Giovannantonio Tagliente's manual on chancery cursive and geometric type design was one in his series of teaching handbooks on a variety of arts and skills, all of which first appeared in the late 1510s and 1520s, when Tagliente was in the twilight of a long career as a handwriting instructor, and master calligrapher at the chancery of Venice. Tagliente's series included works on mathematics, business correspondence, bookkeeping, embroidery design, writing irresistible love letters, and even a primer which promised to teach ambitious, illiterate women how to read and write in two months or less. All the books in his series were composed in vernacular—his audience being the great Serenissma secretariat—and all were timely, successful, and well regarded. But La vera arte delo excellente scrivere was Tagliente's hit, and saw more than 30 editions by 1600. It was by far the most enduring of Tagliente's output, and indeed of all Italian writing books, and has since been studied in even greater depth then the oeuvres of his predecessor, Arrighi, or his heir apparent, Palatino. Tagliente's book, perennially published in quartos of 24 or more leaves (excepting a 16-leaf oblong edition printed with half-blocks, a unicum held at Newberry), still astonishes today with its proliferation of comely chancery alphabets—some sublimely inventive, others proximal echos of Arrighi, and still others glorious, impractical calligraphic orchids found only in the earliest editions and subtracted from later. Tagliente includes an elegant Hebrew fount printed on a black criblé ground, a woodcut of writing implements and inkpots, and a dramatic italic that leans leftward (printed in mirror symmetry to its right-leaning counterpart); the fount of this design was supposedly cast on parallelogram-shaped bodies, which was surely a nightmare for compositors. Our 1525 edition is the fourth overall—the first having appeared the year before—and has seven quarto gatherings. The woodcuts were accomplished by Tagliente's friend and contemporary, Celebrino Eustachio, an Udine-born engraver and penner of pop manuals on such eclectic subjects as cosmetics, plague remedies, and Turkish vocabulary. Most spectacular of Eustachio's engravings, to our eye, is his elaborate asymmetric monogram of Tagliente's patron, Hieronymo Dedo (at D2v), which, after five centuries, is still breathtaking in its modernity. Even the enthusiastic fan of Tagliente's writing book is always surprised by some feature previously unnoticed—bizarre ligatures, entrelac capitals, even an ordinary lettera formata that would look more at home in a Cologne incunable. Tagliente's book, a sensational composite of xylography and typography, is the essential nexus of calligraphy, type design, and the rise of the writing master in early modern Venice.
Full title: Lo preſente libro inſegna La Vera arte delo Excellẽ- | te scrivere de diuerſe varie ſorti de litere le quali Se | fano Geometrica Ragione. E Con La Preſente | opera ognuno Le Potra Imparare impochi giorni p[er] Lo Amaiſtramento, | ragione, | e Eſſempli, come qui seguente | Vederai. || Opera del tagliente nouamente | composta cum gratia el anno di ñra salute | MDXXV [N.l. (Venice?), n.p., 1525]
[Venice?]: ? 1525.
Quarto, 215 x 153 x 15 mm (binding), 211 x 150 x 10 mm (text block). A-G4 = ff = pp. Nineteenth-century vellum drummed over thin boards, titled in manuscript on spine: TAGLIENTE. Boards a bit cockled, some soiling to covers. Interior: Stains to title; first leaves toned, marginal blemishes to A4 and B1, pale stains to E2-4; ink smudges to D1r; old mended closed slits, without loss, to F4-G2 (three leaves); old glue stains in gutter margin of blank last page.
Contemporary owner's signature within tail border rules of title, but too tiny to read. Block-printed custodial signature of Hans Gutacker, Bonn printing magnate, to upper pastedown. Gutacker acquired the book from Lathrop C. Harper in 1974. Later in the collection of Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow, whose ex libris is found on the upper pastedown. Arthur Vershbow, a Newton, Mass industrialist and bibliophile, maintained highly selective standards for rare books, and acquired only exceptional copies. Following his death, Christie's dispersed the Vershbow collection in four parts in 2013; our Tagliente sold as lot 326.
Bonacini 1810; cf Essling 2184; Osley, A. S., Luminario, Nieuwkoop: Midland, 1972, pp. 14-40; Becker, David P., The Practice of Letters: The Hofer Collection of Writing Manuals 1514-1800, CUP 1997, pp. 4-7; Johnson, Alfred Forbes, "A Catalogue of Italian Writing-Books of the Sixteenth Century," Signature: New Series, Vol. 10, London: Curwen, 1950 pp. 21-48; Johnson, Alfred Forbes, Three Classics of Italian Calligraphy, Chicago: Dover, 1952 (Introduction); Bell, Rudolph M. How to Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
Status: On Hold