APPIANUS ALEXANDRINUS. Romanarum Historiarum.

[Basel], Froben, 1554


FIRST EDITION thus. Folio in 6s. pp. (xvi) 506 (xliv), lacking T8 (blank), O3-4 repeated (intended as cancels?). Roman letter, little Italic. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p and last verso, decorated initials. T-p and last verso a little dusty, small repair to upper blank margin of t-p, and at gutter of t-p and last two ll., small worm holes to blank of t-p and gutter of first three ll., light age yellowing, a few ll. slightly browned (poorly dried), slight marginal foxing. A very good, well-margined copy in lovely thick goatskin, gilt in the mid-C16 Roman style of Marcantonio Guillery, interlacing double gilt ruled border, decorated with gold-stamped feather tools, fleurons, elongated fleurs-de-lis and small birds, small gilt ivy leaves stamped to outer corners, central panel with oval gold- and blind-stamped plaquette with Apollo and Pegasus device and Greek motto to border, surrounded by feather tools with fleurons, at head a gilt ruled vignette gilt-lettered with author and title and decorated with gilt rosettes, raised bands, double gilt ruled, gilt rosette to each compartment, a.e.g. Booklabel of Michel Wittock to front pastedown, C16 ms. notes to final index, a handful to text. In folding box.

A fine binding from the renowned collection of Michel Wittock. In the intriguing saga of the faked Apollo and Pegasus bindings, which challenged great bibliographers like G.C. and A. Hobson, G. Fumagalli, T. de Marinis and Wittock, the present occupies a special place.

It first appeared as a lavishly illustrated C16 highlight in a catalogue by the London bookseller G. Michelmore c.1925, and, only years later, cast into doubt by Wittock. First, the handsome gilding, in a mid-C16 Roman style, features the same tooling employed by the Bolognese bookbinder Vittorio Villa, who, in the 1880s, produced numerous plaquette bindings by doctoring original C16 blind-tooled specimens. Second, since such early decoration is usually visible on bindings worked on by Villa, and not typical of original Apollo and Pegasus bindings, its absence from the present is anomalous. Structurally, the thick boards and old leather, the sewing structure and raised bands, faultlessly reproduce a typical C16 Apollo and Pegasus folio binding. What convinced Wittock that it was of recent making was ‘son état de fraîcheur’. (In particular, we may add, the freshness of the original spine as compared to the boards and the occasional discolouring of the latter not typically corresponding to leather wear, which may suggest skilful leather ‘distressing’ after the book was bound. Also, the absence of headcaps protruding over the endbands, typically present in C16 leather bindings.) Wittock identified it as ‘une reliure entièrement fausse exécutée par un habile pasticheur, probablement durant le premier quart du XXe siècle peu avant la sortie du catalogue de Michelmore’ (Wittock, 347-8). It is most likely one of the ‘very clever forgeries’ mentioned by Hobson in 1926, who provides a reproduction of the bird tool featuring here (‘Maioli’, 138). The remarkably skilled bookbinder was possibly the Milanese Domenico Conti-Borbone, collaborator of Villa and the inheritor of his bookbinding tools (Fumagalli, 315-16).

Based on the decoration of Apollo and Pegasus bindings produced by the mid-C16 Roman binder Marcantonio Guillery (i.e., Schunke’s ‘Farnese-Meister’ or Hobson’s ‘Binder B’) for Cardinal Farnese, whose device is reprised in the plaquette, close models are the Appianus (Paris, 1538) at the Museo Civico, Padua, and the Pico della Mirandola (Venice, 1508). That the book chosen should be a fine student’s edition of a major account of ancient history is perfectly consistent with the most common editions (including numerous by Froben) bound with original Apollo and Pegasus plaquettes, i.e., courtly and classical literature, poetry, history. Indeed, they were probably commissioned to several binders, including Guillery, by Cardinal Farnese for his young nephew Alessandro, Duke of Parma, whose education he was overseeing (Schunke, 59). Several editions of Appian, in Latin and Italian, are listed in the official catalogues of Apollo and Pegasus bindings. Appian of Alexandria (c.95-165 AD) was a Greek historian, a famous lawyer in Rome, and administrator of the province of Egypt. His ‘Ῥωμαϊκά’, in 24 books of which only 12 survive, recounted the imperial expansion and civil wars of Rome. Part (books 13-17) concern the Civil Wars and the end of the Republic. This Latin edition, translated from the Greek by the Bohemian humanist Sigismundus Gelenius (1497-1554), also includes Appian’s other extant work, the ‘Foreign Wars’ (Punic, Syriac, Parthic, Mithridatic, Gallic, Hispanic and Illyric). The copious index was annotated by an early owner, who added references to names and page numbers. A beautiful and unusual volume.

Hoffmann I, 225; Graesse I, 169. Not in Dibdin, Moss or Brunet. M. Wittock, ‘À propos des reliures, vraies ou frelatés, au medaillon d’Apollon et Pegase’, Bulletin du bibliophile (1998), 330-66 (this is n.5 in his catalogue); G.D. Hobson, Maioli, Canevari and others (1926); I. Schunke, ‘Die vier Meister der Farnese-Plaketteneinbände’, La Bibliofilia 54 (1952), 57-91; G. Fumagalli, ‘Di Demetrio Canevari’, La Bibliofilia 4 (1902-3), 300-16.
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