrait in the book, other than the Orsini engravings (which are restrikes, see below).
Veterans of the wars against the Turks or the Italian wars are an important part of the pantheon. Nobly portrayed, often in armor, are condottieri Andrea Doria and Giovanni de’ Medici (known as Giovanni delle Bande Nere), the latter in an unusual emblematic border; Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, the Duke of Alba; Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba, Jean de la Valette, and the Croatian Nikola Šubi Zrinski (”Nicolao, conte di Sdrigno”), celebrated throughout Europe for having died stopping the final attempt of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent's to conquer Vienna in 1566. Finally, and equitably, the subjects include Sultan Suleiman himself, plus his son Selim II (the subject of two engravings) and daughter Mihrimah. The sultans father and son are shown full-page, with no borders, on horseback (plates  and , the first signed by Nelli, the latter unsigned but in the same style). Also without borders are 10 large oval portraits of members of the Orsini family. The only prints in the volume to appear in worn impressions, these were originally published within decorative borders in Francesco Sansovino, De gli huomini illustri della casa Orsina (Venice: Fratelli Stagnini, 1565). The British Museum collections cataloguers attribute them tentatively to Nelli.
Zaltieri, engraver and publisher of prints, maps, and books, was active from ca. 1555 to 1576. Of the three named engravers, Martino Rota (ca. 1520-1583) is the best known: an outstanding artist and engraver from Sebenico, Dalmatia, he specialized in portraits, working in the style of Marcantonio Raimondi. His prints in this series are signed MR or MR SF, interpreted by Nagler as Sebenzan. fecit. Nicolò Nelli, who produced the majority of the signed engravings, was a talented engraver, etcher, print dealer and publisher in Venice, active from around 1552 to 1579. His engravings are signed in full or NN F (for formis, according to Nagler). Domenico Zenoi was the shadiest character of the three: a Venetian goldsmith and engraver, he received in December 1566 a 15-year privilege from the Venetian Senate to publish devotional prints, maps, and portraits. Within less than two years he was fined for dealing in obscene prints, but he continued producing maps, prints and print series in partnership with several Venetian publishers until about 1580. On stylistic grounds, most of the unsigned engravings may be attributed to Zenoi or Nelli.
A note on the provenance: The vast library of the Thun-Hohenstein family, kept in their castle on the Elbe, in Tetschner or D ín, now in the Czech Republic, was requisitioned and bought in 1932 by the Czech government. Impatient to get rid of the library, allegedly while the Count was on a safari in Africa, the War Ministry sent truckloads of books to an antique dealer in Prague for sale. This dealer put a few hundred of what he deemed the best books up for auction in April 1933, and offered the remaining approximately 9000 books to the book trade. “Opening day” of this “garage sale” was entertainingly described by H. P. Kraus in his autobiography. Kraus ended up with the lion’s share of the library, having bought the books left behind after the scrimmage was over. Needless to say, he did well.
The v. Engelshofen stamp, recorded on a few incunables and other early printed books, has not been identified by modern provenance scholars.
Contents of copies differ. Most have fewer plates than this copy, but two recorded copies include 75 portraits (the Spencer copy at New York Public Library [which is, however, rebound], and the Lipperheide copy at the Berlin State Library). Copies may have been issued as the plates were being produced, and they seem to have been assembled in no standard order. The engravings also appear separately, and were probably sold individually. I trace no other copies of this portrait book in the trade in recent decades. In the US, besides the NYPL copy, the Morgan Library has a copy with 57 plates, and the Library of Congress copy has 31 plates. The Met holds some individual prints. The series is notably absent from the Philip Hofer collection at Harvard.
EDIT-16 CNCE 69385 (misspelling the title); British Museum Collections online, museum numbers 1873,0510.2951 through 1873,0510.3012 (lacking the horseback portrait of Selim II). Cf. H. P. Kraus, A Rare Book Saga (1978), pp. 45-49. Item #3208