Fabio Glissenti (1596)

Frontispiece of the 1609 edition.
Glissenti, Glissenti, 1609
Glissenti's book was published in Venice. This print shows Death as a gondoler.
Glissenti, Gondol

N ot much is known about Glissenti. He was apparently a physician and philosopher, and he published a number of books in Venice.

In 1596 he published "Discorsi Morali […] contra il dispiacer del morire" i.e. "Moral discourses against the displeasure of dying".

These "Moral Discourses" are quite voluminous: Over 1,200 pages with over 100 woodcuts that are repeated again and again. These woodcuts can be divided into three groups:

  1. 26(1) woodcuts are taken from the editions of "Imagines Mortis" that were published by Vincenzo Valgrisi between 1545 and 1551. This also means that all the motives are among the 41 that were included in the first editions of Holbein.

    The woodcuts seems to be very well done (Valgrisi himself claimed they were better than Holbein's originals), but unfortunately they are worn down and crabbedly printed.

    Two of Valgrisi's woodcuts have been censored: The two devils have been removed from the pope (it's easy to see the circular plug in the top, left corner), and the same thing goes for the devil at the senator's ear.

    Death, also known as "the last enemy", administers the last enema.
    Glissenti, Clyster
  2. 5 are copies of Holbein, namely king, astrologer, knight, noble lady and child. There's not much to say about them — except that they are nicely printed.

  3. Finally come a large number of original woodcuts, which naturally is a mixed bag. The book was printed in Venice and several of the scenes take place along the canal (top, right corner). One of the more bizarre motives is seen to the right, where Death is about to administer a clyster with a gigantic syringe.

Death as beggar
Glissenti, Glissenti
Death lying on the ground
Glissenti, Glissenti

M any of the woodcuts portray a person who is reminiscent of Holbein's image of the duke with crown and ermine-cloak.

On the image to the left, the duke (or "doge") rejects a couple of ragged beggars without realizing that one of them is Death — just as on Holbein's woodcut of the duke.

On the image to the right, Death is lying on the ground lifting an hourglass — just as on Holbein's image of the senator.

In 1608 Glissenti published the allegorical five-act play "La Morte Innamorata" ("Death in Love"). The book contained Death's escutcheon and a few of the non-Holbeinian woodcuts.

From: The physician of the dance of death by Aldred Scott Warthin

[p. 64] […] In a very curious Italian work entitled "Discorsi Morali dell' eccell. Sig. Fabio Glissenti contra il dispiacer del morire. Delto athanatophilia. In Venetia, appresso Bartolameo de gli Alberti. MDCIX," twenty-four(1) of Vaugris' reproductions of Holbein's woodcuts are introduced with five others taken from the Simolachre together with many new subjects imitated in the Holbein manner, over 300 in all. These woodcuts all bear [p. 65] upon the subject of death, which the author discusses from every possible angle. It is a sort of tragedy of human life.

The work consists of five dialogues and a brevissimo trattato. Each of these is preceded by a portrait of the author. These portraits, as all of the other plates, are decorated with funeral emblems. The cuts, all of which contain a skeletonized or mummified figure, are repeated over and over again, most of them in each section of the work. Some of the Holbein subjects are very poorly imitated. The devils are omitted from the cut of the Pope. The prints bearing upon medical subjects are especially interesting to us, as Glissenti is said to have been a physician himself. At any rate his writings proclaim him a highly religious man, philosophical rather than scientific. Holbein's cut of the Physician is repeated several times, always with a companion picture of Death in the act of preparing to administer a clyster to a patient who has risen from his bed and kneels upon the floor (see Fig. 36).

In another print an anatomist is in the midst of an autopsy, while Death addresses forcibly the foremost of a group of young medical students crowding in to view the anatomizing of the body of a young woman. From the text we gather that this is the anatomical theater at Padua (see Fig. 37). The body is that of a celebrated beauty. Death points out the [p. 66] repulsive features of the dead body. Behind the lips so beautiful are decayed teeth and a foul odor issues from the mouth. The parts of the body formed for love in life are in the dead body horrible and repulsive through putrefaction. Death is attempting to so horrify and disgust the young student that he will no longer desire to live, but will give himself to death. The end of this tale is that the student decided to abandon the practice of medicine and to live upon the income left him by his parents.

One would like to know what the author had in his mind as to many of these cuts; but the mass of text is too formidable for one to make the attempt at translation, particularly as it appears on the surface to consist chiefly of arid religious moralizations and philosophizing. So it is more profitable to take the pictures at their face value. They are interesting and curious enough to repay a careful examination.

Many of the Glissenti woodcuts are reproduced in Venetian works published in 1670 and 1677. This edition of 1609 is apparently the second one, for in the Sears' catalogue (1889), a first edition is described as having been printed by Dom. Ferri, in Venice, in 1596. It was said to be extremely rare, as is also the 1609 edition.

In the bottom, right corner is the date, 1600.
Glissenti 1600: Glissenti

Warthin is mistaken in assuming that the 1609 edition was the second one, because there was also a 1600-edition.

There is not much to be said about this 1600-edition. The date was was changed from M.D.X CVI. to 1600 on the first title page, but the date remained unchanged, 1596, on the title pages of all the sub-sections.

Resources

The Fall
Glissenti 1596: The Fall
Expulsion
Glissenti 1596: Expulsion
After the Fall
Glissenti 1596: After the Fall
The Pope
Glissenti 1596: The Pope
Emperor
Glissenti 1596: Emperor
King
Glissenti 1596: King
Cardinal
Glissenti 1596: Cardinal
Empress
Glissenti 1596: Empress
Queen
Glissenti 1596: Queen
Duke
Glissenti 1596: Duke
Abbot
Glissenti 1596: Abbot
Abbess
Glissenti 1596: Abbess
Nobleman
Glissenti 1596: Nobleman
Canon
Glissenti 1596: Canon
Judge
Glissenti 1596: Judge
Lawyer
Glissenti 1596: Lawyer
Senator
Glissenti 1596: Senator
Monk
Glissenti 1596: Monk
Nun
Glissenti 1596: Nun
Physician
Glissenti 1596: Physician
Astrologer
Glissenti 1596: Astrologer
Rich man
Glissenti 1596: Rich man
Merchant
Glissenti 1596: Merchant
Sailor
Glissenti 1596: Sailor
Knight
Glissenti 1596: Knight
Count
Glissenti 1596: Count
Old man
Glissenti 1596: Old man
Countess
Glissenti 1596: Countess
Noblewoman
Glissenti 1596: Noblewoman
Child
Glissenti 1596: Child
The escutcheon
Glissenti 1596: The escutcheon
Gondol
Glissenti 1596: Gondol
Clyster
Glissenti 1596: Clyster
Glissenti
Glissenti 1596: Glissenti
Glissenti
Glissenti 1596: Glissenti
Glissenti, 1609
Glissenti 1609: Glissenti, 1609
Glissenti, 1600
Glissenti 1600: Glissenti, 1600

Other interpreters of Holbein's dance of death

Footnotes: (1)

24 / 26. Douce (p. 112) and Warthin (p. 64) say twenty-four, but as this page shows, there are in fact 26.

Douce and Warthin both refer to the 1609-edition, and maybe this explains the discrepancy. I haven't bothered to count this edition.


Up to Holbein's great dance of death