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HARINGTON’S ORLANDO FURIOSO
IN SPECTACULAR CONTEMPORARY HAND-COLOR
“THE BEST KNOWN ENGRAVED ILLUSTRATIONS
IN AN ENGLISH BOOK BEFORE 1700” -- Hodnett

ARIOSTO, Ludovico / HARINGTON, John. Orlando Furioso in English Heroical Verse, by John Haringto[n]. London, Richard Field, 1591.

4to in sixes [26.8 x 18.6 cm], (9) ff., 423 pp., (1) p., (5) ff., with (1) full-page engraved frontispiece and XLVI full-page engravings, woodcut headpieces, tailpieces and initials, woodcut printer’s device on colophon, ruled in red ink throughout. Bound in 17th-century paneled calf, rebacked with original spine laid down, raised bands, spine gilt in six compartments, old paper label in top panel, gold-tooled borders, gold-tooled cornerpieces and board edges, marbled pastedowns, marbled edges. Some rubbing and wear to spine and boards, corners neatly repaired. Preserved in a custom quarter red morocco box (some damage to spine of box). Marginal finger-soiling and occasional other minor old staining, some offsetting, a few edge mends (at title, final prelim. leaf, and pp. 59, 81, 103, 109, 290, 295), small corner loss at p. 237, inconsequential rub to plate IX, the occasional contemporary manuscript correction. Provenance: contemporary signature erased from title (‘Montagu’?), signature (?) (‘Marie M[…]?’) in the margin of p. 343), “E. G. C.” or “G. E. C.” gilt initials on spine, Hopetoun House presentation label from Martin dated 1822, Hopetoun bookplate, W. A. White ownership signature dated 4 June 1890; Arthur Amory Houghton book label.

$145,000

Rare first edition of Orlando Furioso translated by the Elizabethan courtier and poet Sir John Harington (1560-1612) – the first English version of Ludovico Ariosto’s (1454-1553) famous epic poem – here with its 47 full-page engravings enriched with exceptionally fine contemporary hand-coloring, complete with extensive silver and gold accents, and giving every appearance of being a presentation copy. Hand-coloring of this quality is outstandingly rare in any English work of this period, and such an extensive suite of illustrations is very unusual for purely literary works. Containing “the best known engraved illustrations in an English book before 1700” (Hodnett, p. 46), Harington’s Orlando Furioso represents a landmark in engraving in England, an achievement that Harington himself highlighted in his prefatory comments on the “vse of the Pictures” in the book, noting that its images “are all cut in brasse, and most of them by the best workemen of that kinde,” and that he had “not seene anie made in England better, nor (in deed) any of this kinde, in any booke.” He further states that, although England had produced some impressive illustrated volumes, “all their figures are cut in wood, & none in metall, and in that respect inferior to these” (fol. Ar).

In these remarks “Harington gives us the first critical comment on book illustrating by an Englishman” (Hodnett, p. 46), and by citing the fine English woodcut books of “Liuy, Gesner, Alciats emblemes, a booke de Spectris in Latin, & (in our tong) the Chronicles, the booke of Martyrs, the book of hauking and hunting, and M. Whitneys excellent Emblems,” he announces his intention to produce an illustrated volume comparable to the best yet produced in England. In a further, extraordinary step Harington had a handful of copies decorated by the best illuminators available, thus elevating these select examples beyond even the most excellent English woodcut books and thereby creating a place for purely literary works in the pantheon of early English book illustration.

Entirely hand-ruled with red bounding lines in the manner of a manuscript, the present volume is, according to Pforzheimer, one of only 2 known copies of Harington’s work printed on thick quarto paper and one of only 2 colored copies known (Pforzheimer no. 447; further colored examples have since been located, e.g. those at Duke, Edinburgh and the Morgan). Although the ownership inscription on the title page here is partially effaced and illegible (‘Montagu’?), the volume shares characteristics with examples gifted by Harington to Sir Thomas Coningsby (1550-1625), John Astley (c. 1507-96), Matthew Arundell (c. 1533-98), William Cecil (1520-98), Lady Arabella Seymour Stuart (1575-1615) and others: “The surviving presentation copies show that [Harington] intended his book to be read by the sort of noteworthy courtiers who assisted in the literary productions of the Italian poet. These copies were printed on high-quality (often large-folio) paper, ruled up in red ink, with authorial corrections to the text and elaborate bindings” (Scott-Warren, Sir John Harington and the Book as Gift, pp. 49-50). “Evidence that Harington presented copies to a number of peers comes from canto 10 [in which] Harington made adjustments to Ariosto’s text, inserting complimentary references to the Earls of Essex, Cumberland, Ormond, and Derby.” James VI of Scotland (the future James I, King of England) is also known to have received a copy of Orlando Furioso from Harington (Scott-Warren, pp. 51, 164). But none of these presentation copies are accounted for today.

