VALTURIUS, Robertus (1413-84). De re militari. [Verona:] Johannes Nicolai de Verona, 1472.
First edition; the first book printed with technical illustrations; the first book printed with illustrations by Italian artists; the first book printed at Verona; and one of the few copies with contemporary colouring. De re militari became a handbook for Renaissance princes and military leaders; Leonardo da Vinci possessed a copy and made use of its designs while acting as chief engineer to Cesare Borgia (PMM).
After studying and teaching in Bologna and serving Pope Eugenio IV at Rome, Valturius returned to his native Rimini and joined the cultured court of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini. Malatesta was noted for his military prowess as well as his patronage of the arts and literature, and Valturio celebrates his lord in this treatise on war-craft. It was composed c. 1450 while Valturio served Malatesta as counselor and private secretary, and numerous manuscript copies were commissioned and distributed to European rulers; 22 early manuscripts survive. Writing at a time of technological transition, Valturio largely describes traditional methods of siege-warfare still practiced at that time; the illustrations depict medieval weapons such as the crossbow, battering rams, and catapults, as well as gunpowder weapons such as canons, guns and mortars.
The remarkable series of woodcuts show a variety of military equipment, including war chariots, pontoons, paddle-wheels, a diver’s suit, revolving gun turrets and, in this edition only, a prototype submarine; exact copies in reverse were used in later editions. Usually ascribed to Matteo de Pasti (c.1412-after 1467), a former pupil of Leon Battista Alberti working as a medallist and illuminator also in the service of Sigismondo Pandolfo, they were almost certainly overseen by Valuturius himself. They 'are the first true Italian book illustrations' (PMM), since designs in two previous works (Essling 1; H 15722) were probably Germanic. The woodblocks had a different height to paper from the type-fount and were printed in a separate operation from the text in thinner ink. A handful of copies are known with contemporary colouring in a pale red, brown and/or yellow wash. The present copy is one of these few, with numerous cuts partially coloured in yellow. It is also significantly larger than almost all other copies, with numerous deckle edges and retaining contemporary foliation and some quiring. HC *15847; BMC VII, 948; IGI 10114; BSB-Ink V-52; Bod-inc V-041; Klebs 1014.1; PMM 10; Stillwell Awakening, 897; Sander 7481; Schaefer 346; ISTC iv00088000; Goff V-88.
Median folio (350 x 238mm). 262 leaves, with the 3 blank leaves, often removed. 37 lines. Type: 1:122R. 92 woodcuts (von Arnim's count; several composite), many full-page, often coloured in pale yellow wash by a contemporary hand, an annotation at the bottom of page 27/2v indicates that sheet 27/3.9 was originally misfolded in binding. (First leaf washed, gently browned, with neat repairs touching a few letters, 17/1.10, 23/1.10, 24/1.10 repaired at hinge, lower blank corner of 18/5 repaired, short marginal repairs in a few leaves, 20/5 neat repaired, 27/3,10,11,12 window-mounted, 27/9 repaired effecting a few letters.) French calf of c. 1525, possibly Lyon or eastern France, over wooden boards tooled in blind with concentric frames, later paper spine label (recased, preserving earlier backstrip, scuffed, wear at hinges). Provenance: contemporary marginal annotations – Turin, Archivio Storico A.M.M.A (Associazione Industriali Metallurgici, Meccanici e Affini, deaccessioned in 2016; discreet blindstamps on numerous leaves).