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Stile Antics at the Library: Not your “Liber Usualis”

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I was discussing the upcoming appearance of the British choral group Stile Antico with my colleague Susan Clermont, a reference specialist at the Library of Congress, and she related a story about a motet anthology held at the Library of Congress so tinged with intrigue and the lust for printing power that it prompted retelling here.

The story begins with Antonio Gardano, an important Venetian publisher. He printed the first volume of a motet anthology in 1538 called Mottetti del Frutto. This book is extremely rare; the Library of Congress houses one of only a half-dozen or so extant copies (our copy, incidentally, came from St. Anna’s Convent in Augsburg). It is so called because of the use of a woodcut to produce an impression of fruit on the frontispiece.

Fruit Motets
Credit: Antonio Gardano, Mottetti del frutto primus liber cum quinque vocibus, frontispiece, held at the Library of Congress.

“Methinks thou dost motets too much”

After Gardano’s anthology appeared, a scandalous act was perpetrated: Johannes Buglhat, a competing publisher based in Ferrara, published a different anthology entitled Moteti de la Simia. The woodcut used for this impression was less impressive, but the image was clear enough—it featured a monkey eating some fruit, suggesting that the “fruit” of Gardano’s labor would bear an unkind fate once consumed. To leave no doubt as to the butt of the reference, Gardano’s printshop address was located on the Calle de la Simia. It is not clear what Buglhat’s motivation was, but clearly he did not think highly of Gardano’s output.

Monkey Motets
Credit: Johannes Buglhat, Moteti de la Simia, frontispiece, scanned image from Royal Holloway, University of London

Gardano responded in simia-lar fashion. He had taken as his printer’s mark the lion and bear of his patron, Leone Orsini. In its ordinary version, the two animals get along sportingly, mutually supporting some sort of flower-ball (I took iconography pass/fail):

Lion and Bear
Credit: Le dotte, et eccellente compositioni de i madrigali di Verdelot, published by Gardano, held at the Library of Congress

When Gardano published his Mottetti del frutto for six voices in 1539, he responded with an extremely “firmus cantus”: the frontispiece depicts the monkey being devoured by Gardano’s lion and bear (the flower-ball distraction was only so effective), with much of the fruit largely intact:

Credit: Gardano, Mottetti del frutto a sei voci, primus liber, as scanned by State Library of Munich.

The image is a bit graphic for a collection of sacred motets, but is nevertheless satisfying and not too realistic, especially given the sasquatch-y nature of the monkey’s depiction. In any case it was dangerous to put the omnivorous bear in such close proximity to the fruit as well, but I suppose it was beholden to his master’s code-x.

Another fascinating point about this exchange is that the anonymous woodcut featured in the Mottetti del Frutto is one of the earliest modern Italian still-life images, and may have directly influenced artists such as Caravaggio. I would like to point interested readers to the website of John T. Spike, art historian and author, who in addition to a study of Caravaggio (among others) wrote a great and more detailed explication of this story here; it was a great resource found while confirming the particulars of the story.

Event Listing
Stile Antico
Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 8:00 p.m. – Jefferson Building, Coolidge Auditorium


NICOLAS GOMBERT (c. 1495 – c. 1560)
Magnificat primi toni

JACOBUS CLEMENS NON PAPA (c. 1510 – c. 1555)
Ego flos campi

ORLANDE DE LASSUS (c. 1532 – 1594)
Veni dilecte mi

WILLIAM BYRD (c. 1540 – 1623)

THOMAS TALLIS (c. 1505 – 1585)
In pace in idipsum dormiam

JOHN MCCABE (b. 1939)
Woefully arrayed


 THOMAS TOMKINS (1572 – 1656)
O praise the Lord

JOHN SHEPPARD (c. 1515 – 1558)
The Lord’s Prayer

 ORLANDO GIBBONS (1583 – 1625)
O clap your hands

Exultate Deo

O magnum mysterium

SEBASTIÁN DE VIVANCO (c. 1551 – 1622)
Veni, dilecte mi

RODRIGO DE CEBALLOS (c. 1525 – 1581)
Hortus Conclusus

Tota pulchra es

Free, tickets required. Visit for more information.

This concert is SOLD OUT. Space-available passes will be distributed beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the Coolidge Lobby. Unclaimed reserved seats will be allocated to space-available pass holders sequentially beginning at 7:45 p.m.


Comments (2)

  1. David – a most enjoyable retelling of the story! Thank you. I hope that the Mottetti del Frutto is on display for tonight’s concert so that our early music lovers in attendance can view these rare partbooks.

  2. Great reading, David – so interesting, so punny, so scholarly, so you.

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