August 14, 2005


I’ve mentioned Giovanni Battista Bracelli’s book Bizzarie di Varie Figure before. It was originally published in Livorno, in 1624. One would assume the book was not a success, as it exerted no influence, and attracted very little notice until its rediscovery in Paris ca. 1950. Its rediscoverer, Alain Brieux, published a limited facsimile edition of the book in 1963, with a preface by Tristan Tzara.

The title page from Bracelli's 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure.'

Despite the rarity and costliness of this edition, I had considered ordering a copy of it, until I discovered that there was another book on Bracelli, written by the art-historian Maxime Préaud, and published by Chêne, Paris, in 1975, which reproduced not only the Bizzarie, but also the remainder of the artist’s known œuvre. Some months passed before I could locate a copy of this volume—at a bookseller in Utrecht—and, on our return from vacation Friday night, it was here waiting for me.

Engraving from Bracelli's 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure,' 1624


Engraving from Bracelli's 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure,' 1624

On the title-page of the Bizzarie, Bracelli (or, as he spells it there, Braccelli), styles himself as a pittore fiorentino, a Florentine painter. He dedicated his book to Pietro de’ Medici, who governed Livorno between 1629 and 1635. The book (of which only two complete copies are known), comprises forty-seven engravings, most of which depict a pair of stylised figures, formed variously of boxes, chains, rags, pots, pans, twigs, drums, bells, etc., etc.

Engraving from Bracelli's 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure,' 1624


Engraving from Bracelli's 'Bizzarie di Varie Figure,' 1624

Bracelli also published a second collection of prints entitled Figure Con Instrumenti Musicali E Boscarecci ‘Figures with Musical and Rustic(?) Instruments.’ This comprised twenty-one engravings, again featuring pairs of figures, albeit this time conventional ones, shown holding or playing various types of music-making equipment.

Engraving from Bracelli's 'Figure con Instrumenti,' ca. 1630.


Engraving from Bracelli's 'Figure con Instrumenti,' ca. 1630.

In addition to these two series, Préaud presents six individual engravings by Bracelli. For me, the most interesting of these is the Alfabeto Figurato, below, which I have briefly mentioned before. The remaining prints depict, respectively, Bernini’s Baldacchino in St. Peter’s Basilica; a statue of St. Longinus; a statue of St. Veronica; an elaborate historical scene showing Attila’s arrival at the gates of Rome; and a classically-inspired Bacchanalian scene.

Bracelli's 'Alfabeto Figurato,' 1632


Posted by misteraitch at August 14, 2005 10:12 AM

hooray ! you're back !

Posted by: tristan on August 14, 2005 11:58 AM

Bizzarie sure lives up to its title. i wonder what the reasoning behind it was? or who was the intended audience? i wonder what kind of hallucinogens were around in the 1600's? it seems very abstract for its time, though not quite "obvious" enough to be a proper "amusement." dig it.

i second the hooray. how was vacation?

Posted by: jmorrison on August 14, 2005 01:17 PM

maybe involuntarily hallucinating with ergot

Posted by: tristan on August 14, 2005 03:34 PM

Oui, hourra, vous tes de retour !

All those great images always, and your subtle and passionates notes, who introduce the reader into an unknown (at least to me, most of the times) or uncommon world. For me, it brings me back to some childhood souvenirs of an old encyclopedia where an analog art was shown, and the marvel I was experimenting looking at "enluminures". Reading you is extending my little universe of knowledge from one note to the other. (hoping that my english is not too hurtfull to read, I'm not always sure of certain terms...)

Would you happen to know if Dali knew about Bracelli ?

After the Red House and the pictures of your native Valley, one is curious about your vacations. But you are, no need to say but..., authorized to privacy.

Posted by: Maridan' on August 14, 2005 08:38 PM

Good to have you back!
I am just fascinated with the knowledge and beauty of art you revel to me,
it's an ever going and ever growing state and you findings and this exquisite images, made so long ago, still look so relevant and fresh today!

thank you for sharing this

Posted by: Moon on August 15, 2005 12:05 AM

I first encountered these engravings or perhaps the sketches in March 2000 while strolling the British Museum. My notes at the time simply read: Giovanni Battista Bracelli, 1624-49 GEOM; "Bizarrie" 16 Figs. There were 8 displayed.

They were displayed under a glass case next to Wm. Hogarth's (1754-8) somewhat infamous 'The Election' figures (X2). When I returned home I tried to contact the Museum in search of photo reproductions to no avail. Kept being redirected to the gift shop with no real contact.

When they caught my attention I made the same association as another to wonder whether Dali had been influenced, and again as others note - a style or imagery 300 years ahead of its time.

Enquiries with art dealers produced similar results - No Bizarrie. I will try to find the book referenced above.

Thanks for showing interest and glad I googled Bracelli's Bizarrie once more

Posted by: Dana on December 5, 2005 05:41 AM

ref: "When they caught my attention I made the same association as another to wonder whether Dali had been influenced by [Bracelli]."

In the notes to Dali's "The Anthropomorphic Cabinet" at the

"The furniture-figures of the seventeenth-century Italian mannerist Bracelli were known by Dalí and undoubtedly influenced his figures with drawers, but what was only a game and a geometric exercise in space to the first artist became to the second one, three centuries later, an allegorical representation charged with the great obsessional power of our will to know who we are."

Posted by: Anil Menon on March 17, 2006 05:23 PM
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