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Codex Seraphinianus Hardcover – October 29, 2013
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“…the book really does live up to its reputation: The drawings are in turn hilarious, disturbing, bizarre and, sometimes, just flat-out incomprehensible, but all of them are annotated in Serafini’s script.” -Dangerous Minds
“It’s not the sort of thing that easily lends itself to classification, but probably the most accurate way to describe it would be as an encyclopedia of an invented alien civilization…the Codex is still a disorienting and provocative vision of inscrutable otherness.” -Slate.com
“Codex Seraphinianus is an art book in the most direct sense—there are big, beautiful drawings accompanied by indecipherable letterforms--and it is impossible to “read” in a literal way. The text has remained a mystery all these years, and perhaps that’s part of its draw as an art object.” -FineBooks Magazine
“Is the best art book of the year one that is not only impossible for me to review, but one that is probably equally impossible for you to understand? It’s a handsome, hilarious and enduring puzzle that not only features wonderful art in it, but in its entirety captures another kind of human creativity—the encyclopedia, the result of compiling and collecting, and an unlikely medium for artists.” -North Adams Transcript
"Codex Seraphinianus: History’s Most Bizarre and Beautiful Encyclopedia, Brought Back to Life...a weird and wonderful masterpiece of art and philosophical provocation on the precipice of the information age....Undoubtedly one of the most intricate and beautiful art books ever created." -Brain Pickings
“Wow. One of the strangest and most beautiful books ever published.” –Faerie Tales
“Codex Seraphinianus is in a sense the most elaborate book of doodles ever made. What makes it much more than that is not just the quality of Serafini’s drawings and the superior book-making craft, but its brilliant structure. Part of the genius of the Codex is that there is enough information to be familiar but not enough to make any sense.” –Spectrum Culture
“The intense strangeness of Codex Seraphinianus belies the joyous feel of the artistry. Even the oddest, most unnerving images are rendered with pastel beauty, and a softness that makes them almost endearing.” –KQED
About the Author
Luigi Serafini is an architect, ceramist, glazier, painter, sculptor, designer, opera director, set designer, and critic who works in Italy and abroad. In 2007, the Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea in Milan dedicated a successful mostra ontological (ontological exhibition) to him. He has illustrated works by Franz Kafka and Michael Ende.
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For those who have seen it before, I believe this is the second edition (2006?) and does have some minor differences. I saw the original 1981 edition at the Fine Arts Library at Harvard and aside from the obvious differences of the cover, the other differences (at least as I remember) are slight. As I just mentioned, the original cover of the first edition was black, whereas this one is white with the circle illustration that turns into ladybug like insects. The second difference, which I will have to verify at some later point, is in the initial pages of the book itself. The second edition seems to have a different set of initial pages with different illustrations, some of them almost seem to be aimed at a children's story, but it definitely seems like an additional preamble with new illustrations. I even have a picture of one of the initial pages of the first edition on my phone which just does not match up with what I see in this version. To put it another way, the first edition seems to go straight into the chapters of the encyclopedia, whereas this second edition has about 10 extra pages that seem to be of a different composition than the typical chapters which seem more like catalog/encyclopedia entries. Once the first real chapter starts though, the books appear identical.
The only other difference in this edition is that the original came with a poster-sized illustration tucked into the back binding of the often reproduced lovers turning into an alligator. This edition, on the other hand, has a small soft-covered book in the back pocket which is in Italian. Alas my Italian is quite rusty, but it appears to be a collection of essays concerning the Codex.
Here is the good news about one of my biggest fears before ordering the second edition. Since the first edition has gotten so expensive ($500 plus on the cheapest I've found), I was concerned that the quality of the printing of the second edition available from Italy for approx $115 would be somehow less. I'm VERY happy to report that the printing quality is the same as the first edition (at least to my recollection). The feel of the pages has the same heavy, textured weight and the illustrations retain the look of hand-drawn colored pencil drawings.
Overall, my only disappointment was that this edition's cover has been changed to white. There was something about the black cover that I felt matched the book better. Still, that is only a very minor issue and I'm interested that this edition seems to contain more content than the original (if only a few pages worth).
If you've gotten this far, you know what this book is, but perhaps where I can add value is in describing the Rizzoli (white cover) edition. While we would all love to own the luxurious first edition, I think that the Rizzoli edition is a great inexpensive(ish) alternative. At 14 x 9 x 1.75 inches and nearly 5 pounds, it is quite large. And the number of pages and illustrations is quite impressive, giving the impression of grandness to the work. Though i would prefer a black background over white, it has the red circle ladybug illustration (one of my favorites) on the cover instead of the alligator bestiality illustration that the 1st edition has. So, I feel much better about leaving this book on a coffee table as a piece to spark conversation instead of accusing glares from my houseguests. The pages are made of heavy textured paper, and the illustrations are bright and sharp. It also has a ribbon page marker and a "Decodex" pamphlet in the back, though it's all in italian. In my opinion, the book is of sufficient quality and uniqueness to be worth the ninety-six euros they are charging. And since it's moderately difficult to obtain, it seems to hold its value quite well.