bonæ litteræ: occasional writing from David Rundle, Renaissance scholar

Where’s Vespasiano now?

Posted in Humanism by bonaelitterae on 1 June, 2010

The question came up in class this morning of the whereabouts of Vespasiano da Bisticci — the man who was book-provider to the Renaissance rich, as he himself tells us in his retirement project, his Vite of ‘illustrious men’. It’s striking to think that Vespasiano’s modern fame lies in a work that was only printed in the 1830s and quickly became, for Burckhardt among others, an evocative image of quattrocento Florence. A symptom of that is the provision for him of a small slab in his memory as cartolaio e biografo in Santa Croce in 1898.

In his own lifetime, of course, the cartolaio or libraio was better known for the manuscripts (always manuscripts, no dalliance with printed books for him) that he had produced or provided for his international cast of customers. He would walk over each day from his home on the Oltrarno, on Via de’ Bardi (its location — if I remember rightly — identifiable in a fifteenth-century depiction of Florence discussed by the late A. C. de la Mare in the festschrift to Ernst Gombrich), to his shop. Where was that? It is a reasonable conjecture that it was on the Via dei Librai, whose address you will not find in Googlemaps:  it has been renamed or rather goobled up by the Via del Proconsolo, which runs down from behind the east end of the Duomo past the Bargello to Piazza S. Firenze. In the fifteenth century, the last section, from where the road meets Via de’ Pandolfini, was named after its main commercial occupants, the book-sellers. They continued to congregate around there, apparently, into the nineteenth century.

Some scholars have gone further and identified a particular location as the likely position of Vespasiano’s shop — on the corner of Via de’ Pandolfini, where there remains a renaissance doorway, topped by a symbol of an open book. That, of course, could be relevant for any libraio, but if it were Vespasiano’s location, there may be some justice in its latterday history. Here is an image of what is now a shop window:

Vespasiano's shop today?

That it is a ‘leather factory’ is not entirely inappropriate, considering the importance of leather bindings to the cartolaio who was willing to provide them for his clients’ books. But that it boasts of being ‘junior’ might not have been considered by da Bisticci as a winning or dignified marketing strategy: Vespasiano would surely have admitted no senior in his trade.

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2 Responses

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  1. Brian Maxson said, on 14 June, 2011 at 2:12 am

    David,

    I enjoyed this post, although it seems I found it a year after it was originally written!

    I talked about this very issue with a noted architectural historian of Renaissance Florence, who told me that the decorations around the door of this shop most likely date from the latter nineteenth century. We talked to some workers in Junior, who were more than willing to talk about their potential connection with Vespasiano! This leathershop was photographed and placed in Cagni’s edition of some of Vespasiano’s letters in the latter 1960s, so the store has been there awhile.

    For what its worth, I would place the bookshop a bit south on the corner of the Via del Proconsolo and the Via Ghibellina, now a Gelateria, which corresponds with fifteenth-century accounts that the bookstore was across from the Bargello, then the Palace of the Podestà (the modern leather store with the neo-classical door is a block or so away from the Bargello).

    All of this was important to me as I was interested in how close Vespasiano’s shop was to the ancestral homes of the Pandolfini family, who postively lived on the northern corner of the Via del Proconsolo and the Via de’ Pandolfini throughout the fifteenth century.

    Best to you and thank you for the stimulating post!

    Brian Maxson

  2. […] that Brian Maxson (yes, he, attentive reader, of the article on Bruni’s Xenophon translation) had commented on my post from twelve months ago concerning the putative whereabouts of the ‘bookshop’ of Vespasiano da Bisticci. What a […]


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