Tag Archives: Cavagna Collection

Cave of the Dogs


Next time you’re in Naples, why not take a side trip to the Grotta del Cane (Cave of the Dog)? As you can see from this engraving from the 1652 edition of Giulio Cesare Capaccio’s La vera antichita di Pozzuolo, it looks like quite the tourist trap. The Cave of the Dog takes its name from the fact that in bizarre experiments, dogs were exposed to carbon dioxide fumes that rose up from below. The carbon dioxide was most concentrated near the ground, so dogs brought into the cave would soon pass out from breathing in the noxious gas. On the bottom left you can see a man dunking a dog into Lake Agnano to revive it. Another lifeless dog lies on the shore. Men are goading a horse to take its turn in the deadly cave. (Note Death sitting atop it about to cast his dart!) The building to the right of the cave is a sauna.


Capaccio describes similar caves, such as the “Mouth of Pluto” (or “Gate of Hell”) in Hierapolis, now in modern-day southwest Turkey, and quotes from the ancient Greek geographer Strabo, who had visited it: “Any animal that enters instantly dies. At any rate, bulls that are led inside collapse and are dragged outside dead; and I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last breath and fell” (Geography 13.4.14). Travelers on the Grand Tour, such as Joseph Addison and Goethe, wrote of their visits to the cave; Addison’s is the perhaps the most vivid (Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, 1705):

The Natural Curiosities about Naples are as numerous and extraordinary as the Artificial. I shall set them down, as I have done the other, without any regard to their Situation. The Grotto del Cani is famous for the poisonous Steams which float within a Foot of its Surface. The Sides of the Grotto are mark’d with Green, as high as the Malignity of the Vapour reaches. The common Experiments are as follow: A Dog, that has his Nose held in the Vapour, loses all Signs of Life in a very little time; but if carry’d into the open Air, or thrown into a Neighbouring Lake, he immediately recovers, if he is not quite gone. … I observ’d how long a Dog was in Expiring the first time, and after his Recovery, and found no sensible difference. A Viper bore it Nine Minutes the first time we put it in, and Ten the Second. When we brought it out after the first Trial, it took such a vast quantity of Air into its Lungs, that it swell’d almost twice as big as before; and it was perhaps on this Stock of Air that it liv’d a Minute longer the second time. Doctor Connor made a Discourse in one of the Academies at Rome upon the Subject of this.

To see what the cave looks like today, visit Napoli Underground’s page dedicated to the subject. DHA

Giulio Cesare Capaccio. La vera antichita di Pozzuolo (Roma: Appresso Filippo de’ Rossi, MDCLII [1652])

Joseph Addison. Remarks on Several Parts of Italy (London: J. Tonson, 1705)


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Opulent Almanacs

It’s been a wonderfully colorful week here at the Illinois RBML: after Joan Friedman’s illuminating lecture on Owen Jones and color printing on Wednesday, we came across these exquisite chromolithographed title pages from Goffredo di Crollalanza’s series of almanacs: the “Almanach Héraldique et Drôlatique”, from 1883-1885. Almanacs were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, evolving from practical workaday listings of moon cycles and weather predictions to elaborate calendars including horoscopes, holy days, city directories, and serialized novellas that were designed to draw readers in year after year.

These almanacs are an extreme example of that trend, including not just the highly colored frontispieces above, but a genealogy of the noble houses of Europe, and several different serialized comic adventures following the remarkably named “Baroness Mina de Pfartzhaussentreppe”, pictured on the cover. Although the almanacs are in French, they were published both in Paris and Pisa, and detailed the adventures of a German lady. This pan-European setting emphasizes the high-class sophistication and worldliness these books were meant to emulate for their readers.

The in-text decorations range from the folksy to the futuristic: quaintly romantic country scenes and medieval knights share space with fashion plates and hot air balloons. The calendars in the front of each issue are themed, with 1885 assigning a rustic object like a fruit, bird, color, or animal (and its attendant personality trait) to each day of the year, as Napoleon’s Republican Calendar did in the years before. 1884, on the other hand, assigns each day a town or noble family, complete with heraldic description, associated with that day’s saint.*

It’s easy to see why almanacs were so popular, even ones not as brightly and intricately decorated as these. Unfortunately, as some of you may have noticed, the 1886 volume is considerably smaller, without any of the colored text, much less a frontispiece. The author explains this in his introduction:

Because there are some unfortunate people, you, for example, who weren’t able to procure for themselves the splendid volume of 111,111 pages … the author has asked me to summarize the articles from the large volume and serve them up to you hot off the presses in a volume of reasonable dimensions. Fortified by this authorization, I armed myself with a good pair of scissors and began cutting everything that seemed to me to be superfluous, useless, infantile, boring, flat, sensational, erroneous, immoral, or otherwise pernicious to the health of the reader… and I cut, cut, cut, until I had nothing more than this modest and inoffensive pamphlet… which I have the honor of presenting to you.**

Goffredo di Crollalanza was the son of a successful almanac publisher, but this run petered out after only three years of publication, perhaps due to the prohibitive cost of the beautiful illustrations in the first two volumes. The Illinois RBML is extremely fortunate to have such a complete and beautiful set of items in our Cavagna collection of rare Italian imprints, and we invite you to come explore (and discover your own late-Victorian almanac horoscope!). – KEB


di Crollalanza, Goffredo. Almanach Héraldique et Drôlatique. Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit et c.ie, 1883-1885.

