Venice: Aldus Manutius, XII 1501, 8° illuminated by Benedetto Bordon
London, The British Library, c.4.d.11

The first two pages of The British Library’s edition of Martial’s Epigrams repeat the opening sequence of the 1494 Vienna edition of Lucian illuminated by Benedetto Bordon (cat. 19): the first page of text on the recto is framed by a decorative motif on all four sides and the verso of the facing sheet bears the portrait of the author, shown as he performs an action characterising his human and poetic personality (Szépe 1995, pp. 89–90). The scene is enclosed by gilded frame resting on two winged satyrs holding the Mocenigo family crest in their arms. It shows a bucolic clearing in the woods with an elegantly attired man wearing an oak-leaf wreath on his head. He has just received a laurel branch and a spray of ivy from the poet, who is accompanied by two not clearly identifiable male figures. As Szépe notes, this unusual episode refers to Epigram 82 of Book VIII, in which Martial praises the emperor Domitian’s generous patronage, the final verses of which read: “Non quercus te sola decet nec laurea Phoebi / fiat et ex hedera civica nostra tibi” (Phoebus’ oak and laurel are not alone fitting for you / let our ivy be used to make a civic crown for you). An oak-leaf crown was traditionally given to an emperor in recognition of his role as the protector of his citizens, while laurel rewarded military achievement and ivy was used to praise poets: Martial is thus flattering the emperor by saying that his efforts in aid of artists mean he deserves not only the honours routinely accorded an emperor, but those normally reserved for poets too (Szépe 1995, p. 88). Such explicit adulation of a patron might suggest that this is a presentation copy (Szépe 1995, p. 90), a hypothesis supported by an analysis of the excess decoration throughout the Aldine edition, consisting as it does of three so-called litterae mantiniane in gold at the beginning of the first three books and gold initial letters embellished by finely traced foliage and joyful putti in the remaining eleven books.

Catalogues: edit16, cnce 36108; Renouard 1834, p. 30, no. 7; Scapecchi 2013, p. XXIII, no. 47.

Chiara Ponchia