Venice: Manfredus de Bonellis de Monteferrato, 31 January 1491 [1492?]. 4to (211 x 145 mm). 70 (of 72) leaves, a2.7 supplied in facsimile. Gothic type, 40-41 lines, initial spaces with printed guide letters. 64 (of 66) woodcuts within any of five decorative historiated frames; a single woodcut initial. Modern russet morocco. Some spotting and soiling. Provenance: Giambattista Giorno (early ownership inscription); some early marginalia at end, and a few early ink outlines of animals; sold by Philip Hofer to Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow in 1967. Item #401731
Bonellis’ first edition of Aesop’s Fables, illustrated with a superb series of woodcuts that were in part based on the first Venetian series, used by Bernardinus Benalius in his 20 November 1487 edition (GW 431, only a single imperfect copy known). “The book is charmingly illustrated; the designs being redrawn and improved from those in the Venice Aesop of 1487. There is so much artistic freedom in the treatment of the cuts, that they are fully entitled to be regarded as new and independent compositions. The animal-figures are full of spirit and are sketched with great boldness and precision; a more delicate grace marks the drawing of the human figures. Tasteful borders, composed of separate pieces frequently repeated in various combinations, serve as frames to the pictures. The engraving is executed in fine outlines” (Friedrich Lippmann, The Art of Wood-Engraving in Italy in the Fifteenth Century, London, 1888, p. 98).
According to Giovanni Mardersteig, half of the woodcuts are based on those printed by Benalius, and the “other half are original and are designed and cut by an able artist.” Arthur M. Hind rates these cuts as finer than Benalius’s, and the artist to be “nearly related to (if not identical with) the designer of the Mallermi Bible of 1493, [who] has a fine classic sense, and is well served by the delicate draughtsmanship of his cutter” (p. 414). The 31 January 1491 date in the colophon may be interpreted as 31 January 1491/92 with year-change on March 1. Bonellis reprinted his Fabulae in at least five later editions. The cuts continued to be used in octavo editions in Venice by Simone de Prello into the 1530s. .