A Powerful Conjunction of Desirable Format, Printer, Binder, Illustration, and Provenance
(BASKERVILLE IMPRINT). ARIOSTO, LODOVICO.
ORLANDO FURIOSO.(Birmingham: Da' Torchj di G. Baskerville per P. Molini, 1773). 305 x 232 mm (12 x 9 1/8"). With the subscription list at the end of volume IV. Four volumes.. ONE OF 100 LARGE PAPER COPIES described by Cohen-de Ricci.
STATELY CONTEMPORARY RED MOROCCO BY DERÔME LE JEUNE (his ticket on title page of volume I), covers gilt with French fillet borders and with the FitzGibbon family arms of the Earl of Clare at center, raised bands, spines gilt in double-ruled compartments with a simple lozenge centerpiece, gilt titling, densely gilt turn-ins, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. With frontispiece portrait by Eisen after Titian, and 46 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES by Bartolozzi, Moreau, and others after Eisen, Cipriani, Moreau, Cochin, Greuze, and Monnet. A Large Paper Copy. Front pastedown with vellum bookplate of Burnham Abbey and engraved armorial bookplate of Charles Tennant, The Glen (see below). Gaskell 48; Cohen-de Ricci 95; Cicognara 1080; Ray 64; Brunet I, 438. Spines slightly and evenly sunned, a hint of rubbing to extremities, titles faintly browned (and with an inch of slightly darker browning to edges from binder's glue), a dozen other leaves with pale browning or spotting, occasional very faint offsetting from plates, isolated light spots of foxing, small marginal smudges, or other trivial imperfections (with just a handful of plates affected), but still AN ELEGANT SET IN FINE CONDITION, the impressive bindings lustrous and scarcely worn, the leaves clean, fresh, and smooth, the margins enormous, and with strong impressions of the engravings.
This is an exceptional copy of an important Baskerville edition, illustrated by some of the finest artists and engravers of the period, and bound by the chief French binder of the day. The great sprawling romantic epic by Ariosto (1474-1533) is 50,000 lines long, 26 years in the making and refining, and among the most influential works of literature (writers indebted to Ariosto include Tasso, Cervantes, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Shelley). One of the most singular and extravagant of narratives ever conceived, the story of "Mad Orlando" takes place against the background of the war between Charlemagne and the Saracens, when Orlando, one of Charlemagne's finest knights, neglects his duty out of love for the pagan princess Angelica. After she falls in love with a Saracen and elopes, Orlando goes mad, and is only restored to sanity when another knight flies to the moon in Ezekiel's chariot and obtains a magic potion to break the spell. (There are many more complications.) The 46 plates in the present edition each illustrate an episode from one of the work's cantos, and the material certainly provided the artists with the opportunity to let their imaginations run free; the results are some of the most diverting French engravings of the period. Baskerville was an inspired choice of printer, because his stately typography, luxurious paper (textured, but feeling rather like vellum), and spacious design combine here (and elsewhere) to create an aura of dignity and tranquillity. DNB notes that "the printing of the 'Orlando Furioso' is significant, since it demonstrates that Baskerville's reputation was growing in continental Europe. Voltaire, to whom Baskerville had sent copies of his Virgil and Milton, had permitted the printer to set specimen pages of his own works in 1771. Fournier the younger praised his types in the second volume of his 'Manuel Typographique' (Paris, 1766). [And] when the young Giambattista Bodoni left Rome in 1768 bound for England, it was presumably the reputation of Baskerville that had attracted him." This was no doubt gratifying for the Birmingham printer, whose works were not as eagerly embraced in his own country, in part due to London snobbishness towards his provincial location. The Baskerville Ariosto was issued mostly in octavo sets, with a few in the larger present quarto format; Cohen-de Ricci notes that a number of copies of the special quarto version--which he praises as an especially fine edition--were sent to Derôme to be bound in a manner suitable for a luxury publication. There were no fewer than 18 members of the Derôme family who made their livings as binders in Paris from the middle of the 17th century until the first quarter of the 19th, but by far the most distinguished family member was Nicolas-Denis, called "le Jeune" (1731-88). Known for the gracefulness of his bindings, and being capable of "amazing delicacy" (in Hobson's words), Derôme le Jeune was, simply, the leading binder of the day, and his work was much in demand. Because he refused to turn away customers, Derôme was forced to hire a number of assistants, whose work he could not always supervise closely. However, Thoinan says that the binder's best work is indicated, as here, by the presence of his ticket. The arms on the upper cover indicate that this set was bound for John FitzGibbon (1748-1802), first Earl of Clare and lord chancellor of Ireland during the difficult years preceding and following the rebellion of 1798. Although an ardent proponent of union with Great Britain, he was also the strongest advocate of clemency towards the Catholic rebels. Later owner Sir Charles Tennant (1823-1906) was a Scottish industrialist who housed a notable library and art collection at his country home, The Glen, which was modelled on Glamis Castle. It is difficult to overstate the appeal of the present set, and despite the fact that the bindings are more elegant than decorative, they make a very fine impression on the shelf. Ray's own copy, now held by the J. P. Morgan Library, is the only one we have located at any institution that is (at 30 cm.) nearly as tall as the present set. (ST12004)