Some reflections on the illustrated editions of the Italian translation of Celestina

Some weeks ago, after deciding that the banner image of PATRIMONiT looked similar to the woodcuts of the Venice, Cesare Arrivabene, 1519 edition of the Italian translation of Celestina, I entered a frenzy and decided to look for woodcuts that could be attributed to the same artist in sixteenth-century Italian non-Celestina editions. This proved to be a bad take, since the woodcuts of the Venice 1519 edition belong to the kind of scenes that were mass-produced, without particular traits. The artist could have been anyone. The only characteristic that kept catching my attention was that women used to wear a gown with a square cut neckline and the very same hairstyle.

Look at both young women and tell me they do not look similar: Title pages of Celestina. Tragicomedia de Calisto e Melibea (Venice, Cesare Arrivabene, 1519) and Stramboti composti novamente da diversi auctori che sono in preposito a ciaschuno che e ferito damore (Venice, s.i., ca. 1525).

Checking the hairstyles and necklines of some hundreds of woodcuts led me to a particularly interesting one: the Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae in Latin. But I lost my interest in the female character to the left very quickly. The archs in the background became much more relevant. The archs in the background are characteristic of the inner illustrations of Arrivabene’s edition of the Italian translation of Celestina.

Fol. CXXXVv, Comoediae (Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518) and fol. XXXII, Tragicomedia de Calisto e Melibea (Venice, Cesare Arribavene, 1519). For this last woodcut, I recommend checking a former post on how this edition exists in two states, one with this woodcut and one without it.

Even more interesting was that the archs were not exclusive of the above woodcut, but a common feature to most woodcuts of the Venice, Marchiò Sessa and Pietro Ravanis, 1518 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae in Latin.

Look at all these archs in the background!

Provided that Sessa’s edition precedes Arrivabene’s edition by one year, could it have been a model for the woodcuts? At first glance, this seemed a quite logical conclusion. Not for nothing, Marchiò Sessa printed the Italian translation of Celestina in 1531, with Arrevabene’s woodblocks. There could have been some kind of relationship before that. However, I was to discover that Terence’s Comoediae in Latin were also printed with a very similar set of illustrations. In it, archs are replaced by curtains and columns, but the effect and the composition are quite similar.

Comoediae (Milano, Augustinum de Vicomercat, 1521). But the curtain thing goes back to the Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1504 edition.

Although I still believe that there is a strong point in favour of Sessa’s influence over Arrivabene’s woodcuts, what I find more interesting is that the Italian translation of Celestina is being illustrated according to a characteristically Italian way of illustrating Terence’s and Plautus’ Comoediae. From this point of view, Celestina is being equaled to Roman comedy.

This is not something new to Celestina. I do not need to remember how Griffin found a model for the woodcuts of the Burgos Comedia in the German illustrated editions of Terence. But it is interesting from the point of view of how Italian printers moved from the factotum figures model of Terence’s German editions to something very much of their own. Not that the factotum figures were unknown in Italy. In fact, they were used in the Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1511 edition of Plautus’ Comoediae.

Comoediae (Venice, Lazarum Soardum, 1511)

This might explain why the printers of the Italian translation of Celestina had no trouble moving to the Spanish series of factotum figures and woodcuts in 1541.

In any case, what interests me most is that serendipity plays a big role in research. Were it not for a banner in an internet site, I could have missed these relationships completely. By mere chance, now I do have a great point of departure for further investigations.

Review: Dialogismo teológico: devotio moderna, “Celestina” & “Quijote”

It has been two years, soon three, since Martha García published her Dialogismo teológico: devotio moderna, “Celestina” & “Quijote” at Academia Editorial del Hispanismo. When I first read the title I was terrified; not in vain my doctoral research at the time dealt with the topic of the relationship between Celestina and the devotio moderna, and I feared someone had reached the same conclusions I had, if not better ones, and turned my research useless and unoriginal -a quite common fear among doctoral candidates. However, García’s work could not be more different to my own dissertation.

