Bartolomé de Torres Naharro: Propalladia (Napoli 1517)

Propalladia, printed in Napoli 1517, is the first edition of the works of the Spanish poet Bartolomé de Torres Naharro. Bartolomé de Torres Naharro lived from c. 1480 to c. 1525, but not much is known about his life. He probably came to Rome in 1503 and went into the service of first Cesare Borgia, later Giulio de Medici, and from 1516 Cardinal Bernardino de Carvajal. Most of his works were probably written in Rome.

Propalladia contains a number of  Torres Naharro's poems along with six of the eight plays known from his hand. In the preface Torres Naharro presents some theoretical considerations about drama dividing his plays in the realistic comedias a noticia and the more  ’fantastic’, comedias a fantasia. There is an element of satire in several of Torres Naharros's texts, and the Propalladia was even included on the Spanish  Index of forbidden books in 1559. It was however accepted for publication already in 1573 when the necessary corrections had been made.

Propalladia appears to have been a popular book in its own day. Nine editions are known from the 16th century apart from editions of the individual texts. The title may be translated 'First fruits of Pallas', Pallas being Pallas Athene, the Greek goddess of wisdom and art.

Propalladia 1517 is dedicated to Fernando Francisco de Ávalos, Marqués de Pescara, whose coat of arms is seen on the title page. 

Literature:
Propalladia and other Works of Bartolomé de Torres Naharro, vol. I, ed. Joseph E. Gillet, Bryn Mawr 1943.
Dictionary of the Literature of the Iberian Peninsula, edd. Bleiberg, Ihrie, Pérez, 1993.

 

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The history of this copy

This copy of the editio princeps has been owned by the great Danish book collector Count Otto Thott (1703-1785). Thott willed all his manuscripts and books printed before 1531 to the Royal Library, among them the Propalladia. The rest of his collection was sold at auctions in Copenhagen where the Royal Library also bought extensively.  

Thott's copy of the Propalladia can be traced back to the famous English Harley collection. It had been established early in the 18th century by Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, and later expanded by his son Edward Harley. After the death of Edward Harley in 1741 the manuscripts were transferred to the British Library while the many printed books were bought by the London book dealer Thomas Osborne in 1742. Among the large buyers of Harley books from Osborne was Otto Thott. 

Propalladia bears one of the characteristic marks of Harley provenance: The top right corner of the first fly-leaf – where probably Harley’s owner mark had been found – has been cut off, and below is written Osborne’s price written with pencil, 6 (pounds).

This copy is the only complete copy known today of the first edition of the Propalladia. An incomplete copy is found in Madrid.  On the basis of the Madrid-copy a facsimile edition was published in 1936; the missing pages were supplied from a copy of a later edition (Napoli 1524). 

The Royal Library Book Theft 

In 2003 this book, due to its extraordinary rarity, played a decisive role in the clearing up of the extensive book thefts that had taken place in the Royal Library two decades earlier.

Among the books handed in by the family of the book thief to the auction house Christie's in London, was the Propalladia. By consulting the modern standard edition of Torres Naharro's works, the book experts at Christie's learned that the only known complete copy of the editio princeps of Propalladia belonged to the Royal Library. As the copy handed in to the auction house was a complete one, they immediately contacted the Royal Library.

Read more about the book theft on the website of the Royal Library  Missing Books – click Background. The Royal Library's digital exhibition Threats and Thefts - Trusler og Tyvekoster (in Danish only) also has a section on the theft.