Rare first edition of Ruscelli’s Le Imprese Illustri – Venetia – 1566


Rare first edition of Ruscelli’s Le Imprese Illustri – Venetia – 1566

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Rare first edition of Ruscelli’s Le Imprese Illustri, one of the major books of emblems of the Italian Renaissance with extraordinary large double-page plates


Le imprese illustri con espositioni, et discorsi del S.or Ieronimo Ruscelli. Al Serenissimo et sempre Felicissimo Re Catolico, Filippo d’Austria. Con gratia e privilegio.
In Venetia , Appresso Francesco Rampazetto, dalla pagina del colophon – 1566
Girolamo Ruscelli


Rigid full parchment, handwritten title ont he spine (“Ruscelli Trattato divare Impresse Illusstri”), bands in relief; signs of use – sheets (2b) + (10) + column 8 + pages [9 – 136] + columns [137 – 144] + pages [145 – 212] + (4) + [213 – 344] + columns [ 345 – 352] + pages [353 – 398] + (18) + [401 – 566] + (1) + (1b) + sheets (2b); double-page plates with paper reinforcement on verso.



Good fresh copy with wide margins. Marbled endpapers, stamp on the first white, text also in italics, on one and two columns, 3 copper-engraved allegorical title pages (one for each of the three books that make up the entire work

a, the second and the third in D3v and DDD4v), 4 original double-page engraved copper plates, the fifth reproduced on period paper, 15 full-page engraved coats of arms and 114 small illustrations engraved in the text, plus various initials, typographer’s mark Damiano Zenaro at the end (motto: “Virtuti sic cedit envy”) at BBBB4r.





Seminal publication for the research and study of Heraldry.

Hundreds of emblems engraved in copper of various sizes, even double-page. Beautiful fresh copy with well-impressed engravings of one of the major books of emblems of the Italian Renaissance, very valuable for the abundance and elegance of the engravings, portraying, within rich borders, the most varied subjects: animals, birds, plants, sun, stars, etc.


The illustrations are exceptional in their quality. The central double page, depicting the battle of Mühlberg, is the work of Domenico Zenoni, then one of the most active engravers in Venice, particularly known for his representation of contemporary events.

Praz, 145. Soranzo, 2559. Brunet IV, 1463. Graesse VI, 194. Choix, 5208. Cicognara, 1949 (describes the reprint of Franceschi, 1584).


Through the enterprise of the princes, most of whom were still alive at the time of the composition of the work, Ruscelli’s book draws a real political map of Europe in the mid-sixteenth century.

There are the two most powerful royal families of the time, the Habsburgs and the Valois and the company of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The first author to underline this link, Ruscelli attributes an important place to female enterprises, revealing the influence that leading women acquired in the second half of the 16th century, such as Catherine de’ Medici.


Art situated between literature and pictorial work, the enterprise is, according to Ruscelli, a know-how in which women excel, testified by their status and their commitment in the literary activities of the period “we see that however the Women are thus making glorious competition to men who, by their almost common consent, find themselves far superior.”

Each enterprise being the mirror of its prince, they become the demonstration of the inseparable link between the social class and the intellectual culture during the Renaissance. They highlight the qualities and noble values ​​that the prince wants to show the world.


At * 2 we find Ruscelli’s dedication to King Philip II of Spain, in which the Author explains his purpose to ‘consecrate’ the important lives of the princes which he was about to publish here. Two different indexes follow. Among others, the Author depicts the coats of arms of Alfonso II Duke of Ferrara, Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, Bertoldo Farnese, Archduke of Austria Charles II, Cardinal Charles Borromeo, Emperor Charles V, King of France Charles IX, Catherine de ‘Medici, Pope Clement VII, Duke Cosimo de’ Medici, Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara, Emperor Ferdinand I, King of Spain Philip II, Francesco Gonzaga, Isabella Gonzaga, Sforza Pallavicino, Sultan Suleiman and Guido Bentivoglio.

“Useful for not only the devices themselves but for the coats of arms included in the elaborate borders on most of the devices and for miscellaneous information about the owners”. Vinet, 848. STC Italian, p. 593. Adams, R-955. Brunet, IV, 1463: “édition la plus complète”. Graesse, VI, 194. Adams, R-955. Cicognara, 1949: “Work well executed, and eruditely illustrated”. Olschki, Choix, I, 357a: “Excellentes gravures”. EDIT16


The full-page engraved emblems are for sovereigns, princes and high-ranking characters, the smaller ones for those of lesser importance; the two full-page emblems are for Charles V and Philip II respectively.

Ruscelli, a well-known polygrapher from Viterbo born around 1504, died in Venice in 1566, was the founder of the Accademia dello Sdegno in Rome, translator of Ptolemy’s “Geography”, editor of classic editions, first commentator of “Orlando Furioso” , publisher of Petrarca’s “Canzoniere” and of the “Decameron”, author of treatises on companies (“Illustrious companies”) and other well-known volumes (“Del modo di composito in versi”, “Commentarii della lingua italiana”), among which, perhaps, the anonymous compilation of the “Alessio Piemontese”.


He was a friend of Ariosto, Bernardo and Torquato Tasso, Aretino and Dolce (the latter two later became his bitter rivals) and his publishing activity was spent between Rome and Venice, where he published for important printers such as Sessa and Valgrisi. Praz, Studies in XVII Century Imagery, 482. Mortimer, 449 and 450.

27,5 x 20,5 cm