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BRILLIANT DISCOURSE: Pictures and Readers
Bibliophile price: £6.50
The invention of the printing press led to an explosion of words in the 16th century, often lavishly fleshed out with illustration. This gorgeously produced and illustrated book examines the sources and craftsmanship which made illustrated books from early modern Rome so highly prized. The fact that the 1579 Life and Miracles of St Benedict was written for monastic initiates makes its sensational subject matter rather surprising, but perhaps it was felt that young monks needed every lurid warning against temptation. Dragons, miracles, and sex-crazed hermits rolling in thorns are all depicted with strong lines and realistic perspective. Detailed illustrations were well known to tell a story in themselves and help readers memorise the texts. The engineer Camillo Agrippa's Trattato of 1553 and other books all put the human self at the centre of knowledge. They include a navigation tool, a diagram showing how to move the Vatican obelisk, formations for foot soldiers, and fencing postures. Magni's manual for barber-surgeons of 1584, with engravings by Scultori, are a fascinating window on the state of medical knowledge of the time and social attitudes towards the medical profession, whose members held an ambiguous social position. The consultations take place in the intimate domestic space of patients' homes, often in elegant surroundings, and the preservation of women's modesty is a key concern. Dentistry and curative bleeding are the main procedures, for instance the bleeding of the sciatic vein, which is shown with strong directional lighting, making it almost a staged experience in which the surgeon stands by while minions perform the procedure. In his treatise on silk-working for pope Sixtus V, Magino Gabrielli depicted another kind of theatrical experience, that of the court, using architectural structures, elaborate clothing, and perspectival views. 302pp, black and white and colour reproductions, 8" x 10¼".

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