Bibliotheca Brookeriana: A Renaissance Library. Magnificent Books and Bindings

Bibliotheca Brookeriana: A Renaissance Library. Magnificent Books and Bindings

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 72. Capocaccia, Giovanni Battista, A wax relief portrait of Pius V, in a red morocco book-form box by the Vatican bindery, Rome, 1566–1568.

Capocaccia, Giovanni Battista, A wax relief portrait of Pius V, in a red morocco book-form box by the Vatican bindery, Rome, 1566–1568

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October 11, 11:51 PM GMT


250,000 - 300,000 USD

Lot Details


Capocaccia, Giovanni Battista. An Italian polychrome-decorated wax relief portrait of Pope Pius V by Giovanni Battista Capocaccia, signed at lower left underneath the throne OPVS CAPOCACCIA, and wooden book-form box covered with red goatskin and decorated in gilt by the Vatican Bindery. Rome, 1566–1568

A relief in “stucco” (a durable mixture of wax, resin and gypsum) of Pope Pius V (Antonio Michele Ghislieri, 1504–1572; r. 1566–1572), depicting the pontiff seated under a baldachin, in ordinary dress (a white cassock, red cape, red shoes, and red capello romano), handing a brief to a kneeling courtier, presumed to be Teodosio Fiorenzi (1535–1591). The scene recorded might be Fiorenzi’s appointment on 23 January 1566 as Cameriere segreto and Castellano della Rocca di Rimini, or his appointment on 27 October 1566 to the office of canon of the Vatican Basilica. A similar event, the ceremonial delivery of the “solenne Breve di motu proprio” of 9 March 1570, which granted to the Fiorenzi family the title of Conte di Monte Cerno, was memorialized by an anonymous painter in a kindred composition (

The portrait relief, signed at lower left OPVS CAPOCACCIA, is enclosed within a red goatskin-covered wooden box, decorated in the manner of a bookbinding. It and another portrait in stucco likewise accommodated are mentioned in the 1568 second edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, with Vasari erroneously conferring on the artist the baptismal name of Mario:

“Ed ultimamente Mario Capocaccia Anconetano ha fatti di stucchi di colore in scatolette ritratti e teste veramente bellissime; come sono un ritratto di Papa Pio V, ch’io vidi non ha molto, e quello del Cardinale Alessandrino.” [And recently Mario Capocaccia of Ancona has executed with coloured stucco, in little cases, heads and portraits that are truly most beautiful; such as a portrait of Pope Pius V, which I saw not long since, and that of Cardinal Alessandrino; trans. Gaston Du C. de Vere.]

He is correctly named by Francesco Feretti, in 1580, as “il Capo Caccia M. Gio. Battista,” distinguished for his skill in modeling “immagini private” (portraits) and whole “historie” (Diporti notturni. Dialloghi familliari [Ancona, 1579], p. 140). Capocaccia and Teodosio Fiorenzi were both born in the Marches, Capocaccia at Ancona, probably around 1540, and Fiorenzi at Osimo (thirty-seven kilometers distant) in 1535. Capocaccia is known by two cast bronze medals associated with Urbino and Ancona, one a portrait of Guidobaldo II della Rovere, duke of Urbino, signed GB CAPO; the other commemorating reconstruction of the Torre Civica, Ancona, in 1581, signed OPUS CAPOCACCIAE (Annibali, “Il Cavaliere in armi di Giovanni Battista Capocaccia,” in La Collezione di medaglie Mario Scaglia: I, Esercizi di lettura [Bologna, 2020], pp. 218–219).

The other stucco by Capocaccia mentioned by Vasari is said to be a portrait of Michele Bonelli (1541–1598), grandnephew of Pius V, known as Cardinal Alessandrino. It was identified as the stucco relief representing Saint Mary Magdalen interceding with the Madonna on behalf of a Cardinal (Turin, Museo Civico, inv. 3525c) by Silvana Pettenati, who associates it with a relief in an ebony frame “di mano di Capocaccia di stucco” listed in an inventory dated 1589 of the Tribuna degli Uffizi (see Pettenati, Giovanni Battista Capocaccia [Turin, 1989]). Both suggestions are refuted by Andrea Daninos, who, in “Qualche novità sulla Scultura in cera fra Cinquecento e Settecento” (Prospettiva 132, 2008), has attributed other wax sculptures to Capocaccia; Daninos states, however, that “among these works, the Pius V wax maintains a central role, for its quality but also to be the only one signed, pivotal starting point for the attribution of his works” (private communication, 15 March 2023).

