January 13

Felice Feliciano of Verona, Italy, wrote a dedicatory letter to Andrea Mantegna, the painter, on this day in 1464. This communication appeared in a book of epitaphs. Feliciano had earlier written Alphabetum Romanum, which is probably the earliest book concerning the geometric construction of roman capitals. A splendid new edition of this work was printed by the Officina Bodoni in 1960. The letter to Mantegna, embodying the idealism which nurtured the humanist expression of the period, says in part:

“See the young people of our time; some pursue wealth, cross the sea in ships, hasten through foreign lands, confront every danger, strive day and night after gain, and are ruined. Likewise we see others who love the life of soldiers, who despise all other things, are concerned with naught also and find pleasure only in horses and weapons. Or others who devote themselves only to pleasures and pursue them with passion.

“All this has no meaning for me. And when I had grown out of my youth and could lead a freer life, I directed my thoughts entirely to the study of many and praiseworthy things. Above all I turned my gaze upon the venerable ancient relics of our forefathers. Since it seemed to me easy to achieve my aim by a knowledge of inscriptions, I set to work diligently. Not only did I examine closely those inscriptions on stone which were accessible to all and set them erect, which is often necessary, but in many cases I turned them over, discovered them, as one says, from mother earth, dug them out and brought them to the light again. In this way I read many inscriptions, noted them and wrote them down correctly and truly, with praiseworthy zeal and in a form which even an adept could not question.

“. . . And if this or that should seem to thee imperfect, do not ascribe this to my negligence or ignorance, but attribute rather the blame to too great age of the inscriptions, and to time, which obliterates every-thing; or even to the godlessness of those who have dared, with impious hands, to mar these things with iron, to overturn and destroy things once dedicated to the noble conception of immortality.”

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