“Iucundum mihi est reperiri typographum”: A Case Study of an Early Modern Publishing Success Story

WESS Newsletter

Spring 2020, Vol. 43, No. 2


The focus of my project for the ESS De Gruyter European Librarianship Study Grant was twofold: to establish the publication history of a satirical novel titled Eudemia, written by the Roman humanist Gian Vittorio Rossi (1577-1647); and in so doing to trace Rossi’s “communications circuit,” a term coined by Robert Darnton to describe the actors involved in the creation and circulation of books, made up of authors, publishers, sellers, and readers.1Darnton, Robert, “What is the History of Books?” Daedalus (1982): 65-83. The first edition of Rossi’s novel, Eudemiae libri VIII (Eudemia in Eight Books), was published in 1637 by the Leiden-based Elzevier publishing house.2Iani Nicii Erythraei Eudemiae libri VIII. [Leiden]: [Bonaventure and Abraham Elzevier], 1637. The second edition, Eudemiae libri decem (Eudemia in Ten Books), was published in 1645 by the Amsterdam-based publisher Joan Blaeu. What is more, between 1643 and 1649, Blaeu published eighteen titles by Rossi (including two posthumously), the most publishing success the Roman author had experienced in his entire life.

The link that connected Rossi to his new—and prolific—publisher Joan Blaeu was Fabio Chigi, a bishop serving as Papal Nuncio to Cologne, Germany, from 1639 to 1651 (Chigi was elevated to the papacy as Alexander VII in 1655). After its publication in Leiden, Eudemia circulated in Northern Europe, where it came to Chigi’s attention. Around the same time, Joan Blaeu took over his family’s publishing business after his father Willem Janszoon’s death in 1638. Something about this particular combination of actors in Rossi’s communications circuit led to his success: Chigi (reader and “literary agent”), who was connected to the publisher Joan Blaeu, took an interest in Eudemia, which, in turn, was the catalyst for their combined interest in the rest of Rossi’s works and commitment to see them all published.

I believe that Rossi’s communications circuit of publishers, readers, agents, and booksellers will be of interest to intellectual historians and historians of the book, because it will contribute to our knowledge about relationships and networks within the Early Modern book trade, particularly between Rome and Northern Europe, and add to our understanding of the exchange of books and ideas in Early Modern European literary and intellectual culture.


Rossi wrote frequently to Fabio Chigi between 1641 and 1647, letters he published in a two-volume collection titled Epistolae ad Tyrrhenum.3Iani Nicii Erythraei Epistolae ad Tyrrhenum. Coloniae Ubiorum [i.e. Amsterdam]: Apud Iodocum Kalcovium & socios, [1645] and [1649]. (“Tyrrhenus” was Rossi’s pseudonym for Chigi). In these letters Rossi often wrote about writing projects he was working on, including Eudemia, asking Chigi for his assistance in publishing them. Through an article by the Italian scholar Giovanni Incisa della Rocchetta, I became aware of a set of manuscript letters between Chigi and Rossi now housed in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican Apostolic Library) in Rome, hereafter the BAV.4Incisa della Rocchetta, Giovanni, “Osservazioni sugli autografi delle ‘Epistolae ad Tyrrhenum’ di Giano Nicio Eritreo.” In Studi di bibliografia e di argomento Romano: In memoria di Luigi de Gregori, 215–26. Roma: Fratelli Palombi Editori, 1949. Whereas Incisa della Rocchetta’s research was specifically focused on the manuscripts of the letters destined for publication in Epistolae ad Tyrrhenum, my research project is focused on the publication history of Eudemia. In addition, my project necessitated my examining not only the letters from Rossi to Chigi, but also those from Chigi to Rossi. It was my expectation that these letters would not only yield valuable information about the development of Rossi’s novel, but that they would provide the basis for a case study of his book’s journey from original conception, to writing, to editing, to print, and into broader circulation.

My goal was to study several manuscripts in two different repositories. The library that houses the correspondence between Rossi and Chigi, which made up the vast majority of the items I wanted to examine, is the BAV. The five manuscripts I knew I needed to consult where in the BAV’s Chigiani (Chig.) manuscript collection. The secondary set of documents I planned to consult is related to the publishing house of Andrea Brugiotti, whose nephew Giovanni Battista Tamantini and colleague Hermann Scheus—Rossi’s closest Rome-based bookseller acquaintances—likely played a role his getting the first edition of Eudemia published in Leiden via their business connections. This set of documents was housed (or so I thought) in the Archivio della Congregazione dell’Oratorio di San Filippo Neri, hereafter ACO.

