“The Most Extensive Collection of Engravings of Sculpture Published in the 16th Century” -Thomas Ashby

Cavalieri, Giovanni Battista (1525-1597)

Antiquarum statuarum urbis Romae primus et secundus liber. Ludouico Madrucio S.R.E. Card amplissimo dic. Baptista de Caualleriis authore

[Rome:] no printer, no date, ca. 1574- 1584


Quarto: Engraved title page and 100 engraved plates. Complete.

THE FIRST EDITION (1st issue) to include all 100 plates.

Bound in 18thc. stiff parchment, title label with gilt lettering. A fine, wide-margined copy with beautiful, rich impressions of the plates. Title lightly soiled and with upper blank margin restored (not affecting the plate.) A few spots in the blank, inner margin of the first plate, far from the image. Else very fine.

The publishing history: According to Thomas Ashby’s classification of the editions, the first edition of Cavalieri’s book of statues appeared before April 1561. That edition, the “Liber Primus” consisted of only 58 plates, all of which were from original drawings, except for the plates of Pasquino and Marforio, which were copied from Lafrery’s “Speculum”. A second edition appeared in 1561-1562, consisting of an engraved title and only 52 plates. In 1570 the Venetian printer Girolamo Porro made copies of the original plates for his own edition, which he republished in 1576.

Prior to 1584 –and possibly as early as 1574 (the title page is undated)- Cavalieri produced this new edition, comprising two books rather than one, with a total of 100 plates (52 plates in the first book and 48 new plates in the second.) For this edition, the title page was re-cut and the first 25 plates were re-engraved. A second edition with these same 100 plates followed in 1585.

The editions of (?)1584 and 1585 may be called the definitive editions of these plates. In the edition of 1593 that followed, the first hundred plates were poorly re-engraved and another 100, which brought the work up to four books in total, were also inferior in quality to those in the original sets. 

Justly celebrated for his artistic gifts and his talent as an engraver, the success of Giovanni Battista Cavalieri is also attributable in large part to his social connections. Cavalieri moved in a refined cultural sphere populated by fellow artists, humanists, collectors, aristocrats, and patrons, who either resided in Rome or who were drawn into its cultural orbit.

Despite the disastrous Sack of Rome in 1527, the Renaissance fascination with antiquity continued unabated not only among the scholars, artists, and cultural elite, but also among the endless flood of visitors and pilgrims who came to marvel at the wonders of the Eternal City. This fascination led to an ever-increasing demand for graphic representations of ancient Roman sculpture and monuments, whose fragmentary and dilapidated state only amplified the sense of awe experienced by those who saw them.

Following –and undoubtedly influenced by- the engraver/publisher Antoine Lafréry, who came to dominate the market for engraved views in the mid-sixteenth century, Cavalieri developed his own impressive and varied portfolio of engraved subjects: the monuments and statues of antiquity, portraits of the emperors and popes, Counter-Reformation depictions of martyrdoms, and commemorative scenes. His first important project was the production of a series of engravings recording ancient Roman sculpture, the “Antiquarum Statuarum Urbis Romae Libri” (The Ancient Statues of the City of Rome.)

Cavalieri’s book of statues, the “most extensive collection of engravings of sculpture published in the 16thcentury”, is an invaluable source for our knowledge of ancient sculpture, Renaissance archaeology, and the culture of collecting in the sixteenth-century. Cavalieri’s carefully rendered images preserve information on the way many statues looked prior to alteration or restoration, and help us to identify statues now lost or destroyed. By adding inscriptions at the foot of the engravings that both identify the subject and its location, Cavalieri helps us to reconstruct collections later dispersed, and to gain insight into the Renaissance interpretation of subjects.

Remarkably, Cavalieri enjoyed privileged access to the major sculpture collections of the period: the Belvedere collection of Pope Clement VII, the collection in the Villa of Julius III, the Villa Madama, the collection of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, and the Capitoline collection, the oldest public collection in Rome. The collections of the great families were open to him: Della Valle, Farnese, Borghese, Cevoli, Cesi, Carpi, and others. Without his social connections, there would be no “Book of Statues” or any other in-depth record from this period.

The 17th century witnessed a number of books for which Cavalieri’s original engravings served as inspiration. Some of Cavalieri’s original plates appeared again in the 17th century.  In 1613, Nicolas Van Aelst came into possession of 28 plates from Cavalieri’s first edition, including the 25 that had been discarded by Cavalieri for the ca. 1584 edition, and another 3 that were only used in the first edition. The remaining 65 plates from Bks I and II and most of those from Bks III and IV, were in the hands of Giacomo Marcucci in 1623. According to Ashby, “There is no doubt that this division was due to the will of Cavalieri.”(p. 130) Of all of the original plates, only 18 from Bks I and II, and 32 from Bks 3 and 4, are still extant. They are housed in the Regia Calcografia.

Edit16: CNCE 10454