A ROYAL VALET’S TRAVELS ACROSS THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE AND MIDDLE EAST

Les navigations, peregrinations et voyages, faicts en la Turquie, par Nicolas de Nicolay.

Antwerp, Guillaume Silvius, 1577.

£4,950

4to. pp. (xxiv) 305 (i.e. 388) (xxxii). Roman letter, occasional Italic, prefatory epistle in Civilité. Small woodcut printer’s device on title, title within typographical border, historiated woodcut initials and typographical ornaments, 60 full page woodcut plates within typographical borders. Slight age-yellowing, some mostly marginal spotting on first and last few leaves, small single worm hole in blank upper margin of thirty leaves, the odd spot or thumb mark. A very good, clean copy in C19 English calf, gilt oval armorial device of the Society of writers to the Signet at centres of covers, spine with gilt ruled raised bands, re-backed with original spine laid down.

Excellent edition of this seminal and beautifully illustrated work by Nicolay, a detailed account of his travels to the Near East illustrated with sixty spirited full-length portraits of male and female figures of all ages and ranks in local costume. It was first published in Lyons in 1568, with copperplates engraved by Louis Danet from Nicolay’s original drawings, two reproduced in Mortimer-Harvard Fr. 386. According to Mortimer, Nicolay’s illustrations are ‘the first to represent the costume of the Near East in detail,’ and were widely copied in the C16th; this edition is illustrated with fine woodcuts by Antonij van Leest, whose initials appear in the first and other plates, after those of the first edition.

Dedicated by Nicolay to Charles IX, whom Nicolay served as valet de chambre and géographe ordinaire, it also contains a long “Elegie” by Ronsard addressed to Nicolay, and a letter (in a fine Civilité type) from the publisher Silvius to Cornille Pruney. The book opens with Nicolay’s long preface on traveling and the great travelers of history, from Noes and Jason down to Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Pizarro, and many more.

Book I describes, i.a., the Balearic islands, Algiers, Pantelleria, Malta and Tripoli, and its plates depict their women. Book II deals briefly with the Greek islands (i.a. Kithira, Khios, and Paros) and then concentrates on Constantinople describing in detail its antiquities, monuments, harem, mosques (St. Sophia in particular), and Turkish baths. Again, the plates portray women only, including a harem lodger, two women dressed to go to the baths, and one with two children. Contrastingly, Book III is all dedicated to men: Janizaries, the Sultan’s valets, semi-naked wrestlers, the Sultan’s cook, doctors, judges, relatives of Mahomet, pilgrims going and coming from the Mecca, and representatives of four religious confessions, one of whom has his penis pierced with a ring in order to preserve his chastity (p. 184). Book IV deals with Persia, Saudi Arabia, Greece and other Middle Eastern provinces. Its plates include an Arab and an Armenian merchant, a black slave, a Jewish merchant and a Jewish woman, a Turkish courtesan and a ‘Delly’, i.e. a ‘mad and bold man’ with plumed hat and shield, portrayed here riding a horse (p. 238).

Nicolay (1517 – 1583) was, as Ronsard notes in his Elegie, extensively travelled and one of the best draughtsmen of his time. In 1551 he followed Gabriel d’Aramon, the French ambassador, to Constantinople, and visited all of the places mentioned in this book. He could speak nearly every European language and wrote several travel books. A landmark in the history of the travel to the Near East, handsomely illustrated throughout with very accurate costume plates. “His (Nicolay’s) illustrations have been called the most influential introduction to Turkish costumes” (Blackmer). Colas notes “c’est la première série de documents serieux sur les habillements du proche Orient.”

Not in BM STC Fr. C16th. Adams N 254. Brunet IV p. 67. Graesse IV p. 671. Göllner 1664 (the 1576 Silvius edition). JFB N144 (first french edition) “one of the earliest descriptions of the lands and peoples of the Near East.” Alden has a later English translation only.

L1011

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