I spent three weeks in these repositories, September 28 to October 19, 2019. Since I knew I would be conducting most of my research in the BAV, I anticipated spending the first full week there, and the second and third weeks alternating between the BAV and the ACO, depending on what I found.


Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana
The BAV is very accommodating to researchers, but a few steps must be taken before gaining access to the materials. Well in advance of booking my flight and lodging, I checked the calendar of the BAV to make sure I planned my visit around times when the library would be open for three full weeks. Two months before my trip, I read the admissions criteria and emailed the admissions office to make sure there were no restrictions on the manuscripts I intended to consult. I gathered all of the necessary paperwork and documents, giving my doctoral thesis advisor ample time to write me the requisite letter of introduction attesting to my preparation and ability to consult the materials (in my case, my knowledge of Latin and ability to read early modern handwriting).

To access the BAV itself, I entered Vatican City through Porta Sant’Anna and informed the Swiss Guards I was there to visit the BAV. They directed me to the permissions office (ufficio permessi) of Vatican City, where I presented my passport and explained that I was there to do research in the BAV. They took my passport, scanned it, and held onto it while they issued me a temporary visitor card. From there I walked into Vatican City and to the library itself. In the BAV I met with the head of the library admissions office for researchers (ufficio ammissioni studiosi), where I saw that an image of my scanned passport was already up on her screen! I filled out some paperwork, gave her my letter of introduction, CV, and a copy of my doctoral diploma. She looked through all of my documents, took my picture, and created reader card (pictured below), which was valid September 30 through October 18 2019. On my way out that afternoon, I presented this card at the ufficio permessi at the entrance to Vatican City, returned my temporary visitor badge, and retrieved my passport.

My BAV reader card was the magic key to visiting the BAV almost every day for the next three weeks. I showed it to the Swiss Guards every time I entered Vatican City and when I registered at the library security desk. I scanned the card for every level of access to the library: to open my assigned locker, to open the gates that lead up to the reading rooms, and to access the courtyard to the café area (yes, there’s a BAV café!).

Once you enter the manuscript reading room (sala manoscritti), you show your card to the reference staff, who scan you in; you sign your name next to your locker number and write your seat number next to your name. Once you have checked in, you use your reader card to request manuscripts. You may request up to three manuscripts at a time, which they hold for you at the reference desk. You then bring them one at a time to your seat. I immediately requested my first three manuscripts and got to work. The most useful manuscript, and the one I spent most time with, was a register of letters from Chigi to various people, including Rossi. The manuscript had an index, so I could immediately turn to the pages where the letters to Rossi were found (this was true for most of the registers of letters). There were one or two manuscripts I did not need to spend as much time with, since they proved not to be directly relevant to my current project, so I returned those in order to request more (for my total of three at a time). In addition, there were manuscripts I was not aware of before visiting the BAV, which turned out to be extremely useful for my project—and will necessitate my returning to consult them further. I will go into that in more detail in my Research Findings and Next Steps sections below.

Archivio di Stato
In my proposed work plan I specified that I would visit the Archivio della Congregazione dell’Oratorio di San Filippo Neri (ACO), which housed documents related to the business of Andrea Brugiotti, the former owner of the bookshop where Rossi’s Rome-based bookseller acquaintances were located. When I visited the archives, I discovered that they were temporarily closed due to a huge exhibit they were working on related to the canonization of John Henry Newman, and were only available by appointment (I had emailed them two months before requesting an appointment, but they never responded). The good news, however, was that the item I was searching for wasn’t there at all, but was in the nearby Archivio di Stato, where a portion of the ACO’s materials had been moved a couple decades earlier. The ACO archivist said that they did have some materials related to Brugiotti, and I that would be able to make an appointment for the following week (as it turns out, he never contacted me until I had already returned to the U.S.). Another place to go on a future return visit to Rome.

A visit to the Archivio di Stato was not in my original work plan, but I was determined to track down the manuscripts I had intended to see. Obtaining a reader card at the Archivio di Stato is very straightforward. You show them your passport, fill out some basic paperwork, and you are issued your reader card (pictured below). You sign in and out, indicating your locker number, where you are required to store any bags. The archivists at the Archivio di Stato were extremely helpful, and, as it turns out, one of them even does research in my subject area and has a book coming out about the artist Gaspare Celio, who appears in Eudemia (under the pseudonym Uranius)! He and I exchanged contact information so we could stay in touch about our respective research.