Cavagna 18924


*The author’s birthday makes her an apple tree symbolizing “dangerous beauty” (according to 1885), and a member of the town of Eugenj (according to 1884) with a gold lion crest.

**Any errors in translation are the fault of the author.

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Reunited for the First Time Since 1879: Six Books and an Invoice

Cavagna Receipt_2

When private libraries like the Cavagna Collection–containing over 40,000 books and manuscripts–are purchased, one of the first questions that arises is how these owners and collectors acquired their books. A Pavia native, Cavagna purchased his books primarily from booksellers around northern Italy. The evidence we’ve encountered so far suggests that he turned and returned to several sources when buying. We look at one of these sources in this post, a bookseller in Como who sold Cavagna six books in October, 1879.

We discovered this bookseller’s invoice in July 2015, laid in Constitutiones synodales Burgi S. Donnini (1697). It details six books that Cavagna bought and their prices, including the book in which we found the invoice. The bookseller was Felice Mojana whose shop was located at Via Meraviglie N. 249. Mojana advertised himself as a dealer of antique and modern books, both Italian and foreign (“stranieri”). Among the other services he offered were bookbinding and book-lending; for a 1.50 lire monthly fee and a 5 lire deposit, a customer could borrow secondhand books from the shop. Mojana also apparently bought and sold other antiques, including furniture, currency, weapons, and paintings.

Cavagna Receipt_8
The invoice is dated the 11th of October and the total bill was 14 lire, after Mojana gave Cavagna a 5.75 lire discount. Does the discount indicate that Cavagna was rewarded for being a loyal customer, or was such generosity an everyday part of Mojana’s service? We have not yet come across any similar invoices, but there is at least one other book in the Cavagna Collection that was sold by Mojana, a scarce 1878 pamphlet titled Il Santissimo Crocifisso di Como, suggesting that Cavagna may have paid recurring visits to the shop. The invoice is also inscribed in a familiar manner by Mojana, “mi segno con profondo rispetto, il divotissimo servo Mojana Felice” (“Signed with deep respect, your devoted servant Mojana Felice”). A couple of the titles from the invoice exist in multiple copies within the Cavagna Collection, suggesting that Cavagna either did not keep track of what he owned or that he couldn’t resist a good deal.

Cavagna Receipt_4
All six books eventually came to reside at RBML after a trans-Atlantic journey and nearly one hundred years of knocking around the University of Illinois library, and for the first time since their 1879 purchase, we’ve reunited them. Together, they provide a rich insight into a 19th-century collector and his habits. SL

Cavagna Receipt_5

1. Acta primae et secundae synodi dioec. Comen de annis MDLXV et MDLXXIX. (Comi : Apud Hieronymum Frouam, 1588). 10 lire.
274.522 C731579 copy 2: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_7692395/Description
2. Constitutiones synodales Burgi S. Donnini … (Fidenza : Typis Iosephi Rossetti, impressoris episcopalis, 1697). 2.75 lire.
274.5411 B645c: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_3209872/Description
3. Pasta, Guiseppe. Delle acque minerali del Bergamasco: trattato. (Bergamo : Dalla stamperia Locatelli, 1794) 2.50 lire.
615.79 P26d copy 2: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_3254627/Description
4. Raineri, Giovanni Battista. Breve ragguaglio delle virtù della marchesa d. Maria Margherita Durina Serponti. (Milano : Nella Stampería di Pietro Antonio Frigerio, 1756). 1.50 lire.
B. D962r: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_3045220/Description
5. Regola di S. Benedetto abate e patriarca de’ monaci … (Mantova : Nella stamperìa di S. Benedetto, per Alberto Pazzoni, stampatore arciducale, 1723) 1.50 lire.
Cavagna 271.1 B43rI1723: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_2328760/Description
6. Mattioti, Giovanni. Vita di s. Francesca Romana … (Venetia : Appresso Francesco Bolzetta, 1610) 1.50 lire.
B. F8153mI: http://vufind.carli.illinois.edu/vf-uiu/Record/uiu_2794362

Cavagna Receipt_7

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