The oldest books in the Art Library – Part III

This post continues the series on some of the earliest books in the Art Library’s collection, all of which are housed in the Art Library’s rare book room.    If you want to see any of them, just ask at the desk.

Piero Valeriano is the author of the next book we’ll look at.  Titled Ioannis Pierii Valeriani Bellunensis Hieroglyphica, Seu, de Sacris Aegyptiorum Aliarumque Gentium Literis Commentarii : Summa cum Industria Exarati, & in Libros Quinquaginta Octo Redacti … : Accessere Nunc Primùm Perutiles ad Marginem Annotationes Nunquam Hactenus Excusae, unà cum Declamatiuncula Pro Barbis, ac Eiusdem Poematibus … cum Indice Gemino, it was published in   Lugduni (Lyon, France)  by Sumptibus Pauli Frelon in 1602.

Pierio Valeriano (1477-1560) was a scholar and poet and, like many 16th century humanists, worked for rich cardinals and bishops.  In Valeriano’s case, the bishop he worked for was Pope Leo X.  His book, the beginning of which translates as Hieroglyphics or sacred writing of the Egyptians, argues that the symbolic wisdom of Egyptians accords with the fundamental teachings of Christian theology.  His book is a pioneering work on hieroglyphics and emblematic literature, bringing together the allegorical symbolism of medieval bestiaries and the symbolic approach to Egyptian writing.

Emblematic literature flourished in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. An emblem combines both words and images, the interpretation of which is meant to require a degree of intellectual effort .  The result of that effort is an understanding of the intended moral lesson. Emblems generally consist of three parts: a short motto, a pictorial representation or icon, and the explanation of the link between them in an epigram.

Below are the title page and a typical page:


Why does the library collect rare books?  Because they are primary source materials of art history, offering a first-hand account of an artist’s life, the first critical response to a building or painting, or a new theory of art or architecture.  As the building blocks of art history, they remain relevant sources for researchers.



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