A Little Inlaid Bibliopegic Jewel, Offering Remarkable Condition, Charm, and Technique
(MINIATURE BOOK). DANTE ALIGHIERI.
LA DIVINA COMMEDIA.(Milano: Ulrico Hoepli, 1878). 54 x 32 mm (2 1/8 x 1 1/4"). 4 p.l., 499,  pp. ONE OF 1,000 COPIES.
SUPERB CONTEMPORARY TAN MOROCCO INTRICATELY INLAID IN THE "FLORE ORNAMENTALE" STYLE BY MARIUS MICHEL (stamp-signed on front doublure), covers and spine with black inlaid morocco frames outlined in gilt enclosing a pattern of interlocking vines, leaves, and irises, all outlined in gilt and accented with gilt circlets, RED MOROCCO DOUBLURES with French fillet borders, all edges gilt. Contained in a custom-made (very probably original) velvet-lined case of dark brown morocco, the upper cover and sides adorned with gilt lozenges and flowers. With engraved frontispiece portrait of the author. The type cast by Giacomo Gnocchi of Milan, set by Giuseppe Geche, printed by Luigi Baldan, and corrected by Luigi Busato. Bondy, p. 95; Spielman 114. A SPLENDID COPY OF AN EXCEPTIONALLY CHARMING ITEM, with virtually no signs of use even to the case.
This is a little bibliopegic gem, at once one of the most renowned miniature books ever produced and a striking inlaid miniature binding by one of the great French workshops of the Belle Epoque. Spielman thought the type (known as "flies' eyes" and measuring about two-point) was "the smallest ever employed." Whether that claim remains true, the Grolier Club's "Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures" reported that working with this type, which is scarcely visible to the naked eye, "is said to have injured the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print 30 pages, and new types were necessary for every new forme." The amazing technical achievement of the printing is echoed here by the binding, in which we see a beautiful demonstration of the then-revolutionary "Flore Ornamentale" design. The elder Marius Michel had produced distinguished work in the prevailing historical style for two decades, beginning in Paris in 1849. He was joined in the business by his son Henri (also known as "Marius Michel"), who believed passionately "that bookbinding needed a new vocabulary of ornamentation in order to express the mood and spirit of contemporary authors." He found in the 1878 International Exposition a convenient and appropriate forum through which to promote the revolutionary style of decorative ornaments based on nature, a style he called "La Flore Ornamentale." He was at first viewed as impudent and rebellious, and his work was objected to on theoretical grounds as being too much like "art," and too little like a product of the binder's craft. But "the young man's fervent convictions, as well as his superb technical skills, as both a binder and a gilder, won him an increasing number of supporters. By 1885 his designs were seen as a viable alternative to traditional bindings for certain books." Other binders began to imitate his approach, but Marius Michel the Younger was the "undisputed leader of the new movement, [his] incomparable technique, harmonious selection of color, and infinite variety of plant motifs [placing] his work above those of his contemporaries." (Duncan & De Bartha) The design and finishing of this binding set it far above what one usually finds on a miniature book, and its unsurpassable condition and irresistible charm make this a compellingly attractive item. (ST11966)