Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2019 Issue

An Amazing Find within the Pages of a 500-year-old Book

3567491c-3489-481b-9cb7-81ead418e75a

Giorgione's drawing and inscription (University of Sydney photo).

There are two dreams we have when discovering an old book in the attic. One is that it is of great value; the other is that there is something of great value tucked away inside. The latter happened at the University of Sydney Library in Australia recently, but the value is beyond great. It could well be stupendous. Here is the surprising story.

 

Kim Wilson of the Sidney University Library was going through the pages of a 1497 edition of Dante's Divine Comedy when she came across a drawing on a blank page near the back of the book. The image is in red and more faded than you would like, but it can be seen. It appears most likely to be a drawing of a Madonna and child. You might think it was just some doodling, but obviously it was by someone with artistic talent. Still, it is unlikely to have been a big deal as the identity of the artist would be indecipherable but for one thing - there is some writing at the top of the page. It is in Italian.

 

Ms. Wilson contacted Emeritus Professor Nerida Newbegin of Italian Studies for a translation. No one could have expected what that would reveal. The translation reads:

 

"1510 Ihs Maria

 

"On the day of 17 September, Giorgione of Castelfranco, a very excellent artist died of the plague in Venice at the age of 36 and he rests in peace."

 

Giorgione is something of a mystery. He is considered one of the greats, but little is known of him or his work. He was active in the first decade of the 16th century, and at one time, many paintings were attributed to him. He was something of a default for paintings of a certain style. Those attributions are no longer believed. It is now thought that maybe six known paintings were created by this master, but other sources say only three prior to this discovery. The difference may be that some of his paintings were completed by others after he died in 1510. At that time, the plague swept through Venice and Giorgione was one of its victims.

 

While Giorgione may have little corpus available now, and consequently is not that well-known outside of knowledgeable circles, he was highly respected in his time. He was evidently a romantic and riveting personality. Giorgione was a contemporary of Titian, and there is some similarity of styles. It is believed that Titian may have finished some of his paintings after Giorgione died. Titian is believed either to have been a student of Giorgione or was a fellow student with him. It is also known that Giorgione met with Leonardo da Vinci around 1500. Da Vinci was well-established by then, a generation older though he outlived Giorgione by almost a decade. He is believed to have had a great influence on Giorgione.

 

Describing the find, Emeritus Professor Jaynie Anderson of the University of Melbourne made a stunning statement. I don't know if this is a bit of hyperbole, but she said, "Giorgione is as important an artist as Leonardo da Vinci but only a fraction of works are known to be in his hand." As important an artist as Leonardo da Vinci? This is only a sketch, not a completed work, but still, what is the Mona Lisa worth? No wonder this is a stunning find. It has just increased the known examples by one-third of an artist described by an expert to be as important as da Vinci.

 

The inscription above the image does provide a bit more personal information about the artist than was known before. The exact date of his death was not known. Also, if the note writer was correct about his age being 36, that puts his date of birth back earlier than thought before. That has been thought to be 1477 or 1478, not 1474.

 

This leaves one more question to be answered. Where did this book come from and how did it end up in Australia? The librarians do not know. All their records indicate is that it was given to the library as a donation, sometime between 1914 and 1959, probably after 1928.


Posted On: 2019-04-03 00:41
User Name: mairin111

A stunning piece, and the subject (this find) invites serious, continuing delving.
Nicely written, brimming with interesting facts.
Thank you, Mike Stillman & Rare Book Hub,

Maureen E. Mulvihill
Rare Book Hub Guest Writer, 2016 -
_______________________________________


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 817. Bellin's complete five-volume maritime atlas with 581 maps & plates (1764). $24,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 325. An early and important map of the Republic of Texas (1837). $11,000 to $14,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 45. De Bry's early map of North Pole depicting Willem Barentsz' expedition (1601). $3,500 to $4,250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 154. Poignant map of the United States documenting lynchings (1931). $250 to $325.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 457. Extremely rare matching set of pro-German propaganda from WWI (1914). $2,000 to $2,400.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 815. Homann's world atlas featuring 110 maps in contemporary color (1751). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 60. Miniature pocket globe based on Herman Moll (1785). $3,500 to $4,500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 8. Visscher's rare carte-a-figures world map (1652). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 158. Matching satirical maps of the US by McCandlish: "Ration Map" & "Bootlegger's Map" (1944). $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 820. One of the finest English atlases of the early 19th century (1808). $4,750 to $6,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 59. Important milestone in preparation for 1969 moon landing (1963). $750 to $900.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 805. Superb bible leaf with image of crucifixion of Jesus with gilt highlights (1518). $800 to $950.
  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>including Americana<br>February 16, 2023</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works…now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [EINSTEIN, Albert (1879–1955)]. –– ORLIK, Emil (1870–1932), artist. Lithograph signed (“Albert Einstein”). N.p., 1928. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. <i>[The Lord of the Rings trilogy:] The Fellowship of the Ring.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Two Towers.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Return of the King.</i> 1955. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain") and Charles Dudley WARNER. <i>The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.</i> Hartford and Chicago, 1873. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> LOVECRAFT, Howard Phillips. <i>Beyond the Wall of Sleep.</i> Collected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1943. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Gideon Welles, <i>Extensive archive of personal and family papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy,</i> 1791-1914. Sold September 29 — $281,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Rock Climbers,</i> cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> watercolor, ink and gouache, 1954. Sold December 15 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Brontë, <i>Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell,</i> three volumes, first edition, 1847. Sold June 16, 2022 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Geoffrey Chaucer, <i>The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed,</i> London, 1542. Sold October 13 — $106,250.
    <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Dorothea Lange, <i>Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32),</i> silver print, 1936. Sold October 20 — $305,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> George Washington, Autograph Document Signed, with two manuscript plat maps in holograph, 1751. Sold October 27 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Winfred Rembert, <i>Winfred Rembert and Class of 1959,</i> dye on carved & tooled leather, 1999. Sold October 6 — $233,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> M.C. Escher, <i>Relativity,</i> lithograph, 1953. Sold November 3 — $81,250.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Original Film Posters<br>27 January - 10 February 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Vertigo (1958), poster, US. The ultimate poster on this classic Hitchcock title, one of three known examples. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Lawrence of Arabia (1962), roadshow poster, US. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Star Wars (1977), style C poster, printer's proof, US. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> The Navigator/ La Croisiere du Navigator (1924), re-release poster (1931), French. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Bullitt (1968), special test poster, US. £3,000 to £5,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions