Recent Acquisition: A Collection of Eighteenth-Century Illustrated Fables

BOO_003873139_t1-p00cby Marsha Stevenson, Visual Arts Librarian

The Hesburgh Libraries recently acquired a two-volume set called Raccolta di Varie Favole by Giorgio Fossati. Published in Venice in 1744, these books gather 216 fables from a variety of sources. The fables are printed in both Italian and French, and conclude with brief proverbs. Each is illustrated with a full-page engraving, many of which portray animals and/or architectural settings.

Giorgio Fossati (1705-1785) identifies himself as “Architetto” on the title page, but was a polymath of many talents. He was an accomplished etcher and book illustrator, publishing editions of Vignola and Palladio and producing numerous maps. He also worked in the performing arts, revising opera librettos and designing theatrical sets. He was specially noted for devising ephemeral decorations for feasts given in honor of distinguished foreign visitors.


This engraving “Of Armed Animals” comes from Book One, Fable 27. It illustrates the “soldiers” chosen by a wise Lion whose kingdom was being challenged by an upstart Leopard. These animals, among which are the Rhinoceros, the Crocodile, the Hedgehog, the Porcupine, and the Tortoise, all feature as their distinguishing characteristic both offensive and defensive capabilities. This thoughtful choice of “troops” enabled the Lion to defeat and banish the Leopard’s army. The accompanying proverb advises on the importance of soldiers being able to respect their leader.



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ND’s Conservation Lab Looks at our Pico: Is it human?

by Sue Donovan, Rare Books Conservator

The conservation lab, a unit within Hesburgh Libraries Preservation, has been part of a collaborative effort to determine if a book owned by the University since 1916 was bound in human skin. The book, a volume of the works of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, a 15th-century humanist writer, contains newspaper clippings and handwritten affidavits attesting to the book’s past. These documents purport that the book was owned by Christopher Columbus and was bound in the skin of a Moorish chieftain, which had been obtained after the conversion of the Muslim population of Granada to Catholicism by the zealous Cardinal Cisneros in 1500. After contradictions were found in the provenance records, the conservation lab engaged in identifying the nature of the skin used for the binding.

Opera Joannis Pici Mirandule Comitis Concordie, by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Argentinus: diligenter impressit industrius Ioannes Prüs Ciuis Argentinus Anno salutis 1503 Die vero XV Marcij i.e., 15 March 1504).

In January of 2015 two samples were taken—one from the purported human skin binding and one as a control from a book with a similar binding and of the same time period and country of production as the Pico volume. Finding an area that was relatively untouched was important so that there would be no contamination from proteins and grime from centuries of handling and consultation. Accordingly, small samples were taken from underneath the paper pastedowns of each book, and they were sent to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME), where they were analyzed through protein mass spectrometry. Proteins are more stable than DNA, and because of the unique patterns and mutations that exist across species, they can be used to determine whether a binding has been made with pig, sheep, calfskin, or human skin.

In the meantime, Conservator Liz Dube and I took the volume to the photo macroscopy lab on campus to see if we could determine any information about the origin of the skin through the pore and follicle patterns, but we left just as perplexed—perhaps even more so!—than when we arrived.

Based upon in-house tests, it was uncertain whether the Pico book was bound in human skin. We turned next to our outside collaborators for their expertise. To find out what they uncovered, read John Nagy’s article, “The Truth Uncovered,” in the Spring 2016 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

Thanks to George Rugg for his research on the provenance of the Pico volume, Donald Siegle of the NYC OCME for his correspondence regarding protein mass spectrometry, and John Nagy for his research into the personalities behind this book’s ownership and for bringing the information together in his article.


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Recent Acquisition: L’École des armes (The School of Fencing)

BOO_004370170-00eDomenico Angelo. L’École des armes: avec l’explication générale des principals attitudes et positions concernant l’escrime. . . . London: R & J Dodsley, 1763.

Domenico Angelo (c1717-1802) was an Italian fencing master whose School of Arms in Soho, London brought continental small-sword techniques to a fashionable English clientele that included members of the royal family. His L’École des armes (The School of Fencing), first published in London in 1763, went on to become the most influential instructional of the later eighteenth century (and the immediate source for the article on fencing in Diderot’s Encyclopédie). It is also a lavish book, an oblong folio (29 x 47 cm) containing 47 engraved plates after John Gwynn. Together, Angelo’s text (written in French) and Gwynn’s images provide a course of instruction that emphasizes both the cultivation of poise and grace and practical modes of self-defense.