In the first place, García’s book is a book on literary theory, and not so much on Celestina, Quijote or the devotio moderna. Its debt to Bakhtin’s interpretation of the genre of the novel in dialogic terms is evident from the title itself, and I have myself never been able to understand why certain scholars are so enthusiastic about this particular approach, but I must admit my dislike for literary theory in general is well-known and, therefore, I am not well-equipped to comment on the bakhtinian background of the study, so that I will not comment on this aspect. However, a bakhtinian reading is (fortunately for me) not everything García’s work is about.

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Celestina, interpreted by Ricardo Iniesta and TNT Atalaya (Madrid, Teatro Pavón, 17th May 2015)

The last time I saw Celestina on stage, in the 2012 adaptation by Eduardo Galán, I had the impression the director had been deeply impressed by Martín de Riquer’s article on the opening scene taking place in a church1. This time I feel it has been Alan Deyermond’s “Hilado > Cordón > Cadena” which has greatly influenced Ricardo Iniesta’s adaptation2, as I think can be clearly seen in the staging of his version of Celestina. The blood-red skein becomes central during Celestina’s spell, who tangles and untangles it with her hands several times, and it is used to wrap and enclose Melibea during her talk with the old go-between. After that, Melibea’s girdle (a handkerchief in this version) is portrayed as a piece of bait Celestina moves in front of Calisto and has the same mesmerising effect as the skein had on Melibea. Finally, Calisto’s extra-long golden chain resembles very much the thread and the girdle, and not only does Celestina tangle it around her hands, but the servants Pármeno and Sempronio find it miraculously directly after her death, just before being executed, as if the sequence described by Alan Deyermond needed the addition of this discovery to be complete.
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Some thoughts on “Aproximación cuantitativa al sistema de personajes de La Celestina”

Twitter has proved an excellent place to meet other people interested in Celestina and it was precisely through Twitter that I came to know Jeniffer Isasi’s blog and to read her entry “Aproximación cuantitativa al sistema de personajes de La Celestina.

First of all, it must be said that her blog entry is far from being definitive, but it is merely a tentative approach to the possibilities offered by Digital Humanities tools for the study of Celestina. More specifically, the author decided to comment on the results she obtained after applying techniques of data mining to the text and use that to try to ascertain the nature and the importance of the relationships between characters in Celestina. On account of these relations, the author aims to discover if the central role given to the go-between by the title Celestina is justified or not.

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The lost Catalonian original of Celestina: some thoughts

As some of you might have noticed, I was recently made aware through Twitter of some articles and notes on Celestina and its possible links to Catalonia:

The first tweet makes reference to a 2010 post by Manel Capdevila, entitled “The lost Catalonian original of Celestina” (“L’original català perdut de la Celestina”), announcing a 2008 conference on the same topic by Jordi Bilbeny, and giving an overview of the main arguments of the speaker, to be amplified at his paper. The second tweet refers to a more recent (2013) article on the urban setting of Celestina by Àlex Sendra, entitled “The city where the action of Celestina takes place” (“La ciutat on es desenvolupa l’acció de La Celestina“), in which Valencia is proposed as the most likely city in which Celestina is set. Both posts are to be found at the official webpage of the Institut Nova Història, which also offers some other writings on the topic, such as the 2013 “A study places the action of Celestina in Sagunt” (“Un estudi situa a Sagunt l’origen i l’acció de La Celestina“) or the 2014 “The solar eclipse of Celestina” (“L’eclipsi de sol de La Celestina“). Apparently, the official website of the Institut Nova Història also hosted the article Celestina and Catalonian language” (“La Celestina i la llengua catalana”), which I could not find but hosted at the official website of the Cercle Català d’Història, where other articles and notes by Àlex Sendra on Celestina can be read.

Provided that, due to my personal attitude toward the text, I am not particularly interested in the possible references to real settings and events in Celestina, I decided to comment briefly and in an informal manner on Jordi Bilbeny’s arguments in favour of a lost Catalonian original of Celestina; the sources of Celestina and its origin being some of my favourite research topics. These can be more or less summarised as follows:

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