- Trattato di scrittura. Theorica et pratica de modo scribendi (Venezia 1514) by Sigismondo Fanti
Italian writing-books have claimed the attention of a number of British scholars starting with Stanley Morison in 1929, via A. S. Osley, Alfred Fairbank and A. F. Johnson, to Nicolas Barker in our own day. In presenting his Catalogue of Italian Writing-Books of the Sixteenth Century (1950), A. F. Johnson drew a distinction between writing and lettering: hence he explained, ‘books on the geometrical formation of letters, such as the works of Pacioli, Fanti, and Verini, are not included in this catalogue’.
Sigismondo Fanti was born at Ferrara on 28 December 1472 and died soon after 1530. He described himself as ‘Professor in artem arithmeticę, geometrię, astronomiæ & scribendi’, and in the only known surviving autograph letter in his hand (now in Modena, Archivio di Stato, dated 9 December 1521), as ‘inzegnero’ to the Duke of Ferrara. The word ‘ingegnere’ in those days, of course, did not bear quite the same meaning as our ‘engineer’. The work under review comprises first a complete facsimile of one of the two copies in the Museo Correr Venice, with notes on the text by Piero Lucchi of the Biblioteca del Museo Correr. This is accompanied by the commentaries of the two editors, paragraphs one to five (pp. 6–25) by Paolo Procaccioli [End Page 354] (well known for his copious work on Pietro Aretino), and paragraphs six to eight (pp. 25–57) by Antonio Ciaralli.
These sections certainly make heavy going, since their authors have investigated in great detail every aspect of Fanti’s works, quoting often the above-named British scholars. What precisely was Fanti’s position in the history of Italian writing-books? Was he really ‘the Grand Old Man to whom the younger generation of writing-masters in Venice looked up in the early years of the sixteenth century’ (Arthur Osley), when, as we know, the more celebrated Luca Pacioli (c. 1445–1517?) had already published his Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportione e proportionalità in Venice in 1494 and his Divina proportione also at Venice in 1509?
Since Fanti’s treatise has been deliberately chosen to be the first volume in this welcome new series on writing-books of the Cinquecento, this must mean that the editors consider Pacioli to be a product of the fifteenth century, not the sixteenth. And was Fanti really a pioneer in his genre? As the editors point out, the two works of Fanti (the other being his Trionfo de fortuna of 1527) were never reprinted, which shows that he occupied a somewhat isolated position in the history of writing-books in Italy. They describe Fanti’s work as ‘a hinge (opera cerniera) which well represents the conclusion of the first phase of a debate which in the late fifteenth century had involved artists such as Leon Battista Alberti, Mantegna and Leonardo, humanists and antiquaries such as Felice Feliciano, mathematicians such as Luca Pacioli . . .’.
The volume is very well printed and produced. It is also relatively free from errors, although I do not like to see the word ‘wohm’ for ‘whom’ on p. 57. In his brief notes on the text, Piero Lucchi is guilty of two unfortunate lapsus calami: quoting D. Becker (1997) as ‘The Practice of Letters: the Hofer Collection writing’ (instead of: ‘The Practice of Letters: the Hofer Collection of writing manuals 1514–1800’); and referring to the Beinecke Library of Chicago when he means the Newberry. It is strange that the Beinecke Library entered his mind, since Yale University is not among the six American libraries that hold one or two copies each of Fanti’s book of 1514. And what has become of footnote no. 3 on p. 4 of the preface?
Dennis E. Rhodes retired as Deputy Keeper of Printed Books at...