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Della Bella's Persian Head with Camel

Stefano della Bella (1610-1664) was born in Florence but did his most influential work in Paris; he therefore could have been cataloged in either the Italian or French sections of Melville’s print collection. I have included him in the section on Ancient Greece and the Near East because his print depicting the Persian head and camel is the one della Bella image that Melville is known to have collected. The Persian head relates to the Persian tile in the next catalog entry; the camel relates to the depiction of that animal in several of the Biblical prints earlier in this section (CAT 20, 24, 27, 31).

Apart from the Near Eastern subject matter of this print, Melville’s acquisition of an engraving after della Bella is interesting in art historical terms. Della Bella was very highly regarded in France during the seventeenth century and in England during the eighteenth, but by the nineteenth century the interest in England had waned and was still non-existent in the United States: the first significant exhibition of della Bella’s art in America was not until 1968 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by Massar’s two-volume edition of De Vesme’s catalog in 1971. Melville’s print collection contains the work of various artists who were influenced by della Bella: Perelle, Piranesi, Swanevelt, Rembrandt, and Watteau. But his acquisition of an engraving after della Bella himself shows his own keen eye as a nineteenth-century American collector—linked, of course, to a keen personal interest in this particular subject.

I am grateful to Marjorie Cohn, curator of prints at the Fogg Museum at Harvard, for helping me identify Melville’s image, signed only by its engraver J. S. Küslen, as a della Bella. Della Bella’s original 1649 etching is one of “889 prints by and after Stefano della Bella mounted on 189 numbered folios” in the “mammoth” seventh volume of the Spencer Albums of Old Master Prints at the Fogg (Cohn 253; Album 7, bis 151). If Melville knew that della Bella was the original creator of the image engraved by J. S. Küslen, he could have found a brief account of della Bella in the chapter on the French school in his copy of The Wonders of Engraving by George Duplessis (1871). Duplessis declares that the “small subjects” that della Bella has “so prettily conceived and executed” are worthy of the “highest praise” (250).

  • Works Cited in this section
  • Cohn, Marjorie B. A Noble Collection: The Spencer Album of Old Master Prints. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.
  • De Vesme, Alexandre. Stefano della Bella: catalogue raisonne, ed. with additions Phyllis Dearborn Massar, 2 v.  New York: Collectors Editions, 1971.
  • Massar, Phyllis Dearborn. Presenting Stafano della Bella: Seventeenth-century Printmaker. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971.