SAINTS IN SOLITUDE BROUGHT TO LIFE IN ENGRAVED FORM

Figures of Holy Monks Hermits.

Paris, Pierre Firens, c. 1600.

£1,750

Large 8vo., 48 numbered fine engraved plates by Pierre Firens I, detached fictitious title engraved about 1800; light small damp stain occasionally in lower margins. A very good copy in seventeenth-century speckled calf, contemporary gilt French title on morocco label on spine, raised and gilt bands; all edges red, original marbled endpapers; skilfully restored at joints and spine extremities; red library stamp of the French Confraternity of Fra’ Beato Angelico on front fly and verso of three plates.

An extremely rare set of fine religious engravings. Pierre Firens (c. 1580 – 1638), Flemish engraver and publisher, trained in Antwerp, moved to Paris at the beginning of the seventeenth century and was subsequently naturalised as French. Amongst his achievements were two royal portraits of Henry IV and Louis XIII, as well as some religious popular prints after old masters, including Rubens’ St. Anne. This unique collection was put together by borrowing from a vaster series published by the Sadeler brothers, Maerten de Vos and Jan van Londerseel during the last quarter of the sixteenth century, from which the Latin labels are also drawn. The plates, here in a superb and very neat impression, are often reversed and focused on the hermit saint, leaving out part of the original background. The influence of Durer and more so of Golztius models is very strong.

Among the many figures illustrated worth mentioning are Jesus as the prototype of anchorites when he fasted for forty days in the Judean desert resisting Satan’s temptations; the early fourth-century Saint Paul of Thebes, the first Christian hermit, dressed, as usual, in palm leaves; the Benedictine St. Andrew Zorard, who prayed and meditated all day in a narrow cavern, sitting dangerously surrounded by chains, prongs and swinging stones; St. Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury (953-1012), and another popular English saint, Jodocus of Brittany (600–668). Occasionally, the holy men are tempted and tormented by little devils. An interesting and attractive work in the history of iconography.

The collection was bound in early France. In the nineteenth century, an unscrupulous owner commissioned a fictitious engraved title page, which includes Firens’ signature and the inventively anachronistic imprint: Lyon, rue de S. Jacques at the Guardian Angel, 1572.

Excessively rare. No recorded copies in the US or elsewhere.

Not in Berlin cat. nor MET, BM and V&A online cat. On Firens: Benezit, IV, 377; Nagler, IV, 2953.

L1348

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