Sunday, 7 March 2010

Boccaccio visualizzato, ed. Vittore Branca, 3 vols (Einaudi, 1999)

The eagle-eyed amongst my devoted readers will have noticed that a little change has occurred on the side-bar listing those Books I Dream of Owning. That is because I no longer dream of owning Boccaccio visualizzato but now, in fact, possess the said wonder. I have been working on the visual traditions surrounding Boccaccio for a while now and will continue to do so for another piece of work I'd like to complete. So when the chance presented itself to acquire a copy of Branca's great catalogue, frankly I jumped at it. It was a great price too, but I shan't be so vulgar as to talk about such things.

The work was published in 1999 but it had been long awaited, and a series of publications throughout the 1980s and '90s signalled what goodies it was to contain. (For reviews, see those of Christopher Kleinhenz in Speculum 79 [2004], 455-457; and Evelyn Lincoln in Heliotropia 1/1 [2003], available here). The basic idea was to publish a catalogue of images based on Boccaccian texts; these images appeared in manuscripts, on panels (cassoni etc), in paintings, and other media, from the middle ages right down to the modern era. It is a veritable cornucopia and remains a foundational resource.

The first volume contains a set of more general essays. They are: Vittore Branca: 'Introduzione: Il narrar boccacciano per immagini dal tardo gotico al primo Rinascimento'; idem., 'Interespressività narrativo-figurativa e rinnovamenti topologici e iconografici discesi dal Decameron'; Paul F. Watson, 'Architettura e scultura e senso della narrazione: Guido Cavalcanti e le case dei morti'; Victoria Kirkham, 'L'immagine del Boccaccio nella memoria tardo-gotica e rinascimentale'; Creighton Gilbert, 'La devozione di Giovanni Boccaccio per gli artisti e per l'arte'; Andreina Griseri, 'Di fronte al Decameron: L'età moderna'.

The second volume contains works of art of Italian origin. The first section is on Tuscany and northern Italy, and contains: Maria Grazia Ciardi Dupré Dal Poggetto, 'L'iconografia nei codici miniati boccacciani dell'Italia centrale e meridionale', with the relevant schede; Massimiliano Rossi, 'I dipinti - Introduzione: la novella di Sandro e Nastagio', with the relevant schede. The second second treats of the Veneto, and eastern Padania; Susy Marcon, 'I codici illustrati nell'area veneta', and schede; Giordana Mariani Canova, 'I codici dell'area padana orientale: tra Bologna, Ferrara e Mantova', with schede; Augusto Gentili, 'Boccaccio e la cultura figurativa veneziana fra Quattrocento e Cinquecento', and schede. The third and final section of this second volume treats of Lombardy, and western Padania: Antonio Cadei, 'I codici lombardi', with schede; Marichia Arese Simcik, 'I dipinti - Gli affreschi di Roccabianca (la novella di Griselda: Decameron, X 10).

The third volume deals with material produced outside Italy, concentrating on French, Flemish, English, Spanish and German manuscripts. The first section, on French and Flemish territories: Marie-Hélène Tesnière, 'I codici illustrati del Boccaccio francese e latino nella Francia e nelle Fiandre del XV secolo'; Brigitte Buettner, 'Il commercio di immagini: i mercanti, i Rapondi e il Boccaccio in Francia', with schede. Then the other geographical areas are covered in a section called 'Altre aree europee': Catherine Reynolds, 'I codici del Boccaccio illustrati in Inghilterra', with schede; and 'I codici di Spagna e Germania', and schede. A section on incunables ends the volume with Gianvittorio Dillon, 'I primi incunaboli illustrati e il Decameron veneziano del 1492'.

In a work with this much archival work being presented by such a variety of authors (the individual schede are by several different scholars), it is perhaps inevitable that there will be problems, but some are a little more serious. For example, the very famous catchwords in the Berlin autograph, Staatsbibliothek - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, MS Hamilton 90, are described in the scheda of that manuscript (Vol. 2, p. 62), prepared by Maria Cristina Castelli, with incorrect transcriptions of the catchwords themselves. It is a puzzling problem considering how famous this manuscript is, how often it had been described, and how easily available such transcriptions are, not least in Branca's own Cruscante edition. The coverage is by no means complete either and there are several interesting illuminated manuscripts not included. Branca himself was conscious of these problems and went into print subsequently lamenting how rushed the production process was and how he would have addressed them with more time.

Problems apart, however, it is a monumental publication and a testament to the editor's extraordinary energy and capacious learning that he even conceived of such a catalogue, let alone executed it. I am delighted to have it, and it is a delighted to open it.

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