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The First Book Printed at Bari by Dennis E. Rhodes
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Page 208

The First Book Printed at Bari
Dennis E. Rhodes


IN THE course of my researches for a series of articles on the early bibliography of Southern Italy which are to be published in the Florentine journal La Bibliofilia, I have paid particular attention to a rare and handsome book, the Operette of a man calling himself 'II Parthenopeo Suavio,' printed at Bari in 1535. Few copies are recorded today, but the book has never been lost sight of: a copy featured in the Catalogue des livres de la Bibliothèque de feu M. Ie Duc de la Vallière in Paris in 1788, and the volume has been described by Giustiniani (1793), Panzer (1793-1803), Minieri Riccio (1844), and several more modern bibliographers, such as Fumagalli. The especial interest of the book lies in the fact that it is not only the first book printed in Bari, but it is also the only book ever printed in the sixteenth century in the whole of Apulia, with the probable exception of the village of Copertino near Lecce, where one Giovanni Bernardino Desa almost certainly printed between 1583 and 1591 a number of books. Copies of the Operette exist today in the British Museum (King's Library, 81.k.18), the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (Rés. Yd. 579), and the Biblioteca di storia


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patria, Naples.[1] A copy was offered by Hoepli in Milan in 1926; while another, belonging to the publishing house of Laterza in Bari, was shown in an exhibition in that town in 1951.[2]

I give a description of the British Museum copy:
OPERETTE DEL PAR/thenopeo Suauio in uarij tempi & per diuersi / subietti composte, Et da Siluan Flammineo / insiemi raccolte, Et alla amorosa & / moral sua Calamita / intitulate.
Colophon: Stampato in Bari per Mastro Gilliberto / Nehou Francese in le case de San/to Nicolo a di 15 de / Ottobre / Ne lanno de la Natiuita del / Signore / M.D.XXXV.
Quarto. 192 leaves, A-Z8Aa8. The printed register occurs on Aa7 recto.
The British Museum copy is without the last (blank?) leaf. The titlepage has a woodcut showing a musician playing the mandolin or guitar, and a winged Cupid shooting arrows. There are woodcuts in the text on D4 verso, 18 verso and R1 verso. The preliminaries contain addresses by the author to Ferrando di Capua, Duke of Termoli (A2 recto) and to the famous Neapolitan humanist Jacopo Sannazaro (A3 recto). All the book's obvious connections, therefore, are with Naples, and, as was natural, that city represented by far the greatest printing centre south of Rome throughout the sixteenth century. Why then were the Operette not printed at Naples, but instead at Bari, a town on the remote Apulian coast, where as yet no printing-press had ever been set up ? To attempt an answer to this question, we have to consider the identities of two mysterious personages: 'il Parthenopeo Suavio,' the author, and Gillibert Nehou, the printer. Only recently does the true identity of the pseudonymous author seem to have been satisfactorily explained. There is a whole chapter devoted to the book and entitled "Il primo libro a stampa" in Armando Perotti's Bari ignota (Trani, 1907, pp. 101-108), but this is rather in the nature of a romantic speculation than a scientific investigation of the bibliographical evidence. The candidates whom Perotti puts forward for the authorship of the Operette include unlikely and obscure characters such as Crisostomo Colonna, Federico Crivello, Girolamo de la Penna, and Spinetto Ventura. All of these he eventually rejects except the last, a Lecce baron.

But present-day scholars seem at last to have hit upon the truth when they unanimously affirm that the 'Parthenopeo Suavio' was one Niccolò Antonio


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Carmignano.[3] This poet, who wrote equally well in Latin and Italian, was appointed Treasurer in the Kingdom of Naples by Bona Sforza, Queen of Poland, who invited him later to Bari and made him Governor of the castle there. The Queen first travelled from Naples to her Northern kingdom in 1518, and thereafter she was frequently in Bari, while Carmignano died there in 1544.[4] Internal evidence of the Operette, quite apart from the evidence of Tafuri, shows that 'Suavio' was a close and faithful partisan of Queen Bona Sforza, for the book contains several sections, both of prose and verse, addressed directly to her, and one long poem describes her embarkation at Manfredonia for Fiume and Poland.

Now what of the printer, Gillibert Nehou the Frenchman ? Absolutely nothing is known of him, for in no other book has his name been recorded. The surname Nehou seems to belong to Normandy, since a certain Quentin Nehou was 'procureur' at Rouen on 19 November 1579,[5] and a Lucas de Néhou, who flourished about 1688, is believed to have been born in Normandy.[6] But who Gillibert Nehou was, and how he came to print one book in Bari in 1535, I have been unable to discover. That his stay there was not a long one seems certain: he may even have accompanied the Queen's entourage from Naples. At least there is no need to doubt the authenticity of the colophon. The 'houses of Saint Nicholas,' where Nehou had his shop, tell us nothing precise: for Nicholas is the patron saint of all Bari, and these houses might have been located anywhere in the old quarter of the town. This much seems clear-that the book was printed at Bari rather than Naples because the author's allegiance to Bona Sforza had caused him to take up residence there, and this is why, on historical grounds, Carmignano is the most likely candidate for the identity of 'Il Parthenopeo Suavio.' He still liked to call himself a Neapolitan in provincial Bari.

