A Charming Manifestation of
French Renaissance Refinement
(BINDINGS - ENTRELAC). LACTANTIUS.
DES DIUINES INSTITUTIONS CONTRE LES GENTILS & IDOLATRES.(Lyon: Imprimé par Balthazar Arnoullet [pour] Guillaume Gaseau, 1547). 127 x 89 mm (5 x 3 1/2"). , 653,  pp. (without the final blank). Translated from Latin into French by René Famé.
STRIKING CONTEMPORARY FRENCH CALF IN THE ENTRELAC STYLE, covers with a complex strapwork pattern tooled in gilt and painted black and white, the design comprising borders, interlaced squares, and complex scalloped and spade-like panels, with a green-painted oval at the center, the original flat spine (remounted in the 19th century and with small restorations) diapered, with each lozenge enclosing a thick dot, all edges gilt (small recent repair to bottom of front joint). Title page with large woodcut printer's device; historiated opening initial showing a scholar with a book, and a number of foliated initials throughout. Early ink inscription (of "Bavet"?) on title page, frequent underlinings and marginal annotations in a neat contemporary hand. Brunet III, 737; Baudrier X, 118. Paint in the strapwork decoration slightly eroded in spots, leaves with overall faint yellowing, isolated minor marginal stains or foxing, one page with ink blot obscuring one word, other trivial imperfections, but still AN EXTREMELY APPEALING COPY, the splendid animated contemporary binding solid, bright, and with only minor wear, and nothing approaching a significant problem internally.
One of the ablest defenders of the faith in the early centuries of Christianity, Lactantius (ca. 260-340) was a teacher of rhetoric known for his elegant flow of words (a reputation that probably earned him his name, which in English is roughly equivalent to "Milky"). His "Divine Institutions" presents the new religion as the most logical of creeds, drawing on the arguments of Stoic philosophy and aimed at an audience of educated pagans. The work was written during the Great Persecution, but references added by Lactantius to Constantine indicate that he lived to see the legalization of Christianity. This first French translation by René Famé, secretary to Francis I, was likely undertaken at the request of that monarch, to whom the work is dedicated. Ours is probably the second edition, the first having been issued in Paris in 1542. Like the imprint, the binding here is likely to have originated in Lyon, where many of the best entrelac bindings were executed during the reigns of Francis I and Henry II. Partly influenced by Islamic models, entrelac decoration made its way through Italy and into southern France, where it came to adorn some of the finest bindings of the period, to be found in such major libraries as those owned by Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Jean Grolier in France; by Marcus Fugger in Germany; and by Thomas Wotton in England. During this time, the use, as here, of painted inlays or onlays was considered to be the height of French bibliopegic fashion and one of the most charming manifestations of the elegance of the Renaissance in France. Goldschmidt, for example, calls these bindings "great artistic creations" that represent "the highest achievements in the art of bookbinding in the Renaissance period." Examples of such binding designs include lot #74 in the Wittock sale (Sotheby's, 7 July 2004), a Lucanus published in Lyon in 1547, and Broxbourne Library binding #29, a three-volume set of Cicero published in Lyon that same year. (ST11783)