Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1625)

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, one of the most celebrated literary works ever produced, has served as a significant influence for famous poets and artists including William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and others.  This 1625 copy currently held in Norlin Library’s Special Collections at the University of Colorado Boulder highlights significant aspects of 17th century printmaking and illustration. The edition was edited and published by Giovanni Andrea dell’ Anguillarra, with illustrations by Giacomo Franco. The detailed and intricate illustrations work with the poetry to create a moving and resonating work of literary art.

Edition and Publication Information

Ovid’s Metamorphoses has undergone various transitions in its literary and illustrated img_7802make up since its first generated copy in textual form.  The 1625 French version (presented here)  put forth by author dell’ Anguillarra and illustrated by renowned engraver Franco marks a significant shift in its artistic presentation (Bayer 147).  Furthermore, it encapsulates a major shift in literary printmaking, particularly the artistic renderings of illustrations presented in this book. Although all preceding and subsequent editions share a common ancestry, there are differences which are easy to view and are also the product of stylistic differences on the part of the artists who illustrated and translated them (Schell).

Importance and Characteristics of the Book

The most important aspect of this book is that, unlike its predecessors, it is entirely illustrated with copper engravings (Kouneni 114).  Previous copies were produced primarily with wood cuts.  This process of cutting copper plates to define the image is known as Intaglio engraving, and became a staple of illustrations in the early 16th century and was the engine for printmaking in the 17th century. This technique required expertise and precision, the likes of which are displayed by Franco in his illustrations for the Metamorphoses (Wanczura).  Franco presents another inventive, never before seen aspect of the Metamorphoses in this version. Each book within the collection is preceded by a landscape rendering of various myths, something that at the time was considered to be “completely new” (Kouneni 114).  

Ovid as an Author 

img_7805Ovid, as a poet, was creative and innovative. However, he also felt confined by the times. He addressed many of the social and political issues happening in Rome at the time, much of which revolved around the Catholic Church. The Church controlled Rome during these times, making his controversial critique a threat.
 In, “Ovid: The Poet and His Work,” Niklas Holzberg explains, “before leaving Rome, he threw the work into the fire; yet it was not destroyed. For copies had already been made of a version that was still lacking the finishing touch. This claim too may represent an attempt by Ovid to present himself as a poet cramped by the authorities” (36). Ovid was in exile from Rome and much of his poetry was influenced by his situation. When one looks at Ovid’s Metamorphoses, it’s important to keep this context in mind, because much of what he experienced in Rome directly influenced his work. 

Connection to Object at the University of British Columbia

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, much like The Art of Love, is a text that remains one of the most significant works in literary history.  The two texts were strongly received and met with strong criticisms on both sides.  Similar to The Art of Love, the Metamorphoses went through numerous printings and translations.  Both works from Ovid were produced through engraving techniques, with The Art of Love using woodcut engraving, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses (1625) using copper engraving. For further examination of the controversy of these two works see our UCB colleagues post titled Ovid’s The Art of Love.


To access this book located in CU Boulder’s Norlin Library Special Collections click here. 

To access UBC’s Object click here.

-Nicole Ryan & Angel Sanchez


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