St. John Hornby's Illuminated Copy of the First Printing of Plutarch

VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.

([Rome]: Ulrich Han (Udalricus Gallus), ca. 1468-70). 380 x 265 mm. (15 x 10 1/2"). [288] leaves (of 296), single column, 45 lines, roman type. (Lacking three blanks and five leaves with text on one side only, the latter supplied in facsimile from the copy in the John Rylands Library.) One volume (of two). EDITIO PRINCEPS.

FINE 18TH CENTURY RED MOROCCO BY JOHN BRINDLEY, covers with single gilt fillet border and cornerpieces composed of small tools including Brindley's distinctive crowned dolphins, raised bands, spine gilt in compartments framed by plain and dogtooth rolls and containing large fleurons formed by small floral tools, stars, and lancets, green morocco label, edges gauffered by an earlier binder (older discreet repairs to tail of joints and head of spine). LAVISHLY ILLUMINATED WITH A FULL BORDER on the first page of the prologue AND 52 EXQUISITE WHITE-VINE INITIALS. Front pastedown with armorial bookplate of the Duke of Sussex, bookplates of Clifford Rattey and H. R. Jeudwine, and BOOK LABEL OF C. H. ST. JOHN HORNBY (see below); white-vine border with German rebus identifying an early (but unknown) owner. Goff P-830; BMC IV, 21. Spine a bit darkened, small chip to leather at fore edge of front board, extremities lightly rubbed, a scattering of small dark stains to boards, but the stately binding quite solid, lustrous, and generally well preserved. Perhaps a dozen leaves lightly browned, isolated minor marginal foxing or stains, otherwise A VERY PLEASING COPY, generally clean and quite fresh, with generous margins, and with no loss of paint or gold from the splendid illuminations.

This is a wonderful combination of the very rare first appearance in print of an important and influential text, of beautiful contemporary illumination, of a handsome binding by a royal binder, and of very distinguished provenance with direct connections to the private press movement inspired by the earliest printers in the West. A second century Stoic philosopher, Plutarch has a particular ability to delineate character and present the vagaries of history in a way that engages as well as instructs, and this has made him one of the West's most persistently influential authors. In his celebrated "Lives," he pairs biographies of Greeks with Romans--the tragic Spartan reformers Agis and Cleomenes, for example, with the Roman revolutionary Gracchi brothers--pointing out the parallels and philosophizing on the right and wrong paths of life. The present volume marks the first time Plutarch's "Lives" was available to Renaissance humanists in anything but manuscript form. A native of Ingolstadt, Ulrich Han was invited to Rome by Cardinal Torquemada (ca. 1420-98), and Han's first dated work appeared there at the end of 1467. His roman typeface has a simplicity and grace that reflect the humanist sensibilities of his time and place. Han produced between 80 and 100 works before his death in late 1478 or early 1479. The present copy is particularly lovely because of its hand-illuminated initials and elaborate opening full border, done in the white-vine style characteristic of Italian 15th century decoration. The gold for the initials is lavishly laid on, and the white vines embrace the letters in intricate loops, subtending a patchwork of blue, red, and green areas sowed with white dots clustered in threes. We can tell definitively, by matching tools, that our binding is by John Brindley (ca. 1693-1758), who established a bindery in London in 1723. He was appointed bookbinder to Frederick, Prince of Wales, and to Frederick's mother, Queen Caroline, and he bound books for other important clients, including Sir Isaac Newton and the Harleian Library. The provenance here is most distinguished: our volume was once in the library of Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex and grandson of Brindley's royal patron. It later passed into the hands of one of the fathers of the modern private press movement, Charles Harry St. John Hornby, founder of the Ashendene Press. Hornby was especially fond of early books printed in Italy, basing his lovely roman typeface, Subiaco, on that of Sweynham & Pannartz. Copies of the editio princeps of the "Vitae" are extremely rare: except for the present item, ABPC and RBH do not locate any copy, complete or incomplete, at auction, and most institutional copies have missing or facsimile leaves. It is telling that the leaves that have been removed from our volume were either blanks or blank on one side, and such considered removal obviously reflects an attempt at reuse in the name of efficiency and fiscal prudence.
(CJI1701)

Keywords: Illuminated

Add to Cart Price: $85,000.00

PJP Catalog: 73.053

VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.
VITAE ILLUSTRIUM VIRORUM.