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Giuseppe Mitelli. The Letter D.

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CAT 115. Guiseppe Mitelli. The Letter D. First letter in Mary M. Heaton, “David Scott,” in L’Art (Paris), 1879.

Guiseppe Mitelli (c. 1634-1718), son of Agostino, was a painter and engraver who lived and died in Bologna. He is best known as an inventive, prolific etcher, having published “over 500 etchings of contemporary manners and morals.” The etchings he published in L’arti per via (1660), “celebrating the vendors and artisans of Bologna,” were inspired by the drawings of Annibale Carracci. Guiseppe Mitelli had accompanied his father to Madrid and he published a series of etchings that were “important in validating his father’s draftsmanship.” Like della Bella, he etched a wide range of subjects, including “ceremonies and pageants, warfare, folklore, trades, and religious paintings” (Feinblatt, Grove, 772-73).

The capital letter D in Melville’s collection, introducing the first word of the essay about David Scott in L’Art in 1879, appears immediately below his father’s death-head head-piece introducing the essay itself. This capital letter D is a radical simplification of the image that first appeared in the Alfabeto in Sogno (Alphabet of Dreams) that Mitelli published in Bologna in 1683. The original design included drawings of two human ears inside the human curve of the “D” and three human ears beyond the curve, the entire design topped by what Mitelli called in his inscription “un Delfino, abbastanza fantastico” (see Varignana, no. 248, p. 298). The latter is a fantastic dolphin which Melville, if he had access to the original design, would no doubt have been delighted to include among Ishmael’s “monstrous pictures of whales” (see fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Guiseppe Mitelli. The Letter D in Alfabeto in Sogno, Bologna, 1683.

Mitelli’s inventiveness and whimsey are even more prominent in the capital letter E used by the editors of L’Art to introduce the first word in second installment of Heaton’s essay on David Scott (p. 73). The vertical stem of the E is formed by a young man standing. Its upper and lower horizontal appendages are formed by a long feather protruding from his hat and a matching extension of his left foot, the middle one by the fish he is holding in a platter. That elaborate design was itself a radical simplification of the original letter E as it appeared in the Alfabeto in Sogno (Varignana, no. 249, p. 297; see fig. 2):

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Figure 2. Guiseppe Mitelli, The Letter E in Alfabeto in Sogno, Bologna, 1683.

Immediately above the simplified version of the Guiseppe’s Letter E in the second installment of the essay in L’Art is another cartouche by his father Agostino Mitelli. For the tailpiece by Auguste de Saint-Aubin which completes the essay in L’Art, see CAT 164

Guiseppe Mitelli’s illustrated alphabet is another way in which he was following Stefano della Bella, who had himself published a variety of “vignettes and ornamental letters” as illustrations in books of Tuscan poetry after returning from Paris in the 1650s (Massar 7). Yet another connection with della Bella was carried out by Guiseppe’s son Agostino (1671-96), who during “the span of his brief career [was] an etcher.” In 1684, still in his early teens, Agostino the Younger printed “6 small figural etchings after Stefano della Bella” (Feinblatt, Grove, 733). 

Guiseppe Mitelli’s capital letter D in Melville’s collection, originally published in Bologna in 1683, contrasts sharply with the capital letters Melville acquired from the Taferelen published in the Hague in 1728 (see CAT 24). Instead of a capital letter in the foreground supported by a biblical scene in the background, this design uses a human body and an architectural column to make the letter itself. Mitelli’s lightness and whimsy in this and other designs anticipated the movement to the rococo in mid-eighteenth-century France, a trend strongly reflected in the headpieces and tailpieces that Picart contributed to the Taferelen volumes (so different in style from the decorative capital letters that introduce each Saurin text— or the folio engravings that precede each one).

Guiseppe Mitelli subtitled his Alfabeto in Sogno: Esemplare per Disegnare. He dedicated this publication to his “scolari.” Varignana lists two foreign reprints of the Alfabeto in Sogno—in Augsburg in 1717 as Bilder Alphabet and in Paris c. 1890 as Alphabets (the latter a facsimile edition from the Libraire de L’Art).