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Ricci, Seymour de

    Full Name: Ricci, Seymour de

    Other Names:

    • Seymour Montefiore Robert Rosso de Ricci

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1881

    Date Died: 1942

    Place Born: Twickenham, Richmond upon Thames, Greater London, England, UK

    Place Died: Suresnes, Île-de-France, France

    Home Country/ies: France

    Subject Area(s): biography (general genre), Frankish (culture or style), Merovingian (culture or style), papyrology, and tapestries

    Career(s): art collectors


    Bibliographer, papyrologist, collector, and historian of Merovingian tapestries. De Ricci was the son of James Herman de Ricci (1847-1900), a lawyer and one-time colonial judge, and Helen Montefiore (c.1860-1931). His parents divorced in 1890, de Ricci being raised in Paris by his mother. He was educated at the Lycée Janson de Sailly between 1890 and 1898 and admitted to the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne, gaining his bachelier ès lettres in 1897 and his licence in 1901. In 1897 he published an inventory of the Roman inscriptions in Côtes-du-Nord, Brittany. There he met Émile Guimet (1836-1918), and Salomon Reinach. He and Reinach, the director of the Musée National des Antiquités, founder of the École du Louvre and a member of the Institut de France became close friends, Reinach introducing the young Ricci to social-scholarly world of continental Europe. In 1901 de Ricci became a French citizen. After being turned down for a post in the museum of antiquities in Alexandria in 1902, he turned to the life of a private scholar. He married Jenny Gabrielle Thérèse Dreyfus (c.1886-c.1938) during this time. Until the 1920s, most of de Ricci’s scholarly work was in Egyptology and epigraphy. Already, however, his interest in bibliography was blossoming. He suggested in 1906 the creation of a corpus and inventory of editions of the early English printer John Caxton to the Bibliographical Society of Oxford (published 1909). In 1911 a similar catalogue raisonné of the copies of Mayence (1445-1467) appeared. He wrote the sixth edition revision of the Guide de l’amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle of Henry Cohen (1806-1880) in 1912. Throughout his life, de Ricci demonstrated that he could use iconography creatively to date and catalog objects. His Twenty Renaissance Tapestries from the J. Pierpont Morgan Collection (1913) established a chronology of the Merovingian weavings through the head-dress of the women depicted. In the 1920’s de Ricci began cataloging medieval and renaissance manuscripts, which his fame today is based. He was commissioned to write the catalog of the Musée Cognacq-Jay, which purportedly took him only several weeks to write, in 1929. That year, too, de Ricci delivered the Sandars lectures (in bibliography) at Cambridge on “English Collectors of Books and Manuscripts, 1530-1930, and their Marks of Ownership” published in 1930. de Ricci attempted an international art magazine, Art in Europe, appearing in 1914. After only three issues it was pre-empted by World War I. As a French citizen de Ricci was assigned a second-class chasseur à pied in the French army; he later also acted as an interpreter for the British. He divorced after the war, remarrying in 1920 Delphine Levy Feher (c.1886-c.1977). de Ricci visited the United States as part of a group led by Reinach’s brother, Théodore (1860-1928), a classical scholar and numismatist during the early post-war years. de Ricci made excellent contacts in the states and thereafter made visits nearly every year to catalog the private collections there. These included John Clawson’s collection early English printed books, published 1924, and the collections of Mortimer Schiff (1877-1931), (both his Italian maiolica, 1927, and his French bookbindings, 1935). de Ricci continued his book personal book collecting and selling. His bilingualism and art knowledge made him an ideal correspondent for the New York Herald between 1929-32. His Handlist of Manuscripts in the Library of the Earl of Leicester, at Holkham Hall appeared in 1932. A second corpus, the Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada was launched by de Ricci though the auspices of American Council of Learned Societies, taken over by the Library of Congress in 1929. In 1934 he adopted a similar inventory of manuscripts for Britain, sponsored by the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research. With completion in sight, including the contents of the British Museum, he was once again pre-empted by war. In 1935 he donated his Voltaire letters to the Bibliothèque Nationale his Voltaire papers. The same year he was appointed an officer of the Légion d’honneur. de Ricci, in Paris for the fall of the city to the Nazis in 1940, secured his personal collection of manuscripts and letters in the Bibliothèque Nationale the same year. He died in Suresnes, on the perimeter of Paris, in 1942 and is buried at Père Lachaise in Paris. His art was willed to the éunion des Musées Nationaux, and the remained of his books and manuscripts to the Bibliothèque Nationale. Ricci’s inventory of British manuscripts remains, now in the Palaeography Room of the University of London Library, and in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. de Ricci’s auction sale catalogs were one of the largest private collections to be donated. Among his many art-historical friends and correspondents were Louis Réau and Bernard Berenson. de Ricci’s books on the provenance of rare books are still consulted todya. He created three reference books of manuscripts and rare books: Catalogue raisonné des premières impressions de Mayence, 1445-1467, Guide de l’amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle, and Census of Medieval Manuscripts in the United States and Canada. de Ricci’s industry was amazing. TheCensus of Medieval Manuscript, amounting to three volumes and organizing 15,000 books, letters, and charters from a total of 494 libraries, took only eight years, beginning in 1935 (1937, and 1940).

    Selected Bibliography

    [excluding most book inventories]: and Davies, Norman de Garis, and Martin, Geoffrey Thorndike. The Rock Tombs of El-Amarna. Archaeological survey of Egypt (series). London, Boston: Offices of the Egypt Exploration Fund, 1903-08; Catalogue of a Collection of Germanic Antiquities Belonging to J. Pierpont Morgan. Paris: Imp. de l’art, C. Berger, 1910; Samuel H. Kress Collection of Renaissance Bronzes. Flushing, NY: Paul A. Stroock, 1960; Catalogue raisonné des premières impressions de Mayence (1445-1467); avec une plance en phototypie. Mainz: Gutenberg-Gesellschaft, 1911; Louis XIV and Regency Furniture and Decoration. New York: W. Helburn, 1929; Catalogue of Twenty Renaissance Tapestries from the J. Pierpont Morgan Collection. Paris: P. Renouard, 1913; edited, Cohen, Henry. Guide de l’amateur de livres à gravures du XVIIIe siècle. 2 vols. 6th edition. Paris: A. Rouquette, 1912; A Catalogue of Early Italian Majolica in the Collection of Mortimer L. Schiff. New York: s .l.,1927; A Census of Caxtons. Oxford: Bibliographical Society/Oxford University Press, 1909.


    The Dictionary of Art; Ramsay, Nigel. “Ricci, Seymour Montefiore Robert Rosso de (1881-1942).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Gibbs, J. “Seymour de Ricci’s ‘Bibliotheca Britannica Manuscripta.'” Calligraphy and Palaeography: Essays Presented to Alfred Fairbank. London: Faber & Faber, 1965, pp. 81-91; [obituaries:] Goldschmidt, E. P. “Seymour de Ricci, 1881-1942.” The Library, 4th ser., 24 no. 1-2 (June-Sept 1943): 187-94; Porcher, Jean. “à la Bibliothèque Nationale: le legs Seymour de Ricci.” Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes 105 (1944): 229-33; éau, Louis. “Seymour de Ricci.” Beaux-Arts (January 20, 1943): 16; Adhémar, Jean. “Pour les historiens d’art: avec le legs Seymour de Ricci entre au Cabinet des Estampes une documentation pécieuse sur les artistes anciens et moderne.” Arts (9 March 1945): 1, 3.

    Contributors: LaNitra Michele Walker and Lee Sorensen


    LaNitra Michele Walker and Lee Sorensen. "Ricci, Seymour de." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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