BASIL THE GREAT
HANDSOME CONTEMPORARY BINDING, PAINTED FORE-EDGE
D. Basilii Magni…Omnia sive Recens Versa.Basle, ex officina Hervagiana, 1540
Folio. Two works in one, (xl) 581 (i) + 438. Roman letter, occasional Greek. Printer’s device to t-p and last, decorated initials. Light age yellowing to a few ll., slight foxing, centre of t-p expertly restored, blank except for printer’s device, probably either supplied or in facsimile. An excellent copy, crisp, clean and wide-margined, in contemporary (possibly Swiss) polished calf, lacking clasps, fore-edge painted in black-brown ink with author and title within fine architectural cartouche with foliage and masques. Richly blind-tooled to a double-ruled panel design, first border with two rolls of urns and fleurons, second and third with phoenixes, interlacing cranes and male heads in roundels, central panel with stamped mosaic-style mozarabic corner and centre pieces. Spine in six compartments, raised bands, later repairs to head and foot. Early red ‘P’ stamp and casemark to upper margin of t-p, a few early marginalia and small drawings.
The handsome binding with phoenixes and interlaced cranes, the detail of which remains very crisp, reprises early C16 exemplars produced in Lyon (e.g., BL, C66g11). They were based on a t-p produced by the Flemish artist Guillaume II Leroy for the Lyonnaise printer-bookseller Simon Vincent. As proved by a copy of Paulus Venetus’s ‘Summa philosophiae naturalis’ (Lyon, Antoine Du Ry for Simon Vincent, 1525)—present in our web catalogue— where the t-p and matching binding appear together, the latter was probably Vincent’s ‘marque de libraire’. In 1561, Antoine II Vincent (1500-68), one of Simon’s grandsons, was entrusted with the establishment of a branch of the press-bookselling business in Basle. Seen the peculiarity of this binding design, it was probably still in use in Antoine II’s shop. The mozarabic corner and centrepieces were probably added; they resemble the binding on BL, Add. MS 28751, produced in Spain in the C16.
The fine painted fore-edge with foliage and masques follows the mid-C16 fashion in Switzerland, where this kind of decoration lingered longer than in the rest of Europe (e.g., Davis II, 224, 225, 226).
Excellent, clean copy of the first edition of St Basil’s complete works edited by the Reformed humanist Wolfgang Musculus, professor of theology at Bern. Basil the Great (d. 379AD), Bishop of Caesarea, was one of the most influential Byzantine Church Fathers, admired for his theological arguments against heresy, his preaching and exegetic skills, theorisation of communal monasticism and ideas on the value of classical education. The ‘Omnia sive Recens Versa’ opens with his key works against heresy, with particular attention to the confutation of Arian theories on the differentiation of the nature of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. His sermons on psalms, capital sins, drunkenness, luxury and the lives of the early martyrs illuminate his moral exegesis and desire to provide practical guidance for good Christian life. The homily on the usefulness of the study of ‘gentile authors’ like Homer and Hesiod was a landmark in the debates of late antiquity and the early middle ages concerning the spiritual value of classical readings for the education of Christian youth. The last part of the volume is devoted to his numerous works on monasticism and asceticism, with admonitions on the regulations and sacrifices required by communal and solitary life. To this revised edition, based on Erasmus’s Greek editio princeps of 1532, Musculus added a long table of ‘loci communes’ listing key theological and exegetic ‘commonplaces’ for meditative reading and textual interpretation—e.g., ‘the devil’s ways to lure the wealthy’, ‘those who sin by ignorance do not go unpunished’ and ‘the solitude of the soul curbs passions’. For their profound appeal to an all-embracing spirituality and Christian morality, St Basil’s works played a fundamental part in post-Reformation theological controversy.
Only Harvard and Washington copies recorded in the US.USTC 679608; BM STC Ger., p. 69; Graesse I, 306. Not in Dibdin.