The Best Copy We've Seen in Decades of this Grand Color Plate Book


(London: W. Bulmer and Co. for J. Chamberlaine, 1792-[1800]). 570 x 430 mm. (22 3/8 x 16 7/8"). [75] text leaves. FIRST EDITION.

MAGNIFICENT MID-19TH CENTURY DARK GREEN MOROCCO, GILT, FOR GEORGE RUTLAND OF NEWCASTLE (stamp-signed on front turn-in), covers with frame of multiple gilt rules and gothic-style roll enclosing a central panel containing an arrangement of rectangles and squares formed by multiple gilt rules, raised bands, spine attractively gilt in compartments with central fleuron and floral vine cornerpieces, gilt titling, turn-ins with bold gilt floral roll, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt (scarcely noticeable very expert repairs to front joint). WITH A TOTAL OF 92 PORTRAITS ON 91 STIPPLE-ENGRAVED PLATES PRINTED IN COLORS, CONSISTING OF 84 PORTRAITS ENGRAVED BY BARTOLOZZI as called for in Abbey, four of these before letters, seven printed on pink paper, 19 on thicker paper, AND EIGHT EXTRA ILLUSTRATIONS of portraits done by Holbein for the court of Francis II, all but two with protective tissue guards bound-in. Abbey, "Life" 205, 206; Ray, "England" 19; Brunet III, 259-260 ("ouvrage magnifique"). A touch of rubbing to joints, corners lightly bumped, isolated light offsetting from parts of just a few plates, occasional marginal foxing (more noticeable on the verso of the first two portraits), overall faint browning to a text leaf here and there, but A REMARKABLY BEAUTIFUL COPY, internally clean and bright, with fine coloring, and IN A STRIKING BINDING with few signs of wear.

In Ray's words, "this magnificent work is surely the finest early example of English colour printing," and our outstanding copy comes in an arresting binding and enriched with the plates from Holbein's "Court of Francis II." The collection of Hans Holbein's drawings of the lords and ladies of the court of Henry VIII contains some of the most remarkable portrait studies ever made, and the group gives an accurate idea of the fashions and faces of the nobility of the period. A Forum 2018 catalogue entry says: "The originals, in chalk heightened with pen and metal-point, were made by Holbein during his two sojourns to England. They constitute preliminary studies for several of his most famous oil paintings. The drawings were originally in a volume now preserved in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, called the Great Booke." Abbey says it is "in every way a splendid book, the colour printing reproducing with extraordinary fidelity the original designs." The earliest drawings date from Holbein's arrival in England about 1526, and subsequent drawings were done almost up until his death in 1554. The engravings are remarkably lifelike and seem very modern, particularly where the portrait is left partly in sketched form. John Chamberlaine, antiquary and keeper of the King's drawings, was responsible for making this publication happen, and it was he who sought out Francesco Bartolozzi's expertise. An original member of the Royal Academy as well as Engraver to the King after 1764, Bartolozzi (1728-1815) was instrumental in popularizing the stipple engraving method used here--Ray tells us he was a "master" of the method, "particularly as used for colour printing." There were two later reprints of this work, reduced in size to quarto, but Abbey says "the reduced reissue of 1812, reprinted in 1828, gives no idea of the book's quality." The additional eight prints portraying persons from the French court of Francis II includes Holbein's famous image of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was at that time Francis' queen. According to Abbey, that work was printed but apparently never "issued to the public until the stock was acquired many years later by Messrs. Bohn, who added them as a supplement to [unsold] copies of the earlier [Henry VIII] work." Our volume was bound around 1870 for Newcastle publisher and bookseller George Rutland, who perhaps had an in-house workshop. It is a pity that the binder did not sign his name because the binding is a monumental piece of work. Over the years, we have passed up the opportunity to buy various copies of this impressive but not especially rare work, waiting for one that achieved breathtaking status; this is the one.