Il Decamerone

The Decamerone by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375) is a collection of 100 tales told by a group of women and men who are sheltering in a secluded villa outside Florence to escape the plague that ravages the city. Written in Florentine dialect, it was considered in the sixteenth century to be a masterpiece of Italian prose style and was used as a key model for the development of Italian as a literary language.

At the top of the page there is the inscription ‘Tendit in ardua Virtus. 1554’. It is likely, given that this book was printed in Venice, that the inscription, like that which Hoby wrote in his copy of Innamoramento di Ruggeretto, would have started with the word ‘Venetijs’, thereby showing that he bought the book in Venice.

Although the inscription at the top of the page states that the book was bought in 1554, the imprint at the foot of the page states that it was printed in 1555. There are a number of possible explanations for this contradiction. One is that Hoby bought the book between 1 January and 25 March 1555, during which period, according to the English reckoning, it was still 1554; but the fact that Hoby adheres to the continental calendar in his journal makes this unlikely. A more probable explanation is that the printer, Vincenzo Valgrisi, gave the date 1555 when it was still 1554, so as to make his stock look new for longer.

Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Decamerone (Venice: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1555), title page. Audley End, on loan from a private collection.

Extended captions