Verini | Newberry


Page from Giovanni Battista Verini's Luminario, libro qvarto (1527). Wing ZW 14 .V58

Page from Giovanni Battista Verini’s Luminario, libro qvarto (1527). Wing ZW 14 .V58

This essay, written by Stanley Morison, was originally published in The Newberry Library Bulletin volume 3, number 2 (April 1953), under the title “Some New Light on Verini.”

In the introduction to the English translation, published in 1947 by the Harvard College Library and the Newberry Library, of the Libro Terzo of Luminario, the statement is made that after the book’s original printing in Tusculano, circa 1527, its author G.B. Verini “did not persevere with lettering or calligraphy though he continued to write.” There follows mention of his books of verse, and it is noted that Professor D. E. Smith’s Rara Arithmetica cites, at second-hand, a work of Verini on arithmetic, Spechio del Mercatanti, Milan, 1542. Recent acquisitions of the Newberry Library necessitate revisions of these statements, and additions to the list of Verini’s works. The titles mentioned in the Introduction to Luminario make no pretense to completeness, still less to cite all the editions. For one not having access to the libraries of Rome, Milan, Florence, and Venice to make such an attempt would certainly be rash. It is not supposed, therefore, that the new items here first described complete the catalogue of Verini’s works.

It should be said at once that the Libro Terzo of Luminario is a formal treatise on the geometry of roman capitals. The first Libro is a treatise on the freehand making of large round gothic minuscule; the Libro Secundo is a treatise on the geometrical formation of the same; and the fourth and concluding Libro is a miscellaneous collection of freehand gruppi or flourishes, made with the broad pen, heavy interlaced gothic capitals, and specimens of correspondence, mercantile, and notarial hands. All appear without their respective titles, and like so much of the rest of this book, and indeed Verini’s output as a whole, convey the impression that he possessed more energy than capital and more confidence than knowledge. He was, in fact, a hardworking hack. He was, too, more active in the field of calligraphy than the writer of the Introduction to the Harvard-Newberry Luminario was aware, and so ranks as the prototype of Cocker, only more versatile.

Since the publication of the translation of the third part of Luminario the Newberry Library has catalogued a small quarto, Secreti et modi bellissimi nuovamente investigati per Giovambatista Verini Fiorentino: e professore de modo scribendi. The round gothic type used throughout is garnished on the title-page with a cut of a writer at a desk holding his pen and his rule. It is typical of Verini that this cut is not original but was re-engraved from an edition of Cicero, Epist. fam., Venice Rusconi, 1511 (Essling, Les livres à figures vénétiens, I, 43). The present copy consists of ten leaves which hardly complete the text, though the book may conceivably have been issued in this state. The Newberry Library copy was formerly in the possession of the Paris bookseller Morgand in 1891, was described by Essling (II, 643) in 1909, and again by Sander (Les Livres à Figures Italiens, 1942, III, 1299). The date ascribed is ca. 1530-35. Essling and Sander know of no other copy.

The contents of the Secreti are simple. Backing up the title-page are two large shaded arabesque roman capitals, A B. Facing this is a blank cartouche, above which are directions, and below a set of verses; the reader is invited to submerge the page in clear water, in which event the verses will appear in the cartouche. Thus the title “Secreti” means what is says: a collection of magical applications of the art of writing that Verini thought might be useful to the kind of audience which Tagliente cultivated with his writing in reverse and Palatino was to attract with his ciphers. The alphabet is carried on, two letters at a time, on the succeeding verso, through R S. Each recto has another cartouche, another set of verses, and another recipe for secret writing. Among the ingredients called for are lemon juice, a bone, charcoal, and a mirror for reading reversed writing. The final recto has Verini’s cipher and an ornamental arabesque. The final verso is blank. It is difficult to guess why the alphabet was never completed; judging from the physical make-up of the volume, however, the remaining blocks were not cut. This is not the only curious feature of the book. As has been said, it has no date or place of publication, though Essling’s attribution to Venice, and Sander’s 1530-1535 as the probable date, are both readily acceptable hypotheses.

