Friday, August 2nd, 2013...9:30 am

What’s New: Acquisitions from the Collection of Charlotte and Arthur Vershbow

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Betti, Giovanni Battista. A' dilettanti delle bell'arti. Firenze, 1779. 2013H-10In the second half of the twentieth century Charlotte and Arthur Vershbow of Boston formed a notable private rare book collection. They were close friends of Philip Hofer, founding curator of Houghton Library’s Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, and their collecting was deeply influenced by Hofer’s collection and attitude toward collecting. After the deaths of Charlotte in 2000 and Arthur in 2012, the Vershbow family decided to sell the collection, which is being offered in a series of sales at Christie’s New York. From Part Three of the auction, June 20, 2013, Houghton Library was fortunate enough to acquire three outstanding eighteenth-century illustrated Italian books. All are quite rare, and all had eluded even Philip Hofer. Although books from the Vershbow collection have been bringing high prices at auction, the library was able to acquire these highly desirable items using funds from the Philip Hofer Charitable Trust in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, supplemented generously with central Houghton Library funds.

Giovanni Battista Betti’s A’ Dilettanti delle Bell’Arti (Florence, 1779) is the first edition of an inventive engraved alphabet book in which each floridly elaborate letter stands independently in a landscape where it is accompanied by a figure from Greek or Roman mythology whose name begins with the letter in question. Houghton Library previously possessed only the second edition of 1785.

Betti, Giovanni Battista. A' dilettanti delle bell'arti. Firenze, 1779. Title page 2013H-10

The Iconografia della Ducal Basilica dell’Evangelista S. Marco (Venice, 1726) consists of nine double-page or even larger folding plates of engravings by Vincenzo Mariotti after drawings by Antonio Visentini. The large-scale, detailed, and beautifully printed plates depict all aspects, interior and exterior, of the basilica of St. Mark, and demonstrate Visentini’s virtuosity as an architectural draftsman. In addition to several other printed works and an album of architectural drawings by Visentini, bequeathed to the library by Philip Hofer, Houghton holds no fewer than three copies of the 1761 publication L’Augusta ducale Basilica dell’evangelitsa San Marco nell’inclita dominante de Venezia, in which Visentini’s plates from 1726 were reprinted, with alterations, and accompanied by a text describing the church.

Visentini, Antonio, 1688-1782. Iconografia della Ducal Basilica dell'Evangelista S. Marco (detail). Venice, 1726. 2013H-12

Antonio Zatta, the most important publisher in Venice in the latter part of the eighteenth century, is known for the luxurious illustrated engraved books produced by his firm. His works, embellished with engraved borders, illustrations, and vignettes, exemplify the elaboration and elegance of eighteenth-century Venetian printing. From the Vershbow sale, Houghton Library was able to acquire an album that is in effect a specimen book or visual catalogue of ornaments used in Zatta’s shop. Nearly 300 engraved vignettes and illustrations, grouped by topic, were printed several to the page using the original, individual copperplates. Markings in the book and signs of wear indicate that this was the shop reference copy. It is probably a unique survival.

Zatta, Antonio, active 1757-1797. Imprese et emblemi tipografici. Venice, ca. 1770-1790. 2013H-11

These three books join the important collection of eighteenth-century Venetian illustrated books already in the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts. Before her recent death Eleanor M. Garvey, retired Philip Hofer Curator of the Printing and Graphic Arts, had largely completed a catalogue of the library’s holdings of these works. It is with pride that Houghton Library makes these additions to her beloved collection.

This post is part of a series called “What’s New.” Throughout the year, Houghton staff members will be blogging about new acquisitions and newly digitized materials. All posts associated with this series may be viewed by clicking on the What’sNew tag.

[Thanks to Hope Mayo, Philip Hofer Curator of Printing and Graphic Arts, for contributing this post.]

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