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.
“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.
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):
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.
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)
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
GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA (1525 – 1594)
TOMÁS LUIS DE VICTORIA (1548-1611)
O magnum mysterium
SEBASTIÁN DE VIVANCO (c. 1551 – 1622)
Veni, dilecte mi
RODRIGO DE CEBALLOS (c. 1525 – 1581)
HIERONYMUS PRAETORIUS (1560 – 1629)
Tota pulchra es
Free, tickets required. Visit loc.gov/concerts 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.