4to (221 x 168 mm). , 140,  pp. + 32 leaves: engraved title on f. r, signed Bassano, and 16 full-page engravings, also attributed to Cesare Bassano, each printed on the recto of the first leaf of a bifolium with a letterpress list of inscriptions or epithets for each figure printed on the second recto. Woodcut initials, a variety of woodcut and typographic head- and tail-pieces. Printed correction slip to a word in the epithet list of the Erudition plate. Occasional slight dust-soiling, showthrough of ink ownership stamp on title verso, Astronomy plate and its conjugate detached, Rhetoric conjugate leaf printed crookedly causing cropping of woodcut headpiece. Contemporary parchment over pasteboards, spine backed in 18th-century parchment with gold-lettered title, blue-speckled edges (worn and soiled). Provenance: unidentified 19th-century square purple inkstamp (R) at foot of title verso and p. 11. ***
First Edition, second issue, of a key exposition of a Neo-Platonic philosophy of images.
Cristoforo Giarda was a Barnabite cleric and missionary who was to meet a tragic end: in 1648 Pope Innocent X named him Bishop of Castro, a town contested by the house of Farnese, and he was murdered en route to occupy his new seat. At the time this book was published he was professor of rhetoric at the Barnabite College of S. Alessandro in Milan. The text records a series of lectures which he delivered to the gathered Congregation in 1626, in a traditional demonstration of professorial prowess. “Giarda chose as the text of his speech or sermon the figures of sixteen `Disciplines’ or Liberal Arts which adorned the reading room of the newly erected College Library,” recently donated to the college by the Milanese nobleman and diplomat Carlo Bossi, “where — as we may presume — he had to give a sample of his skill” (Gombrich, p. 164). The sixteen paintings on the divisions (scrinia) of the library, which may have been designed by the donor, and the engravings by Bassano reproducing them, show female allegorical figures representing the various branches of knowledge: Sacred Scripture, Theology, Canon Law, Civil Law, Natural Philosophy, Moral Philosophy, Medicine, Surgery, Rhetoric, Poetry, Astronomy, Geography, Mathematics, Architecture, History, and Erudition. Each engraving is accompanied by a letterpress list of epithets describing the figure; possibly these were also inscribed on the original paintings.
Preceding Giarda’s descriptions of each of these allegorical figures is a eulogy of the art of symbolic images. Giarda’s exposition, whose sources and importance were brilliantly analyzed by Ernst Gombrich, amounts to a “culmination and summary” of a Neo-Platonic tradition which viewed visual symbols as paths to understanding of the divinity. To Giarda, “the Arts and Sciences are not `abstract concepts’ but spiritual entities, heavenly virgins, the daughters of the Divine intellect ... The Symbolic Image provides the means through which the inmates of the spiritual world can descend to earth and assume visible form there to rouse, instruct and transform the mind of man through the love of higher things” (Gombrich, p. 182). Renaissance Neo-Platonists viewed the universe as a “vast symphony of correspondences,” in which symbols revealed occult affinities. Knowledge of these correspondences and harmonies was attributed to the Ancients, who were closer to Creation. While this “symbolism as a form of revelation” contradicted in many ways the official doctrine of the Church, according to which religious images were simply tools for teaching the illiterate, by the Baroque period these views, whether articulated or not, had permeated literary and artistic culture and had been accepted into religious art. Giarda “belongs to the generation of Cortona and Bernini, the generation, that is, in which religious art was assigned the task of rousing the mind from vision to visions” (art. cit., p. 186).
Although the title states that this was Pars prior, no more was published. A presumably earlier issue, undated but with the imprint of the heirs of Melchior Malatesta (who signed the dedication to Giovanni Batista Trotto), is usually dated to 1626 after the date of the imprimatur (13 May 1626), but the sheets are otherwise identical (including the errata at the end of the preliminaries, and the printed correction slip to the list of Eruditio epithets, correcting the word “Corroboratrix,” which is in all copies).
Landwehr, J. Romanic emblem books, 320; Praz 349 (this issue); Cicognara 1899; Libreria Vinciana 4372. Cf. DBI 54: 572-574; Gombrich, “Icones Symbolicae: The Visual Image in Neo-Platonic Thought,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 11, 1948, pp. 163–192. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/750466. Item #4045