An Illustrated Incunable from the Library of a Leading Bibliographer of Incunabula


(Basel: Michael Furter, 1495). 170 x 115 mm. (6 1/2 x 4 1/2"). 232 unnumbered leaves, including the terminal blank. Single and (mostly) double column, 28 and (mostly) 34 lines and headline, gothic type. FIRST EDITION.

VERY FINE BROWN JANSENIST CRUSHED MOROCCO BY ROBERT JOLY [FILS], raised bands, covers WITH GILT ROYAL ARMORIAL DEVICE OF ANDRÉ MASSENA, Duke of Rivoli and Prince of Essling, and spine compartments with his cipher, turn-ins with dense gilt decoration, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Attractively rubricated throughout, with two- and three-line initials alternately in red, woodcut printer's device on colophon, and 18 VERY APPEALING FULL-PAGE WOODCUT ILLUSTRATIONS BY THE "MASTER OF HEINTZ NARR" (including two repeated images). The woodcut on K4 with a small area neatly painted in red, no doubt by an early hand. Goff M-421; BMC III, 783. A handful of leaves closely shaved at upper margin (though most margins quite ample), an occasional insignificant spot in the text, but AN ESPECIALLY FINE COPY, very clean, bright, and fresh internally, and in a lustrous, unworn binding.

In a binding characterized by understated elegance and in outstanding condition, this is a very desirable copy of the first appearance of an incunabular collection of Lenten sermons on the parable of the prodigal son, held up here as encouragement to Christians never to despair of self-improvement and God's forgiveness. Each sermon begins with a dialogue between an angel and the prodigal son, and all but one conclude with a parable or allegory that the author explains in Christian terms. Although he is a shadowy figure, we know that Meder, a Franciscan at Basel from 1495-1502, was intimately involved in the printing of this work and that he had his friend Sebastian Brant write a prefatory poem to the volume. He also asked Furter to provide illustrations, a request that was fulfilled by the inclusion of the quaint, angular woodcuts done in a vernacular style that are attributed by Friedrich Winkler to the Master of Heintz-Narr, Dürer's main collaborator in the illustration of Brant's famous "Das Narrenschiff." Michael Furter printed in Basel from the 1480s into the second decade of the 16th century, with many of his publications being undated. His typefaces are derivative, but he was important, as seen here, in terms of xylographic ornamentation and augmentation. Our aristocratic binding was done by one of the great bookbinding houses of France. After apprenticing in the provinces, Antoine Joly (1838-1917) moved to Paris, found employment with the celebrated Léon Gruel, later formed a partnership with Thibaron in 1874, succeeded him 11 years later, and, in 1892, turned the business over to his son Robert (1870?-1924). According to Duncan & DeBartha, "An excellent gilder like his father, Robert designed and produced a range of classical covers." Our original owner, André Prosper Massena, Prince d'Essling, stands out among even the greatest of bibliographers because of his "Études sur l'Art de la Gravure sur Bois à Venise." As stated in the Martino reprint, "this monumental work is the most exhaustive bibliographic study of illustrated books of any country or period ever published." It collates, meticulously describes, and illustrates more than 3,500 books. Surely, in keeping with the fashion of 19th century bibliophilic expectations, the text here has been pressed, but it seems not to have been washed, and, in any case, it is very clean and fresh, with leaves that have plenty of texture.

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PJP Catalog: BOS20BF.037