THE HISTORY OF THE FRENCH GOLDEN FLEECE


Le Premiér et le Second Volume de la toison d’or.

Paris, Antoine Bonnemére for Francois Regnault, 10 Dec 1517.

£47,500

Folio. Two volumes in one. ff. (ii) 127; (i) 232. Lettre Bâtarde in double column, ruled throughout in red, Regnault’s large woodcut elephant device on both title-pages (Silvestre 43), second title with large grotesque woodcut letter, white on black crible initials of various sizes, nine large half or three-quarter page woodcuts, a further 69 woodcut illustrations in the text with repeats, Nicolas-Joseph Foucault’s engraved armorial bookplate on pastedown, C19 armorial bookplate of the Earl of Macclesfield on fly, Shirburn Castle blind stamp to head of first two leaves, light age yellowing in places, very occasional thumb mark, small closed tear at gutter on title page. A fine, well margined copy, on thick paper, crisp and clean with very fine impression of type and woodcuts, in contemporary French (probably Parisian) blind-stamped calf, covers blind ruled to a panel design, central panel in a ‘Gril de St Laurent’ design of vertical strips of repeated acanthus leaf and vase rolls in blind, outer panel with the same blind roll, spine, re-backed in the early C17, gilt in compartments with gilt raised bands, red morocco label gilt, joints and head and tail restored, covers a little rubbed and scratched, with small tears in lower cover, lacking clasps and catches, all edges gilt and gauffered.

A rare and beautifully illustrated edition of Guillame Fillastre’s most famous work, composed between 1468 and 1473, first printed by Regnault in 1516 of which this edition is an exact copy. Guillaume Fillastre the younger was the illegitimate son of a Benedictine Nun and the humanist Cardinal Guillaume Fillastre (died 1428) after whom he was named. He was raised and educated in the ecclesiastical channel but he eventually joined the services of the Dukes of Burgundy. Devoted on the one hand to the Pope and on the other to Philip, he achieved high status with both. He became counselor to Philip in 1440 and quickly rose to Prominence thanks to his erudition and diplomatic skill. The duke appointed him head of his counsel in 1457 and chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1461. Successive Popes nominated him Bishop of Toul in 1449 and of Tournai in 1460. Throughout his erudite career Fillastre wrote many treatises to enhance the glory of the Dukes of Burgundy and patronised works of art to that effect.

The manuscript of the Chroniques de France, which he presented in 1457 to Philip, was modified to include passages of the History of Flanders to justify the Duke’s aspirations to rule over a revived Lotharingian Empire. Fillastre wrote his history of the Order of the Golden Fleece at the request of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, between 1468 and 1473. In it he discusses the historical, spiritual and ceremonial significance of six fleeces from Biblical and Classical literature. He connects the mythical past, history, the Bible and the contemporary by giving examples of chivalry and modes of behavior expected of members of the Order. The Chronique is also a general celebration of contemporary Burgundian culture which it links to the reign of Charlemagne as well as with Ancient Rome through its military aspirations and with Classical Athens through philosophy. Fillastre also wrote a third volume dealing with virtue and prudence that was never published.

A number of manuscript copies of the text were made for important members of the order. They have the same formulaic frontispiece to Book II which depicts Fillastre presenting his Histoire to Charles the Bold in 1473. The miniature shows Charles seated under a blue cloth of honor embroidered with his arms, while members of the order wearing the Order’s collar and scarlet robes flank the Duke. Fillastre in the robes of the bishop of Tournai stands in the foreground presenting his work. The scene is copied in this printed version in a very fine three quarter page woodcut that appears at the beginning of both volumes.

The large three quarter page woodcuts are mostly from Verard and were also used in Regnault’s 1515 edition of ‘Les Grandes decades de Livy.’ There are also two smaller very beautiful and particularly striking woodcuts with solid black borders first used by Jean Bonhomme in his edition of the ‘Destruction de Troie’, Paris 1484, one of the earliest illustrated books printed in Paris, also reused in the 1488 edition of ‘Lancelot du Lac’. Most of the blocks used are from French incunable editions which give the work its enormous charm. The print represents the last flourishing of a golden age of works on chivalry, that were so much a la mode in Renaissance France.

A fine and large copy from the exceptional library of Nicholas Joseph Foucault (b. 1643, d. 1721), marquis de Magny, statesman and passionate archaeologist, whose library was “parmi les plus précieuses concernant l’histoire de France” (Guigard II p. 221), and to the equally extraordinary library of the Earls of Macclesfield.

Adams F454. Moreau 1608. Brunet II 1258 ‘La seconde édition .. est aussi rare que la premiére’. Graesse II p.580 ‘Ouvrage curieux’. Not in Harvard, Fairfax Murray, BM STC or Brun.

L860

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