Plate 14: Cinquieme position du Salut. (Fifth position of the Salute.)
Plate 21: De la parade de prime sur le coup de second. (Of the parade called prime against the second thrust.)
Plate 46: L’epée & Lanterne combattiie par l’epée & Manteau. (The sword & Lantern against the sword & Cloak.)

Rare Books and Special Collections recently acquired a first edition of L’École des armes, an important addition to the early modern sport-related titles in the Joyce Sports Collection.

Recent Acquisition: Three Works of Battista Piranesi

by Marsha Stevenson, Visual Arts Librarian

BOO_004334827-bk1-00gAn important new acquisition is Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Antichità d’Albano e di Castel Gandolfo (Antiquities of Albano and Castel Gandolfo), published in Rome in 1764. This volume is dedicated to Pope Clement XIII, who was an important patron of Piranesi’s. It is bound with two related works from 1762:  Descrizione e disegno dell’emissario del Lago Albano (Description and Design of the Emissarium of Lake Albano) and Di due spelonche ornate dagli antichi alla riva del Lago Albano (Concerning Two Caves Embellished by the Ancients on the Bank of Lake Albano). All three focus on the environs of Castel Gandolfo, which is just outside of Rome, overlooking Lake Albano, and is the summer residence of the popes.


Piranesi (1720-1778), best known as an etcher and engraver, was an influential figure in eighteenth-century neoclassicism. His Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) were informed by his personal architectural and archaeological research and are especially celebrated. Also of significance are his Carceri, which are imaginative views of early Roman prisons.

The volume acquired by the library was produced soon after Piranesi opened his own printing studio in 1761. It is a very early edition, issued without several of the illustrations that appeared in later versions. Two of the plates in Di due spelonche have lettering and drawing in pen and brown ink which are believed to be in Piranesi’s hand. Only eight other copies of this kind are known to be in existence.



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“Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion” Exhibit Opens

This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising, the rebellion that led to the eventual establishment of an Irish Free State. The University of Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute is at the forefront of the impetus to re-examine the events of 1916, with Professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada’s three-part documentary, 1916 The Irish Rebellion which will be shown on public television in Ireland, the U.S. and at screenings throughout the world.

Notre Dame will also be the center of Irish studies for five days this spring as host to ACIS (the American Conference for Irish Studies). Over a thousand visitors are expected at this conference.


In Hesburgh Libraries Rare Books and Special Collections, a special exhibit to mark this centenary is on display from February 12th until April 28th.

The exhibit draws from the Hesburgh Special Collections and includes books written by people involved in the events as well as contemporary accounts of the rebellion. Letters on display include one from Roger Casement. An extremely rare first edition of W. B. Yeats’s poem Easter, 1916 is part of the exhibit.

From the University Archives, a book recording the subscriptions of South Bend residents to an Irish government bond will be on display.

The exhibit is open to the public from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.

Leap Day

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII reformed the Julian calendar in order to bring the date for celebrating Easter closer in line with the date the early Church had celebrated it. He removed 10 days, skipping from October 4 to October 15, 1582, established February 29 as the official day to be added during a leap year, revised how leap years were determined, and also set January 1 as the first day of the year.

Although most Catholic countries adopted these reforms after they were enacted in 1582 by the papal bull Inter gravissimas, Protestant and Orthodox countries resisted. England and her colonies did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until almost two centuries later as this excerpt from the 1752 edition of Poor Richard Improved, an almanac published by Benjamin Franklin, explains.



Recent Acquisition: St. Fulgentius’ Works and the Homilies of St. Charles Borromeo

by Alan Krieger, Theology and Philosophy Librarian

Hesburgh Libraries recently acquired the important Latin works of Saint Fulgentius (468-533) and Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584).

BOO_004278527_pt1-001rThe first is a printed edition of the Latin works of St. Fulgentius, a North African bishop who, in the tradition of St. Augustine, vigorously defended orthodox doctrines on the Trinity and original sin against Arianism and Pelagianism. The volume (Opera B. Fvlgentii Aphri, episcopi Rvspensis . . . item opera Maxentii Iohannis) also includes the works of his lesser known contemporary, Joannes Maxentius, and was printed by the famed German publisher Anton Koberger in 1520. Koberger is best known for publishing the Liber cronicarum (Nuremberg Chronicle), a landmark incunable.

