4to (201 x 149 mm). , 172,  pages. Title within four-block woodcut border containing 9 compartmentalized Biblical scenes, three full-page illustrations each containing a large woodcut placed within woodcut and type-ornament borders, all text pages set within woodcut ornamental and figurative four-block borders (alternating four series for the top and side blocks and five for the lower blocks), nearly every page with a woodcut or typographic ornamental cartouche for chapter headings (six sets), extensive use of type ornaments, one woodcut initial. Light staining to first few leaves. Modern parchment over pasteboards, two pairs of leather fore-edge ties (defective), scalloped edges. Provenance: “Giuseppe Franceschino Milleri Perugino”, 18th or 19th-century inscription on title.***
First Edition in Italian of a pre-Tridentine Milanese book of prayers for adherents of the Rosary. The strikingly illustrated edition, containing two fine late 15th- or early 16th-century Lombard woodcuts, promoted the hugely popular but not yet orthodox religious phenomenon of the Rosary, serving a strategic purpose in Charles Borromeo’s Counter-Reformation activism.
Scalvo signed the dedication to Borromeo, who had been ordained as Archbishop of Milan in 1564. Pacifico Da Ponte, official printer to the Archbishopric, had issued a Latin edition (with a different dedication) a month earlier, using the same stock of woodcuts. In its two editions, this Marian text clearly served the activist Counter-Reformation program promoted by the future Cardinal and saint in his Milan diocese. The largest archidiocese in Italy, Milan’s was also the most corrupt, abuse having run rampant following 80 years of absentee Archbishops.
While it had ancient origins, the “modern” form of reciting the Rosary originated in monastic devotions in the early 15th century. It spread quickly, largely through the medium of print. “The Virgin’s psalter could be recited by laypeople, the destitute, or the illiterate; it did not require a special place of worship or clergy” (Ardissino, 344). Long resisted by the Church for these reasons, recitation of the Rosary prayers was finally ratified as admissible Church practice by Pope Pius V, in the bull Consueverunt Romani Pontifices, in September 1569, a few months after publication of these editions. As a manifestation of the cult of the Virgin — attacked by Luther and the Reformers, in whose view Marian devotion threatened to eclipse worship of Christ — the Rosary was embraced by the Counter-Reformation as part of its general co-opting of popular devotion to the Virgin as a means of strengthening adhesion to the Church.
The edition is characterized by a lavish and imaginative use not only of woodcut borders, which incorporate scenes from the life of the Virgin, figures of saints, putti, caryatids, masks, flower vases, and arabesques, but also of typographic ornaments, including manicules and Greek crosses. The three large woodcuts, introducing each of the three parts, show the Virgin and Child enthroned (facing p. 1), the Crucifixion (p. 56), and the Resurrection (p. 118). The two latter beautiful, archaic woodcuts inspired a long entry in Rava’s supplement to Sander, for these “remarkable woodcuts,” unknown outside Scalvo’s rosary book, were almost certainly printed from blocks dating to very beginning of the 16th century. Rava remarks that “above all the woodcut of the Resurrection belongs to the best period of Lombard woodcuts,” comparing it to several earlier woodcuts, including a large cut used by the Milanese printer Leonardus Pachel in Melchior da Parma, Dialogi de anima, 1499 (GW M 473), which uses the same style of parallel hatching all in the same direction, and very similar background landscape and clouds, and to woodcuts used in Ferraro, Tesoro spirituale, Milan 1499 (GW M45657), and Nani Mirabelli, Polyanthea, Savona 1503, both illustrated by Paul Kristeller in Die Lombardische Graphik (pp. 49 and 52), and attributed by him to an artist or wood engraver whom he dubbed the “Master of Melchior da Parma.”
This vernacular edition is rarer, outside of Italy, than the Latin edition, with OCLC locating one copy of this edition in an American library (Newberry), and five of the Latin edition.
EDIT-16 CNCE 53865; Rava, Supplément à Max Sander, Le livre à figures italien (1969) 4342 (wrongly collated), illus. pl. 50 & 51. Cf. P. Kristeller, Die lombardische Graphik der Renaissance (1913), pp. 48-57. Cf. E. Ardissino, “Literary and Visual Forms of a Domestic Devotion: The Rosary in Renaissance Italy,” Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy (Brill, 2018), pp. 342-371. Item #4169