Another highlight to my visit was that I was able, with the help of the Archivio di Stato archivists, to locate my manuscript, which was indeed housed in the archives. Unfortunately, it turned out to be only tangentially related to my research. If I were researching Andrea Brugiotti himself, it would have been a goldmine; however, I am interested in Brugiotti’s nephew, Giovanni Battista Tamantini, and his colleague Hermann Scheus, and there was essentially nothing useful about these two booksellers in the Andrea Brugiotti materials—and certainly nothing mentioning Eudemia. I consulted three other manuscript collections as well, which contained various Andrea Brugiotti account books, his will, and documents related to the settlement of his estate. I was able to go through the manuscript documents at the Archivio di Stato in two days and determine they were not immediately useful for my project, which meant that I could spend the rest of my time in the BAV to work on the manuscripts there. As long as we are on the topic of Brugiotti’s bookshop, I will mention that I was able to see where it used to be located in Piazza di Pasquino.


My proposed project focused on three main actors in Rossi’s communications circuit—Gian Vittorio Rossi (author), Chigi (reader and “literary agent”), and Blaeu (publisher)—but, after consulting the collections of letters in the BAV, the circuit has turned out to be more complex and more interesting than I had thought. A fourth primary actor in the circuit, Barthold Nihus, was revealed to be more instrumental than I had previously understood. Nihus (1590-1657), a German convert to Catholicism, was based in Amsterdam and worked as Joan Blaeu’s copyeditor. The manuscripts I consulted included not only the letters in my original proposal between Chigi and Rossi, but also letters between Nihus and Chigi, and between Nihus and Rossi.5 A number of these letters were edited and published in Hoogewerff, G. J. “Biblioteca chigiana,” Bescheiden in Italië omtrent nederlandsche kunstenaars en geleerden, v. 3 (s’Gravenhage: M. Nijhoff, 1917), 317-404. A secondary actor in Rossi’s communications circuit, who is mentioned in the letters (and to whom a few were also written) was the Dutch priest and censor Leonardus Marius van der Goes, who was responsible for approving books for publication, per the rules of the Catholic Church (a censor would provide the official declaration, or imprimatur, that a book did not contain any elements disallowed by the rules of the Index of Prohibited Books).

Reading all of these letters together cemented my understanding of the publication history of Eudemia, in particular between the first edition in eight books (Eudemiae libri VIII) and the second edition in ten books (Eudemiae libri decem). It also led me to a deeper understanding of the complexities involved in getting Rossi’s works to print. What I discovered in these letters—and what I will describe in more detail in my published translation of Eudemia (currently in progress)—is the following:

  • Contrary to Rossi’s present status as an obscure, almost forgotten author, he was highly respected and admired in his own time, with his friends going to great lengths to not only publish his augmented edition of Eudemia, but everything he’d ever written.
  • Rossi was a very popular, indeed a best-selling author in his time, so much so that Joan Blaeu perceived a strong economic incentive for publishing Rossi’s works because they flew off the shelves, selling out quickly.
  • At the same time, Rossi was also very frank and outspoken. This caused a great deal of labor for his friends, who knew full well that his writings could not be published as is. Always aware of the looming Index, and the dangers of running afoul of it, the letters—which include mentions of drafts being sent back and forth—reveal the process and discussions around edits and corrections, as well as words, phrases, paragraphs, and even entire sections being struck through and removed. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that this labor to get past the Index was being conducted by a cardinal and Papal Nuncio, an official censor, and a bishop, which speaks to the intellectual flexibility—and sense of humor—of people in positions of power, who were nonetheless committed to literary pursuits and who sometimes pushed the boundaries (or at least walking right up to the edge) of what was acceptable per the laws of the church.

I read and transcribed a number of these letters, as well as carefully noting any items I would like to order images of, and what items required further study in the future. I do wish, in retrospect, I had set up a simple spreadsheet to organize my transcribed passages in. As an information professional I should have known better than to just take notes in a simple Word document, that I now have to reorganize after the fact into a sortable sheet, so I can read all of the letters in chronological order.


An immediate deliverable of my research project is to write up the publication history of Rossi’s 1645 Eudemiae libri decem for the introduction of my translation of Rossi’s novel, which I am currently preparing for publication (I am looking forward to thanking ACRL/ESS/De Gruyter in my acknowledgments). Another deliverable is a proposed conference paper on Blaeu’s publication of Eudemia and Rossi’s other works, specifically from the angle of censorship, the Index, and editing Rossi’s works to make them acceptable within a Counter Reformation context. Future project will surely lead me back to Rome and the BAV, and back to the manuscripts I did not have sufficient time to examine.

Jennifer K. Nelson, Ph.D., MLIS
Reference Librarian
The Robbins Collection
UC Berkeley School of Law
Berkeley CA 94720