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.
Folio. 2 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 (cm), Nicolas-Joseph Foucault’s armorial bookplate on pastedown, C19 armorial bookplate of the Earl of Macclesfield on fly, Shirburn Castle blindstamp to head of first two ll, light age yellowing in places, very occasional thumb mark, small closed tear at gutter on t-p. 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, rebacked 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.
The rare and beautifully illustrated second edition of Guillame Fillastre’s most famous work, composed between 1468 and 1473, first printed by Regnault the previous year. The work is splendidly illustrated with 76 woodcuts, many near full page. A number of manuscript copies were made for the important members of the order of the Golden Fleece. They regularly have the same frontispiece, representing the 1473 Chapter during which Fillastre presented his Histoire to Charles the Bold who had requested the text at the 1468 meeting. The miniature shows Charles seated under a cloth of honor embroidered with his arms, members of the order wearing the Order’s collar and robes flank the Duke. Fillastre in the robes of the bishop of Tournai stands in the foreground presenting his work. This 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. There are also two smaller very beautiful and particularly striking woodcuts with solid black borders. The blocks used from French incunable editions give the work its enormous charm. This printing represents the last flourishing of a golden age of works on chivalry, that were so much a la mode in early Renaissance France; the link between the manuscript and this early printed edition is very evident.
In the early sixteenth century Charles the V had become the Grand Commander of the order. However Francois I, his great rival, was elected knight in the 18th chapter held in Brussels in 1516, and it was in this context that Fillastre’s work was published at Paris. Many of the illustrations celebrate the deeds of their common ancestors such as Charles de Valois and Philippe le Hardi.
The order of the Golden Fleece perpetuated the Grand tradition of French Chivalry and Guillaume Fillastre’s work helped refine and fix and the symbolism of the order. The work retraces the history of the six fleeces, those of Jason, Jacob, Gideon, Mesa, Job and David, relating them to the six virtues, Generosity, Justice Prudence, Faithfulness, Patience and Clemency. Throughout his erudite career Fillastre had written many treatises to enhance the glory of the dukes of Burgundy and had patronised artists to that effect. Fillastre wrote his history of the order of the Golden Fleece at the request of the Duke of Burgundy between 1468 and 1473. In it he set out to discuss the historical, spiritual and ceremonial significance of six fleeces from Biblical and Classical literature. He makes the connection between the mythical past, history, the bible and the contemporary, giving examples of chivalry and modes of behaviour expected of members of the order. It is also a general celebration of contemporary Burgundian culture which its links to the time of Charlemagne as well as implying military connections with Ancient Rome and philosophical connections with Classical Athens. Fillastre also wrote a third volume that was never published.
Guillaume Fillastre was the illegitimate son of a Benedictine Nun and the humanist Cardinal Guillaume Fillastre (died 1428). He was raised and educated in the ecclesiastical channel but he eventually joined the service of the Dukes of Burgundy. Devoted, on the one hand to the Pope and on the other to Philip the Good Duke of Burgundy, he achieved high status with both. He became counsellor 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.
A fine, large and totally unsophisticated copy of this beautifully illustrated and extremely rare work, from the exceptional library of Nicholas Joseph Foucault (b. 1643, d. 1721), marquis de Magny, statesman and passionate archaeologist, whose library of was “parmi les plus précieuse concernant l’histoire de France” (Guigard II p. 221), and then, along with many of Foucault’s books, 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.