Nardi’s 'she-wolf', one of the finest marks in the history of early Italian printing

 
Simone Nardi’s famous ‘she-wolf device’, an emblem of Siena’s legendary roots.

Simone Nardi’s famous ‘she-wolf device’, an emblem of Siena’s legendary roots.

 
 

The first Italian vernacular edition of De viris illustribus urbis Romae was published in the Tuscan city of Siena in 1506 by the printer and bookseller Simone Nardi under the title De li homini illustri in lingua Senese traducto. The short texts forming this collection, devoted to leading figures and events from Roman history, are here attributed to Gaius Plinius Caecilius (probably Pliny the Younger) and were translated into the ‘Siennese language’ by Pietro di Bartolomaeo di Conone Raneoni. This rare edition is generally known and praised for its illustrative apparatus, above all for the full-page Macrobian map, a pictorial mappa mundi which had a large manuscript transmission and which first appeared in print in the edition of Macrobius’s In somnium Scipionis expositio issued in Brescia in 1483. However, less is known about the elaborate printer’s device used by Simone Nardi on the title page of this edition, which is doubtless one of the finest marks in the history of early Italian printing.

 
The Macrobean  mappa mundi , reissued in this rare early sixteenth-century edition of  De li homini illustri in lingua Senese traducto  (Siena: Simone Nardi, 30 March 1506).

The Macrobean mappa mundi, reissued in this rare early sixteenth-century edition of De li homini illustri in lingua Senese traducto (Siena: Simone Nardi, 30 March 1506).

 
 

The emblem utilizes the iconic image of the she-wolf nursing Rome’s mythical founders, the twins Romulus and Remus (Lupa Capitolina), but modifies it to reflect more specifically the history of the city of Siena and its own mythical roots; according to a local legend dating back to the fourteenth century, Siena was founded by Remus’s twin sons, Aschio and Senio, after whom the city was later named. Following the murder of their father, the twins fled from Rome to Tuscany where they were fed by yet another she-wolf. The nursing she-wolf in Nardi’s emblem therefore represents a visual manifestation of civic pride, highlighting Siena’s classical origins and its status as second to Rome, a particularly important claim to antiquity amid the fierce, centuries-old competition with neighbouring Florence. The she-wolf iconography also features in the heraldic emblem of the city as well as in many of its statues and frescoes, including The Allegory of Good Government, painted in 1337-1339 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) on the walls of the Palazzo Pubblico.

 
 
Detail of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco  Allegory of the Good Government  (1338) in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, featuring the ‘she-wolf’ and suckling twins.

Detail of Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s fresco Allegory of the Good Government (1338) in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, featuring the ‘she-wolf’ and suckling twins.

 
 

Simone Nardi was the first Sienese printer active in the Tuscan city, where printing had been introduced in 1484 by the German Henricus de Colonia. Nardi specialized in books edited or – as with De li homini illustri – translated by Siennese men of letters. His first book appeared on 28 April 1502: titled La sconfitta di Monte Aperto and written by Lancillotto Politi, the text was devoted to the famous Battle of Montaperti, fought in 1260 between the Florentine and Siennese armies, and was illustrated with a large woodcut showing the city of Siena beneath the mantle of the Virgin Mary. The first appearance of Nardi’s she-wolf device dates to a year later, in 1503, when it was included at the end of the Opera by the Siennese Agostino Dati (see the ICCU entry here). Under the inscription ‘SENAE CIVITATIS INSIGNIA’, the image of the nursing she-wolf is here placed within an elaborate all’antica border inhabited by ancient soldiers and griffins; below her is a shield bearing the capital letter ‘S’, and included above are two more Siennese emblems, the rampant lion on the right and the so-called balzana (i.e., a Gothic shield horizontally divided into two parts) on the left. Only one of the twins is suckling the wild beast; the other is riding on her back, holding a crescent lance in his right hand. In 1505, Nardi used the mark again for the Brevissima introductio ad litteras Graecas.

De li homini illustri in lingua Senese traducto, printed on 30 March 1506, features Simone Nardi’s first variation on his fine she-wolf device. Here the balzana and lion shields are omitted and the upper inscription now reads ‘ROMAE ORIGO. SENAE QUE INSIGNIA’, a statement that more firmly underlines Siena’s Roman roots. This mark was later used in an edition closely related to Siena, the De libertate patriae panegiricus by Giano Damiani (ca. 1515).

Other variants appeared in subsequent editions, generally featuring more schematic images of the nursing she-wolf and bearing different inscriptions such as ‘LIBERTAS’ or ‘SENA CIVITAS’.

Please click here for the full description of this copy of De viris illustribus urbis Romae.

 

 
Margherita Palumbo