BOO_004300389-t1-00f_gIn addition, Hesburgh Libraries acquired volumes 1-5 of the first complete critical edition of Saint Charles Borromeo’s homilies, entitled Homiliae (Mediolani, 1747-48) and published as a 6-volume set. Saint Charles Borromeo’s was one of the giants of the Catholic Reformation. As Archbishop of Milan (1564-1584), Saint Charles was a leader in implementing the reforms enacted at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), contributing to the creation of the new Catechism commissioned by the Council (published in 1566) and establishing numerous seminaries, colleges, and communities for the education of those preparing for the priesthood.


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Recent Acquisition: Buddhist Art

by Hye-jin Juhn, East Asian Studies Librarian

The Hesburgh Libraries recently acquired two resources that serve as important scholarly sources for those who study Chinese/Tibetan Buddhism and Buddhist art. These resources are the highly-regarded 1970s reprints of original publications from the 1920s:

BOO_004176802-04The Thousand Buddhas: Ancient Buddhist Paintings from the Cave-temples of Tun-huang on the Western Frontier of China. Recovered and described by Sir Aurel Stein, with an introductory essay by Laurence Binyon

This Tokyo reprint (1978) was praised by Dr. W. Pachow, a Chinese Buddhist scholar, as a “extraordinary” and “very valuable.” His review that appeared on The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies in 1981 is a worthy introduction to the resource that includes a detailed description of the size and composition of the folio and its contents. Also important to note is Dr. Pachow’s point about a few unintended misinterpretations by Sir Aurel Stein who did not understand Chinese.

BOO_004176786-v1-pl_01Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien: Ergebnisse der Kgl. preussischen Turfan-Expeditionen (Postancient Buddhist Culture in Central Asia: Results of the Royal Prussian Turfan-Expedition). Records of items recovered and described by Albert von Le Coq.

This 1973-1975 print of the original Berlin edition (1922-1933) consists of seven volumes. Detailed descriptions about the first five volumes are available online.

The publications symbolically represent the early 20th century history of the Silk Road where long-lost cultural relics were discovered and then disappeared again, some of them permanently. Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia is a classic that tells of of the brave expeditions the above authors are credited with (or the blatant exploitation that they are accused of).


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“Fighting Words” digital exhibit

Notre Dame’s Rare Books and Special Collections is home to perhaps the strongest institutional collection of boxing-related books and periodicals in the United States. A selection of these wonderful materials may now be experienced virtually, via the digital exhibit Fighting Words: English and American Boxing Literature from the Joyce Sports Collection.

Modern prizefighting is of English origin, and had developed a distinctive culture with a rich and abundant literature by the turn of the nineteenth century. Fighting Words includes many scarce items from this so-called golden age of English pugilism (ca. 1790-1830). It then carries the story forward to the United States, which by the second half of the 19th century had become the fight game’s new center of gravity. Publishers like Richard Kyle Fox (The National Police Gazette) and Nathaniel “Nat” Fleischer (The Ring) were central to prizefighting’s emergence from illegality into the American sporting mainstream. The exhibit concludes with materials from the 1950s, hearkening the erosion of U.S. boxing culture in the second half of the 20th century.

Questions and comments should be directed to George Rugg, the Joyce Collection’s curator.

Spotlight Exhibit: Constructing Shakespeare

January 2016

The posthumous First Folio printing of William Shakespeare’s plays in 1623 represents a landmark development in the history of English drama, rescuing some of the bard’s works that would have been lost forever. The earlier editions that do exist, however, differ markedly from the First Folio, and there is little evidence that Shakespeare oversaw their publication. What, then, is the “real” text?

The Shakespeare we know emerges from hundreds of years of this debate. Current holdings and recent acquisitions in Rare Books and Special Collections shed light on the discussion as it developed into the nineteenth century. Selections from the Second and Third Folio accompany printings by some of Shakespeare’s earliest critical editors, including the famous poet Alexander Pope and the moral censor Thomas Bowdler.

This month’s spotlight exhibit is curated by Daniel Johnson, English Literature and Digital Humanities Librarian, and accompanies the special traveling exhibit “First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library.” The exhibit is open to the public 9:00am to 7:00pm Monday through Friday and noon to 5:00pm on weekends, through January 29, 2016 (extended hours due to the “First Folio!” exhibit).