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Varie architetvre

Francesco Fanelli, Varie architetvre. ca. 1661.

Francesco Fanelli, Florence 1577- after 1663 Italy. Varie architetvre. Paris?: ca. 1661. 19.5 x 29 cm. Modern half-calf binding with marbled boards. Athenæum purchase, Vershbow Fund, 2004.


This book is something of a mystery, as is Francesco Fanelli, the sculptor whose designs for fountains are rendered with subtlety in the copper plate engravings in this slender volume. Born in Florence in 1577, Fanelli entered an apprenticeship before 1599 with the Genovese sculptor Giovanni Bandini (1540-1599), and by 1615 he founded a workshop in that city with his three sons, Pietro, Virgilio, and Giovanni Battista. Their studio was known for both large- and small-scale sculptures in marble, ivory, silver, and especially bronze, and it flourished into the eighteenth century. It remains unclear why Fanelli left Italy, but by 1632 he is recorded as working in England, where his primary patron was King Charles I (1625-1649), although his elegant bronzes, especially his small equestrian figures, also attracted patrons such as John Evelyn (1620-1647). The will of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), reveals that Fanelli was still active in England in 1641, but there the documentary trail dims. Fanelli was dead by 1664. [1]

Among Fanelli’s documented works are a bust of King Charles II (1640; Victoria and Albert Museum, London) and a bronze sculpture of David and Goliath (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The Fountain of Diana at Bushy Park, Middlesex, formerly his best-known work, has been re-attributed to Hubert Le Soeur (ca. 1580-1660).[2]  No fountains created by Fanelli are known to exist today.

The Varie architeture survives in fewer than a dozen copies, each with variations in the contents. Most copies contain unnumbered plates of fifteen fountains and five grottoes; the Boston Athenæum’s copy contains these prints, plus one additional fountain and one additional grotto, both unknown elsewhere.

The bibliographical mysteries of the book begin with the decorative title-page: on a plinth adorned with a bearded mask and crowned by two putti, a trompe l’oeil banner proclaims the title and describes the author as “Franceso Fanelli Fiorentino Scultore del Re. della Gran Bretagne.” The book contains neither text nor descriptions of the images, although this is not altogether uncommon in plate books of the period. The absence of text makes it difficult to assess whether these designs were a record of completed projects, advertisements intended to attract potential patrons, or both.

No place or date of publication appears on the Athenæum’s copy, although title-pages on other copies state that they were printed in Paris at “Chez Ven Merle” in 1661. It is hard to know why some copies are dated and some are not. Were there two editions, one an undated edition, printed either before or after the dated edition? Was there a reason to suppress the place of publication? The paper features vase-shaped watermarks from French papermakers of the mid-1640s. Although this may suggest that one edition of Varie architecture was printed in the 1640s,[3] and that a second edition was printed in 1661 in Paris, further observation reveals that the watermarks from the copies printed in the 1640s can be found in both dated and undated copies.[4] Although it is possible that two editions printed fifteen years apart would utilize the same copper plates, it is unlikely that they would use the same stock of paper.

Fanelli adorned his designs for fountains and grottoes with mythological figures and allegorical images. The figures appear as if on a stage, with that curious air of drama and tension that so animates the Baroque. The popularity of the plates was such that they were reprinted throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, appearing, for example, in Bockler’s Architectura curiosa nova (Nuremberg, 1664), a compendium of fantastic fountains with diagrams of their quirky plumbing from across Europe.

The Library has long collected architectural treatises, manuals, and plate books, and its holdings are especially strong in those from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Our two sixteenth-century editions of Vitruvius’s De architectura (in French in 1547 and in Latin in 1567) are followed by a two-volume English translation of 1791. The library is particularly rich in the works of Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), with an immaculate edition of I quattro libri dell architetura printed in 1601 in Venice and bound in limp vellum, Isaac Ware’s English translation printed between 1738 and 1755, and the magnificent folios of Scamozzi (1776-1783).

Our holdings in architecture are also the result of important gifts. In 1838, George Watson Brimmer donated 123 titles on art and architecture, which formed the first large fine arts book collection in New England. In 2003, Mrs. Ellen A. Stevens gave fourteen architectural titles dating from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, in memory of her late husband Samuel A. C. Stevens. Among its treasures are the first Renaissance edition of Vitruvius’s De architectura, printed in Venice in 1521; the first edition of Serlio’s Tutte l`opere d`architetura, which complements our gorgeous 1663 Italian and Latin imprint; and the influential L’architetura di Leon Battista Alberti (1565).

The Library has continued to acquire important architectural titles in recent years. Jacques Androuet de Cerceau’s Leçons de perspective positive (Paris, 1576) contains sixty plates of interiors, exteriors, and geometric studies that reflect the fascination with perspective during the sixteenth century. The delicate renderings of tile patterns in Various Kinds of Floor Decorations (London, ca.1745) create optical effects that appear to jump off the printed page. Among the Library’s recent architectural acquisitions, the Varie architeture of Francesco Fanelli is a small gem.


James Reid-Cunningham from, Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006): 90-92. Copyright © The Boston Athenæum.

[1] Patricia Wengraf, “Francesco Fanelli & Sons in Italy and London, on a Grander Scale,” in Manfred Leithe-Jasper and Patricia Wengraf, European Bronzes from the Quentin Collection (New York, New York: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2004), 31-53. The author is indebted to Ms. Wengraf for her comprehensive research into the life and work of Fanelli.
[2]C. Avery, “Hubert Le Sueur, the ‘Unworthy Praxiteles’ of Charles I,” Walpole Society Publications 48 (1982): 135-209.
[3]William Algernon Churchill, Watermarks in Paper in Holland, England, France, etc. (Amsterdam: Menno Hertzberger, 1935), 86, illus. 466 and 469.
[4] Ursus Rare Books, Catalogue 242 (New York), no. 31.