April 15, 2006

Paulini’s ABC, etc.

While browsing around in abebooks last week, I learned of a ‘rare and beautiful printed Mannerist alphabet, designed and engraved by a certain Italian I. Paulini,’ I hoped I might find this alphabet on-line, but the most I was able to turn up in any one place were its first three letters, by way of some pages devoted to La Letter et le Signe at the Bibliothèque National de France. These are reproduced below. I also found the letter ‘R’ from this alphabet via one of Luc Devroye’s brief mentions of Paulini, but have since misplaced it, and haven’t yet found my way back to it.

The letter 'A' from the decorated alphabet engraved by I. Paulini, ca. 1570.

Paulini’s alphabet is undated, and it is not known where it was printed, or by whom. Nor is anything known about Paulini himself. It comprises the twenty letters A-I, L-T, V and Z. ‘ Each letter is a fantastic composite of human figures, botanical and marine specimens, landscapes or cityscapes, with a frame of arabesques, grotesques, putti, antique statuary, and the like. No two frames are identical. Each letter encapsulates a mythological episode from the Methamorphoses of Ovid. For example: the A for Actaeon, B for Bacchus, C for Cadmus, etc. The Ovidian episode is illustrated behind each letter, and printed captions identify the figures: for example “Ateone mutato in Cervo da Diana:” Actaeon being metamorphosed into a deer by the nude bathing Diana, etc.’

The letter 'B' from the decorated alphabet engraved by I. Paulini, ca. 1570.

There is also a reference to Paulini in an article by Fritz Franz Vogel (co-author of a number of alphabet-related works, a couple of which I have mentioned here before). In the article, Vogel lists numerous figurative alphabets, including some others I have previously noted (including those by de’ Grassi, de Bry, Braccelli and Mitelli) but also several more I have not yet seen; so I will be on the lookout for alphabets by Giacomo Franco, Richard Daniel, Lucas Kilian, ‘Herculanus,’ John Seddon, and others.

The letter 'C' from the decorated alphabet engraved by I. Paulini, ca. 1570.

I have been distracted these past weeks by an irksome work project, hence the even less frequent posting here than ever. Alas, this vexation is likely to continue for at least a few more weeks to come…

Posted by misteraitch at April 15, 2006 11:15 AM

as we cheese drivers are wont to say,
"the cheese must get through !"

Posted by: tristan forward on April 15, 2006 11:33 AM

Thanks for this. I only discovered Luc's website a couple of weeks ago but haven't really scratched its surface.

Paulini's letter R - via google images. Looks like Luc has a couple of McGill domains.

Posted by: peacay on April 15, 2006 12:24 PM

It's the Italian alphabet, except no U.
Strange. Could U and V be represented by the same figure?
It's always a treat to find new postings here, frequent or not.

Posted by: Dick Durata on April 16, 2006 07:46 AM

Thanks for finding the R, peacay!

Dick—U & V were indeed considered as different ways of writing the same letter until relatively recent times.

Posted by: misteraitch on April 16, 2006 10:40 AM

Could not invoke full 'R' image via google, but found it in the web archive
over here

Posted by: Joe Williams on May 14, 2006 12:29 AM
Comments are now closed