This talk explores some aspects of the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection through one of its rarest and most intriguing exemplars, the “Private Misadventures of a Truly Spirited Woman, or The Life of Lady Paolina Rubbi,” printed in Lucca in 1750. The biography of the spirited Countess, written by her husband, Count Gianrinaldo Carli-Rubbi (1720-1795), had been doomed to destruction by its own author. The Count, who narrated his wife’s life shortly after her death at the age of twenty-five, judged his own work too daring and asked the editor to burn all existing copies. Only one was thought to have survived, until January 2010, when the RBML staff discovered that another copy exists, within the idiosyncratic and vast collection assembled by Count Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani. The young heiress of a Venetian empire, the victim of medical incompetence, the beloved wife of a polymath, the protagonist of a twentieth-century novel by an Italian author, Paolina is the protagonist of an adventure for bibliophiles and book lovers.
In 1921, the University of Illinois purchased the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection of Italian imprints and manuscripts from the descendants of Count Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana (1843-1913) as part of a wider effort to establish the University as a leading center for advanced study. Estimated at over 45,000 volumes, including manuscript material dating from 1116, the acquisition of the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection helped to increase the Library’s holdings to over half a million volumes. This exhibition celebrates the history of the collection at the University of Illinois; its collector, Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana; and the extraordinary depth and breadth of the collection, newly accessible thanks to a Cataloging Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.