A Classic in The Study of Greek Dance

GIRONI, Robustiano

Le danze dei Greci descritte e pubblicate pel faustissimo imeneo di Sua Altezza Imperiale e Reale il Serenissimo Principe Ranieri Arciduca d’Austria, ecc. ecc. ecc. e Viceré del Regno Lombardo-Veneto con Sua Altezza Serenissima la Principessa Elisabetta di Savoia-Carignano, ecc. ecc.,

Milan: dall’Imperiale Regia Stamperia, 1820


Folio, 4 leaves, 68 pages, with 6 engraved plates with contemporary coloring.

Contemporary calf richly gilt on panels, spine, and edges. Large margins, bright, crisp leaves. A superb copy.

THE RARE, SOLE EDITION of this landmark in the history of illustration, typography, and the historical study of dance. The book was published in an edition of only 80 copies on the occasion of the marriage between the Archduke Ranieri of Habsburg, Viceroy of the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, and the Princess Elisabetta of Savoy-Carignano.

Robustiano Gironi (1769-1838) was a man of letters and a public official of the Milanese State under both Napoleonic and Austrian rule. In 1803, after some years spent teaching rhetoric in a religious college and in the archiepiscopal seminary of Milan, he became secretary of the Ministry of Interior of the Italian Republic founded by Napoleon and, at the same time, entered the staff of the Brera Library. After the Austrian Restoration in Milan in 1817 he was appointed head librarian by the Emperor Francis I. Thanks to his deep erudition, Gironi contributed to the literary journals Il Poligrafo and the Biblioteca italiana. He was a specialist in Latin epigraphy, but he knew also Classical Greek and is known above all for his antiquarian books on ancient Greek civilization, devoted to the history of dance, wedding customs, music, architecture, art, and theatre.

Le danze dei Greci is an exquisite example of Neoclassical printing and book illustration. Interest in the subject, the dances of the ancient Greeks, had grown steadily in the decades following the rediscovery of Pompeii and Herculaneum. This was especially true in Milan, where Salvatore Viganò - in Stendhal’s opinion, one of the leading figures of Italian Neoclassicism, together with Canova and Rossini - represented at La Scala a series of coreodrammi dealing with Classical themes, where dancers reproduced hieratic gestures derived from Greco-Roman statues. The research on Classical dance was also encouraged by the contemporary practice of the so-called ‘attitudes’ (or ‘tableaux vivants’), with famous dancers posing as and embodying ancient female characters, such as Medea, Circe, or the Maenads. It is within this climate that Gironi defends the idea of an uninterrupted continuity between ancient Greek dances and modern ones, in line with contemporary works studying modern Greek dances from a comparative view (see in particular the seminal work by Pierre-Augustin Guys, Voyage littéraire de la Grèce ou Lettres sur les Grecs anciens et modernes, avec un parallèle de leurs moeurs, 1771).

References: Blackmer 693; Lipperheide 185; Magriel, Bibliography of Dancing, p. 81; G.G. Fagioli Vercellone, s.v. ‘Gironi, Robustiano’, DBI 56 (2001); G. Pucci, Per un’archeologia del gesto: la reinvenzione moderna della danza antica, «Classico Contemporaneo» 2 (2016), 25-40; Encyclopedia.com, s.v. ‘Neoclassicism’.