The woodcuts in the volume deserve especial consideration, but they, too, raise some unusually puzzling problems. Sander[7] describes the titlepage woodcut as having been borrowed from an edition of Tibaldeo, Venice, 25 June 1507, while the cut on 18 verso is of Florentine origin, copied from an edition of the Vendetta di Vespasiano; but, says Sander, "on le trouve aussi dans Grisedio, S., Aquila, 1493." Unfortunately none of these three books is in the British Museum, and I have been unable to compare the woodcuts with their prototypes. Paul Kristeller, in Early Florentine Woodcuts (London, 1897), has a


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description of several similar cuts in Florentine editions of the Vendetta, but all of these he dates c. 1550, i.e. long after the Bari edition. Kristeller has no illustration resembling the Bari cuts. The most perplexing problem is that Sander's illustration no. 746, which is reputed to come from the Bari book, is a totally different cut from that on 18 verso of the British Museum copy which represents the same scene: Vespasian in a boat which also carries images of the Virgin Mary and (Christ. In the B.M. copy, the boat is sailing the other way. Sander remarks, however, that T. de Marinis (the Florentine bibliographer) "possède un exemplaire avec le même bois, mais en sens inverse et de taille plus grossière." This sounds like the same cut as that in the B.M. copy. Were different cuts inserted in different copies, or has Sander been misled? It would seem that he has, for although his reproduction represents the same scene, it measures 85 X 110 mm., and is almost too wide to fit on a page whose type-area is 80 x 170 mm. I tend to believe that Sander has shown one of the earlier woodcuts from which the Bari version was derived, but I have not deemed it practicable to obtain facsimiles from all known extant copies in order to substantiate this theory.[8]

After the curiously isolated episode in typographical history in which a handsome book produced by an otherwise unheard-of press makes its solitary appearance in 1535, no other book was printed in Bari for the next sixty-eight years. We should like to know details of the career of Gillibert Nehou, but we seem destined to remain in complete ignorance.

Addendum: Since this article was written, I have had the fortune to meet Signor De Marinis, who informs me that the copy of the Operette now in Bari is the same one which he formerly owned and which he donated to Laterza some years ago. He assures me that Sander has in error reproduced a cut which comes not from the Bari book at all, but from some earlier volume (possibly a Neapolitan incunable) which at present I am unable to identify. Sander's explanatory text is correspondingly at fault in the description of the De Marinis copy.



This Naples copy once belonged to Minieri Riccio, who lists it in his Memorie storiche degli scrittori nati nel Regno di Napoli, Napoli, 1844, p. 340. He knew of Carmignano as a poet, but did not connect him with 'Suavio,' since he gives them two separate entries (p. 88 and p. 340). can his copy be the same as that which also belonged in 1900 to count Francesco Bonazzi in Naples? (Ludovico Pepe, Storia della successione degli Sforzeschi negli stati di Puglia e Calabria, Bari, 1900, p. 309.)


Mostra documentaria del pensiero economico-politico pugliese dei secc. XVI-XX. Catalogo. Bari, 1951, p. 59 and pl. VII. The correct identity of Suavio was known to the compiler of this catalogue, Beniamino d'Amato.


As Beniamino d'Amato (n. 2 supra), and Fernanda Ascarelli, La Tipografia Cinquecentina Italiana, Firenze, 1953, p. 116. They do not, however, quote an authority.


Giovanni Bernardino Tafuri, Istoria degli scrittori nati nel Regno di Napoli, tom. 3, pt. 1, Napoli, 1750, pp. 163-5. Tafuri does not mention the Operette.


G. Lepreux, Gallia typographica. Série départementale, tom. 3, vol. 2 (Normandie), Paris, 1912, p. 81.


E. Frère, Manuel du bibliographe normand, tom. 2, Rouen, 1858, p. 337.


Max Sander, Le Livre à figures italien depuis 1467 jusqu' à 1530, tom. 3, Milan, 1942, p. 1229, no. 7107, and tom. 6, illustration 746. The book technically falls outside the period covered by Sander's title which is however loosely-worded.


However, the copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale at Paris and the Laterza copy in Bari, I have ascertained, contain the same cut as the B. M. volume.