“SIR, A MAN WHO HAS NEVER BEEN TO ITALY IS ALWAYS CONSCIOUS OF AN INFERIORITY” (SAMUEL JOHNSON): SPLENDID SET OF 96 “GRAND TOUR” SOUVENIR PLASTER MEDALLIONS BY LIBEROTTI OF FAMOUS ART WORKS, HOUSED IN THREE CONTEMPORARY BOOK BOXES
(ART) LIBEROTTI, Giovanni. Liberotti Impronte, Opera Scelte. [Rome: Incisore di Camei Roma], circa 1820. Three double-sided clamshell boxes opening as books, containing 96 miniature plaster medallions in relief. Octavo, contemporary three-quarter vellum, elaborately gilt-decorated spines, red morocco spine labels, marbled sides and speckled edges. $2600.
Beautiful collection of 96 miniature plaster medallions in three volumes by master carver Giovanni Liberotti, depicting famous works of art, both ancient and modern, in the collections of the Vatican, the Capitoline Museum, the Farnese Gallery, Palazzo Barberini, Villa Borghese, and other private collections in Rome, Florence, Naples, Milan, Paris, Dresden and Copenhagen. Mounted and captioned in three contemporary boxes bound as books, they comprise “a minutely detailed cabinet of neoclassical knowledge and art.”
When the opportunity to take the “Grand Tour” spread from the aristocracy to the new industrial and professional elites, tourist destinations such as Rome shifted their attention from the privileged class to meeting the travel needs of the monied middle-class, including a healthy souvenir trade. Souvenir engravings of tourist attractions began to appear everywhere. In addition to albums of engraved views, “the Grand Tour offered another very popular type of travel souvenir, the now nearly forgotten cameos… The taste for these engraved antique gems was revived as part of the classical revival and later reproduced as miniature plaster casts… Mounted in faux book bindings, these plaster cameos [provided] a minutely detailed cabinet of neoclassical knowledge and art” (Princeton University). This wonderful “cabinet” of 96 souvenir plaster medallions depicts famous works of art, from classical sculpture and portrait busts, to Renaissance paintings, to the works of neoclassicists Canova, Thorvaldsen and Gibson. Representative masterpieces include da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne,” and Titian’s “Flora.” Giovanni Liberotti promoted himself as a “Carver of Cameos and Purveyor of Gems Ancient and Modern.” The Italian word “impronte” on the spines of the boxes (meaning “stamp” or “impression”), refers specifically to plaster casts, as opposed to enamel relief medallions or actual shell cameos. They measure from 3/4 to 2-1/2 inches across. Mounted to the front and rear pastedowns are numbered keys in contemporary Italian manuscript, identifying each of the works.
A rare and unusual set in nearly fine condition, with only a few tiny dust spots to medallions and minor rubbing to boxes.