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  • À la chasse au bonheur. I libri ritrovati di Renzo Bonfiglioli e altri episodi di storia del collezionismo italiano del Novecento by Giancarlo Petrella
  • Neil Harris (bio)
À la chasse au bonheur. I libri ritrovati di Renzo Bonfiglioli e altri episodi di storia del collezionismo italiano del Novecento. By Giancarlo Petrella; presentation by Dennis E. Rhodes. (Biblioteca di bibliografia, 202.) Florence: Olschki. 2016. xxvii + 453 pp. €49. isbn 978 88 222 6458 9.

This substantial tome resurrects the history of the book collection formed by Renzo Bonfiglioli (1904–63) in his native Ferrara. The story is not always a gratifying one, but there is a lot here to interest. Born into a wealthy, Jewish, land-owning [End Page 406] family, an active anti-fascist, in 1940 he was interned at Urbisaglia, near Macerata; one of his companions was Bruno Pincherle (1903–68), later to become known as a Stendhal collector and scholar, who initiated Bonfiglioli into the joys of bibliophile collecting (a phrase of his making in a volume published to commemorate Bonfiglioli in 1964 also furnishes the title for the present book, see p. 14). Internment ended with the temporary armistice in September 1943, which allowed Bonfiglioli to escape and, with his family, to seek refuge in Switzerland; other members of the family died at Auschwitz.

After the war he became a serious collector of editions of the great Renaissance Ferrara poet Ludovico Ariosto, especially of the Orlando furioso, as well as other chivalric romances, including Ariosto’s precursor, Matteo Maria Boiardo. His other speciality was the sixteenth-century Venice printer and publisher Niccolò Zoppino, who originally came from Ferrara, an interest started by the block purchase of the collection of Guelfo Sitta (1900–50), a previously unknown figure whose profile is well reconstructed here. His large private income allowed Bonfiglioli to purchase at an international level and many of the books have important earlier ex-libris or ownership notes, including Giuseppe Martini (see pp. 418–19 below). In 1951 he generously lent many of his copies of the Orlando furioso and other chivalric editions for an exhibition at Reggio Emilia; likewise, a decade after his death, the collection was still intact and copies were loaned for a 1974 exhibition, again at Reggio Emilia: the published catalogues of these two events, of which his personal copies have survived, are valuable guides to what he owned.

His premature death in 1963, at the age of 59, had probably prevented him from making some long-term plan for his books; what happened was certainly not what he would have intended. The disinterest, or perhaps lack of knowledge, on the part of major libraries in Italy, and the financial difficulties of the family, meant that the most valuable books in the collection were disposed of in secret and sold to the Milan bookseller Carlo Alberto Chiesa (1926–98), who in 1977 loaded them into the boot of his car and drove, bibliographically speaking, off into the sunset. With the exception of four editions of the Orlando furioso, which were already ‘notified’ to the Italian authorities when Bonfiglioli bought them, so that they remained with the family and were ceded to the Biblioteca Ariostea in 1987 (pp. 45–47), the Ariosto part of the collection, which included copies of the 1516 and 1532 Ferrara editions of the Orlando furioso, seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. The presumption (and certainly hope) is that it is in a private collection somewhere and may one day re-emerge.

The other chivalric romances and the Zoppino collection, on the other hand, swiftly found their way, presumably via Switzerland to avoid tangles with Italian law, to the Beinecke Library at Yale. Though the author here states that this fact became known in Italy in 2006, on a personal note, I myself discovered it in the early 1980s, when a postal census of Italian chivalric editions (no OPACs in those days) scored a surprising number of hits from Yale. After subsequent enquiries, the Beinecke courteously supplied a photocopy of their provenance card-index relating to Bonfiglioli; what instead remained unknown was that most of the acquisition still had to be...


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