Pforzheimer cites the present ‘Hopetoun-White’ copy in his discussion of colored copies of the work: “The engravings in this book appear to have been regarded, not only by Harington but also by the public in general, as of considerable interest for in the spring of 1593 there was controversy concerning a project for an edition in colors as is testified by a court record of the Stationers’ Company (see Collier Bibl. Acc. (Am. Edit.) II, 252 n.; Greg and Boswell Court Records p. 46). Nothing else seems to be known of that proposal but two copies are extant, both on special though different paper, with the plates hand-colored. One, the Hopetoun-White … is printed on thick quarto paper, the type being re-imposed for that purpose” (447). Hand-colored English engravings/woodcuts of this sort are extremely rare in this period, and we have found little of comparable quality produced outside mainland Europe (see for example, Dackerman, Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color).

The illustrations of Harington’s Orlando Furioso are derived from those engraved by Girolamo Porro in the 1584 Venice edition of Franceschi – and Porro himself largely worked from the woodcuts of the 1556 Valgrisi edition. Elements of the Harington title page and one of its full-page plates, however, depart from the Porro designs, and a few plates show more subtle compositional alterations (e.g., plates 5 and 28; an artifact of Porro’s hand can be found in plate 9, where his signature was misunderstood by the English engraver and cut as ‘Porto’). Sidney Colvin considered the Harington title page – inscribed by the native portraitist and engraver Thomas Cockson (“Tho: Coxonus sculp.”; 1569-1641) – to be “the earliest instance signed by an Englishman of the combination of literary portrait with architectural and emblematic decoration” (p. 58). Colvin suggested that at least some of the Harington plates were cut by the great mapmaker Jodocus Hondius (1562-1612), the most skilled practitioner of engraving among the several Low-Country masters working in England at the time (Colvin, p. 58; see also Hind on English engraving) and the quality of the hand-coloring may also point to the hand of a Low-Country master colorist. Before the turn of the eighteenth century, engraving was used “relatively rarely for interpretive illustration” in English books, and apart from Bibles “only a few books printed in England before 1700 contain engraved illustrations at all comparable to the Orlando Furioso series” (Hodnett, p. 46). Colvin thus considered these Harington plates – which were unsurpassed for more than a century – to be the locus classicus of English engraving.

The plate opening Book 34, which was often omitted in Porro editions, was apparently lacking in the exemplar used by Harington: The 34th plate in the Harington edition is therefore not a copy from Porro, but derives its composition from the Book 34 woodcut of the 1556 Valgrisi edition. Intriguingly, Elizabethan owners of the Italian-language Porro edition seem to have been troubled by the lack of a plate 34 in their copies, as several examples have been identified in which the 1591 Harington engraving – complete with English text on its verso – has been inserted in the appropriate place! (Mortimer, no. 30). Such details point to a high level of Elizabethan engagement with the pictorial tradition of Orlando Furioso, and suggest that the copying of images from one edition to another was not so much a matter of expediency as a concerted effort to preserve and transmit ‘correct’ illustrations as assiduously as the text itself was transmitted.

Harington’s translation of Orlando Furioso was for many years the only version of the poem in English, and is considered “an acknowledged classic of Elizabethan translation … the rich linguistic texture and melange of registers seem at times to match Ariosto’s own … A work of great energy and occasional inspiration” (Gillespie, p. 75). The poem, which immediately exerted great influence on literature and art across Europe, was known in its original Italian to Edmund Spencer (1552-99), who adapted its style in his Faerie Queene (1590/1596). William Shakespeare knew the work “probably in the original as well as in Harington’s translation” and borrowed aspects of its plot for Much Ado about Nothing, The Tempest, and even King Lear and Othello (Muir, p. 113 and Stritmatter and Kositsky, p. 91).

A printed slip reading “Esquire” is pasted onto the title page of some copies just below Harington’s name, but in the present copy this alteration is supplied in a contemporary hand.


* Pforzheimer no. 447; STC (2nd ed) 746; Mortimer, Harvard Italian, no. 30; S. Cauchi, “The ‘Setting Foorth’ of Harington’s Ariosto,” Studies in Bibliography, vol. 36 (1983), pp. 137-68; J. Scott-Warren, Sir John Harington and the Book as Gift; S. Colvin, English Engravings, p. 58; E. Hodnett, Francis Barlow: First Master of English Book Illustration, pp. 46-8; A. M. Hind, A History of Engraving and Etching; A. M. Hind, Engraving in England in the Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries; S. Gillespie, “Ludovico Ariosto,” Encyclopedia of Literary Translation in English, pp. 75-7; R. A. Stritmatter and L. Kositsky, On the Date, Sources and Design of Shakespeare’s The Tempest; K. Muir, The Sources of Shakespeare’s Plays; S. Dackerman, Painted Prints: The Revelation of Color.

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