ERASMUS, Desiderius

ERASMUS, Desiderius Opus de conscribendis epistolis

Paris, Simon de Colines, 1539


8vo, ff. 194. Roman letter, very little Greek; title within floral border with centaurs, nymphs, medallion portraits and printer’s monogram; light dampstain to blank head of a few leaves in gathering k, two upper margins torn without text loss, tiny marginal wormholes to final gathering. A very good, well-margined copy in contemporary Flemish calf, blind-tooled with triple-fillet border and elaborate central panel with Hope on plinth with quotation from Psalm 70 and 90, signed by the anonymous Leuven binder IP (Goldschmidt, II/2, no. 179 and Foot, Henry Davis Gift, II, p. 358, no. 302); spine with raised band and six blind-tooled compartments; corners slightly chipped, two tiny wormholes to front cover, light minor stains to rear; original pastedowns, raised, one Gothic in black and red from ms leaf of French early fourteenth-century religious commentary, in Latin, double-column, the other in a northern humanist hand from a late fifteenth-century philosophical treatise in Latin, with marginal contemporary Latin alphabet written by childish hand; contemporary inscriptions by Northern French or Flemish hands scribbled over on front endpaper recto.

Early and accurate edition of a Renaissance bestseller for letter-writing, first printed in 1522. Erasmus (1466-1536) was by far the most influential humanist of his time, especially as regards education in classics. De conscribendis epistolis was Erasmus’s second most famous rhetorical textbook after De copia verborum, appearing in ninety editions. Written in Cambridge between 1509 and 1511, a unauthorised edition of the text came out in 1521 upon the initiative of a former student. This prompted Erasmus to publish in Basel his own full edition. Simon de Colines (c.1480 -1546) was a highly skilled printer, who was trained by Henry Estienne, led the Estienne workshop until Robert entered the business in 1526 and then became an independent and distinguished publisher in Paris. He was renowned for the beauty of his Roman, Greek and Italic fonts.

This handsome binding, made in Leuven about 1545, shows a distinctive central plate illustrating a personification of Hope standing on a plinth (representing Faith as a solid ground) and looking up towards a cross (named as ‘Christ’s service’ for mankind) in the sky. This iconography appears to be influenced by the pietism of the Brethren of the Common Life, a religious movement flourished in the Netherlands from mid-fourteenth century on. According to Foot (vol. II, p. 359), ‘there are four variants of this Spes panel: two are signed I P, one with and one without the word ‘charitas’, and two signed I B, also one with and one without ‘charitas’’ (see also S. Fogelmark, Flemish and Related Panel-Stamped Bindings: Evidence and Principles, 1990, pp. 157-169). The present one, signed by I P, is without the mention of charity, i.e. the third theological virtue along with hope and faith. The surrounding quotations from the Psalms are written in Roman capitals and, very exceptionally for blind-tooled inscriptions on bindings, in Italic.

Not in Adams, BM STC Fr., Brunet, Graesse or Schreiber. Renouard, 307.
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