1777 · Venice
Extremely rare survival of late Baroque Italian ecclesiastical culture: a mass for the dead bound in a striking funeral binding, with "Death Before a Tomb" on both front and back covers. While individual editions of the missal texts for 18th c. requiem masses (Missae in agenda defunctorum) are uncommon, surviving examples of these ephemeral cartonnato bindings are rarely seen.
The woodcut on the covers is very similar to the woodcut which appears in Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Basel, 1543), attributed to Stephan van Calcar. In both, Death stands before a raised tomb reading from an open book (inscribed "Memorare novissima" in the missal) and contemplating a skull. Draped over the side of the tomb in the missal's binding and in full view of the reader is a piece of parchment with the Latin inscription: "Memento homo quia et pulvis es: in pulvere reverteris." A full-page woodcut of Christ's crucifixion, with the two Marys and John the Apostle at his feet, is included in the early leaves of the text of the missal, and a small memento mori vignette of 3 skulls and crossed bones appears on the title-page as well.
We have found a single copy of a 1781 Lucca edition with the exact same collation at Harvard also in a cartonnato funeral binding with a different image on the covers.
*Saunders & O'Malley, Vesalius. The Ilustrations from his Works, Cleveland-New York, 1950, pl. 21; R.M. San Juan, The Turn of the Skull: Andreas Vesalius and the Early Modern Memento Mori, in Art History, 35 (2012), pp. 959-975. (Inventory #: 6002)