Nova Alphati, effictio historiis ad singulae literes correspondentibus artificiose in aes incisis illustrata …

Colongne, Johan Buxenmacher, 1613.


Folio. 25 unnumbered leaves. Full page engraved title, and 24 full page engraved plates, all with elaborate grotesque, mannerist ornamentation, engraved quatrain in Latin with German translation below each design, early manuscript inscription crossed out in lower margin of title, book-label on pastedown with monogram DC. Very light age yellowing, lower margin of t-p slightly soiled, tear expertly restored in lower margin of plate “A”, the rare marginal mark or stain. A fine copy with good margins and excellent rich impressions of the plates in crimson morocco by Lobestein-Laurenchet, covers bordered with a triple gilt rule, spine with raised bands richly gilt in compartments, inner dentelles gilt, a.e.g.

A beautiful copy of the second edition of this remarkable, celebrated and very rare Renaissance Alphabet Book by De Bry, in majuscule letters, featuring both decorative elements – flowers, fruits, animals, putti – and biblical and mythological figures. “Elles représentent un grand Alphabet majuscule dont les lettres sont formées par découpures mouvementées ornées de figures de trophées, d’oiseaux, de fleurs et de fruits” (Guilmard, Les Maîtres Ornemanistes, p. 368). The letters are covered in elaborate decoration of both Biblical and Classical figures, musical instruments, cherubs, nymphs, insects, fruits, birds, fish, lobsters, and flowers. The wonderful mixture of the use of grotesque imagery and classical and symbolic imagery is extremely inventive, and most finely and delicately executed making this work one of the greatest ornamental alphabet books ever created.

“In an alphabet book published in 1595, de Bry shows quite literally how the letter functions as humanity’s chief means of support in a fallen world. The Nova Alphati effictio (Newly fashioned Alphabet) consists of twenty-four letters designed by Bry and engraved by his son, Johann Theodore de Bry. In the initial engraving, the first letter of the alphabet is linked directly to the Fall. Adam and Eve have, so to speak, fallen upon the extended arms of the letter itself, which is intertwined with the branches of the tree of knowledge and the snaky limbs of Satan, who assumes the form of a female serpent resting on the top of the A. According to the accompanying verses, Adam tasted from the forbidden tree and as a result “the letter now guides the soul” (litteraque aetheriae nuncia mentis habet). .. De Bry’s A is not to be taken too literally, however: few Renaissance speculators on the history of letters actually located their origins with Adam and Eve. There were in fact many different stories at the time both biblical and secular, as to where and when the writing of letters began.” Michael Gaudio ‘Engraving the Savage: The New World and Techniques of Civilization.’.

This second German edition is exceptionally rare. Worldcat locates three copies only; Two in Europe at the Württembergische Landesbibliothek in Stuttgart, and the National Art library at the V&A, and one at Harvard.

A beautiful copy, with superb impressions of the plates.

Berlin Katalog 5282. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish, IV, p. 37, nos. 171-95 (1595 ed.)


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