The binding was executed in a shop which undertook official bindings for the Vatican, including books prepared for presentation to Pius V. Hobson assumed that it was directed by the elderly Niccolò Franzese (d. 1570/1571), who had held the post of Vatican binder since 1556. Both the rectangular tool with lotus flower motif, used to create the broad border—according to Franca Petrucci Nardelli derived from the fashion for lace initiated by Niccolò Zoppino’s pattern book, Gli universali belli ricami antichi e moderni (Venice, 1537)—and the large coltsfoot corner tool are each known in multiple versions. Ilse Schunke identified five versions of the rectangular tool then in use by Roman binders, crediting the one applied on this binding to the “Vatikanische Meister”; in an examination of six bindings in the British Library, Howard Nixon noted “three exceedingly similar but undoubtedly distinct” versions of this tool.” In his description of this book-form box, Bernard Breslauer distinguished “solid” and “faintly azured” versions of the coltsfoot (foglia di farfare) tool, while Nixon differentiated between the coltsfoot tool reproduced by Schunke (p. 79, Pl.7), one found on a book bound for Cardinal Alessandrino (British Library C.47.k.8), and a third version in use in 1578 (Morgan Library & Museum, 2001). The phoenix tool used on this binding has not been noticed elsewhere.

Overall dimensions 273 x 210 x 49 mm (stucco panel 242 x 165 x 5mm). (Some craquelure and repair.)

binding: Roman "binding": wooden book-form box covered with red goatskin, ca. 1568, by the Vatican bindery, on both covers, a broad lacework border composed of a rectangular arabesque tool, lozenge-shaped center-piece formed by large, partly azured arabesque tools (that on the lower cover has above and below it a phoenix rising from the flames), large arabesque corner-pieces faintly azured, background filled with a tool of triple gold dots, smooth rounded back gilt with the arabesque stamp, wooden edges covered with gilt gesso gauffered au pointillé to a close arabesque design, remnants of 2 pair of red fabric ties. (Edges of lower cover and fore-edge rubbed with some loss, a few wormholes.) 

provenanceperhaps Pius V (r. 1566–1572) — Tammaro de Marinis (1878–1969) — Martin Breslauer Inc., New York (Catalogue 103, [1977], item 34 & Pl. 22 — Bernard H. Breslauer (1918–2004; Christie’s, New York, 17 May 2005, lot 345 [lots 321–347 identified as the property from the estate of Dr. Bernard Breslauer], $480,800) — Daniel Katz Gallery, London. acquisition: Purchased from Daniel Katz through Robin Halwas, 2008 

references: Vasari, Le vite de' piu eccellenti pittori, scultori, e architettori (Florence 1568), III, p. 842; Daninos, Gaetano Giulio Zumbo 1656–1701 (Rome, 2023), forthcoming; for the binding, see A. Hobson, Apollo and Pegasus: An Enquiry into the Formation and Dispersal of a Renaissance Library (Amsterdam, 1975), pp. 65, 67; Nardelli, "Il fiore di loto in legatoria: da un ferro floreale ai meccanismi della produzione," in Archivio della Società Romana di Storia Patria 111 (1988), pp. 267–284 (Tav. II for the rectangular tool used on our binding); Schunke, "Die vier Meister der Farnese-Plaketteneinbände," in La Bibliofilía 54 (1952), pp. 59–91 (p. 76); Nixon, Broxbourne Library: Styles and Designs of Bookbindings from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century (London, 1956), p. 74; Nixon, Sixteenth-century Gold-Tooled Bookbindings in the Pierpont Morgan Library (New York, 1971), p. 182.