Giuseppe Bencivenni Pelli (1729–1808) was born in Florence and attended the University of Pisa. He practised law in Florence before joining the staff of the Secretary of State of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany in 1758. From 1761 to 1775 he was a member of a group of nine magistrates with jurisdiction in Florence. In 1775 he became director of the Galleria di Firenze (Uffizzi Gallery), where he remained until 1793. He held other administrative positions until the overthrow of the Grand Duchy by Napoleon in 1799.
Pelli was an important figure in Florentine cultural life for half a century. His correspondence and the diary that he kept from 1759 to 1807 are a major source on Florence in the last years of Medici rule. He was the editor of a weekly, Novelle Litterarie, from 1770 to 1777 and wrote the first history of the Uffizzi Gallery in 1779. His other books included Memorie per servire alla vita di Dante Alighieri ed alla storia della sua famiglia (1759) and Elogio di Giovanni da Verrazzano scopritore della Nuova Francia nel secolo XVI (1769).
After the death of Pelli, his library passed into the hands of the Landau family, who augmented it with many plays and other works of popular literature.
The Pelli Collection was purchased by the Library in 1968 from the antiquarian bookseller Fritz Haller of Lake Starnberg, Germany.
The Pelli Collection contains about 1500 volumes (1225 titles) published in France from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. While many great writers are represented, the writings of popular and minor writers make up the bulk of the collection. They account for much of the research value of the collection, for their writings were seldom republished and they are poorly represented in the collections of Australian libraries.
The first part of the collection, totalling about 477 titles, comprises novels, poetry, plays, essays, letters, sermons, and theological and philosophical writings, mostly published in France in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They include editions of earlier writers such as La Rochefoucauld, Montaigne, Pascal, Rabelais and Ronsard, as well as French translations of English writers such as Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, John Locke, Alexander Pope and Laurence Sterne. The collection is especially strong in eighteenth-century writers. Among the better known are Jean-Baptiste Argens, Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, François de Fénélon, Jean-Pierre de Florian, Félicité de Genlis, Choderlos de Laclos, Alain-René Le Sage, Jean-François Marmontel, Évariste-Désiré de Parny, Jean-François Regnard, Madame de Staël and Voltaire. There are 25 editions of Voltaire’s works published before 1800. Nineteenth-century writers represented include Victor-Prévost Arlincourt, Honoré de Balzac, François-René Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant, Victor Cousin, Victor Hugo, Alphonse de Lamartine and Frédéric Soulié.
The second part, French political and social history, comprises about 300 titles, including memoirs, letters, military history, political history, contemporary politics, and travel. Most of the books were published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but there are a few earlier and later imprints. Among the authors are Louis Blanc, Charles Duclos, Charles-Jean-François Hénault, l’abbé de Mably, Jules Michelet, Cardinal de Retz, le duc de Saint-Simon, Sismonde de Sismondi, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord and Adolphe Thiers.
The third part of the Pelli Collection consists of about 800 plays written by French writers between about 1775 and 1950, including editions of earlier dramatists such as Corneille, Molière and Racine. Among the playwrights are Émile Augier, Tristan Bernard, Paul Claudel, Casimir Delavigne, Alexandre Dumas père et fils, Jean Giraudoux, Ludovic Halévy, Maurice Maeterlinck, Henri Meilhac, Alfred Du Musset, Édouard Pailleron, Jean Richepin, Edmond Rostand, George Sand, Victorien Sardou, Eugène Scribe and Voltaire.
The pre-1801 books and selected nineteenth-century books in the Pelli Collection are housed in the Rare Books Collection. They have been catalogued individually and the call numbers have the prefix RB PEL. The remainder of the books, which have the prefix PEL, are kept together as a formed collection in the general collection. They have also been catalogued individually.
Archivo di Stato di Firenze, Lettere a Guiseppe Pelli Bencivenni 1747–1808, Rome, 1976.
Zapperi, R., Giuseppe Bencivenni Pelli, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol. 8, Instituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome, 1966, pp. 219–22.