It becomes necessary to fit into Verini’s career two other publications of calligraphic interest, hitherto unrecorded, which the Newberry Library now possesses. Neither was printed in Venice. The first is imperfect and partly mutilated. The title-page is clear enough, however. It sets forth the claim of Verini to be a writing-master and teacher of arithmetic in Milan, in the square, at the sign of the “bandere al Ballone.” Underneath is a woodcut of the master at a desk expounding the alphabet to a fair pupil; above the whole composition is the legend “LUMINARIO LIBRO 7” (see frontispiece). The printer was Pietro Paulo Verini, described as “Fiorentino” and doubtless a close relative—of whom, unfortunately, we know nothing. Obviously, however, as stated on the title-page, Giambattista Verini is the author; and it is now plain that he was the author, besides the four “books” in the Luminario (printed, it is believed, ca. 1527 in Tusculano) of three further “books” (i.e. 5, 6, 7) of Luminario, of which only No. 7, dated 1536, has come to light.

Next, the Newberry Library has recently acquired a complete and later edition of the preceding. This was printed not at Milan but at Brescia, in 1538. It differs in many points of detail from its predecessor. This title-page block is identical, but the text of the title now includes a dedication to the Marchesa del Guasta. Apparently Verini has now “arrived”—since for the first time he makes use of the name of a member of the nobility. The title-page significantly omits any reference to its character as a sequel to Luminario. We may suppose that he had now sold all the previous parts. Verini is still a resident of Milan, at the Sign of the Ballone (the balloon?). The verso of the title-page exhibits a conventionalized block of the writing-instruments, bearing a strong likeness to the block already used by Tagliente and to that which Palatino was to use in 1540. Introductory verses on the next page extol the master. These are headed by a cut in which two young pupils offer him copies of their exercise. There follow an introductory text on the difficulties of the cancellaresca corsiva, set in type; and twenty pages of wood-block illustrations. These include mercantile, chancery, a full-page cipher, white on black, of Verini’s christian name; decorative texts, white on black, set in cartouches; a few isolated arabesque and grotesque capitals and assorted examples of various common hands. The text concludes with a few pages of arithmetic, again in type. This strange melange is put together in a fashion very haphazard even for our hack. Obviously Verini was concerned only to profit from a market composed chiefly of pupils whom he could teach orally and thus induce to buy his books. He did not have the time or perhaps the ability to bestow much skill upon the editorial content or typographical production of the book, and deserves only the slightest credit for the job.

Almost without exception the best written and most carefully cut blocks are taken from Tagliente’s 1524 and 1525 editions. Whether Verini had used Tagliente’s own blocks, or whether they are skillful recuttings, it is impossible to say. That they could pass for the originals is certainly the fact. They do, however, reappear in Tagliente’s later editions, and it is possible that Verini managed to get perfect copies of them. The fact remains that while Verini does not claim to have made the designs, cut the blocks, or even to have contrived their cutting, he gives no credit to Tagliente. Verini thus proves himself to be a plagiarist; not, it must be admitted, an uncommon thing at the time.

It is interesting to speculate on the reasons why Verini, who boasted of his Florentine origin and lived in Milian, having employed a printer in Tusculano in 1527, in Venice in 1530-1535 (if we accept Essling’s and Sander’s judgments), went to a printer in Milan in 1536, and to another in Brescia in 1538. Perhaps it was for economic reasons—engravers may have been faster, or cheaper, outside Venice. He may well have had trouble paying his bills, and so found it convenient to change printers. Moreover, if Verini managed to secure some of Tagliente’s own blocks without the latter’s permission or that of his engraver, he could hardly have used them in Venice, where they were protected by privilege. It is not certain, however, that the property in the blocks covered all possible uses of them. The duplicate use of blocks engraved by Ugo da Carpi for Arrighi and by Celebrino for Arrighi and Tagliente has not been explained. The circumstances of Ugo da Carpi’s edition of the Thesauro de’ Scrittori are not less odd. The compilation of the book is ascribed by da Carpi to Sigismondo de’ Fanti. It is hard to believe that the author of the Triumfo di Fortuna and the Modo de Scribendi would father such a shoddy piece of work as the Thesauro. It is more likely that the paternity was thrust upon Fanti. One thing is certain: the privilege attached to writing-books in the second half of the 16th century was inadequately protected and hence was, by custom, limited to a degree difficult to ascertain. Thus Verini might have been able to secure, by some exchange of his own blocks, the loan of some blocks from Tagliente’s engraver or printer.

In sum, while the interest of these Verini items, hitherto unrecorded and now available at the Newberry Library, is not directly calligraphic, it is important bibliographically. The new finds help to illustrate the problems involved in any serious inquiry into the conditions under which the first writing-masters exercised their craft; how they plied their trade; the nature of their “copyright”; and finally, they prove that the editions of the manuals published in the early period, i.e., from Fanti to Palatino, are more numerous than had been realized.

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