HULSIUS, Levinus

HULSIUS, Levinus XII primorum caesarum et LXIIII ipsorum uxorum et parentum ex antiquis numismatibus

Strasbourg, Johann Kollitz, 1597


FIRST EDITION. 4to, (viii) 198 (ii). Roman and Italic letter, charming woodcut floriated and historiated initials, typographical headpiece and ornaments. T-p within handsome engraved architectural border with Romulus, Remus and the she-wolf at head, masks, garlands and profile busts at the sides, 78 engraved illustrations of Roman coins (73 within ornate cartouches) in clean and clear impression. T-p dusty, slight browning to some ll. A good, clean and wide copy, in C19 half calf, gilt-ruled borders, marbled boards. Bookplates of Patricia Milne-Henderson (1935-2019) and “The Knight of Morar” – Sir William Augustus Fraser (1826-1898), to front paste-down.


First edition of Hulsius’ biographies of the first twelve Roman emperors, their wives and relatives, beautifully illustrated with finely engraved coin portraits. Born in the Flanders, Levinus Hulsius (1546-1606) settled in Nuremberg in the late 1580s. Here, he initially worked as a language teacher and notary, eventually becoming a writer and publisher of scientific books, dictionaries and geographical works. Notably, Hulsius was one of the earliest traders in mathematical-astronomical instruments, such as astrolabes, quadrants, sundials and celestial globes.

‘XII primorum caesarum’ is an interesting example of Hulsius’ historical and antiquarian interests. In the preface he explains that, during a recent trip to Italy, he collected a number of ancient Roman coins with portraits of emperors; then, he had the portraits carefully engraved “ad vivum” (meaning directly observing the original coins) and used them as illustrations for this collection of biographies. In the Renaissance, similar ‘portrait books’ combining the lives of historical characters with matching portraits were very fashionable, and coin portraits were considered the most authentic and reliable images of the past. The numerous stunning engravings in this volume, embellished with ornate cartouches, are attributed to Johann Sibmacher, etcher, engraver and publisher active in Nuremberg between 1590 and 1611.

 This fascinating work begins with the life of Martia, grandmother of Julius Cesar, and ends with Iulia Domitia, daughter of Emperor Titus. Hulsius’ treatise is very well composed and structured: all biographies are based on authoritative ancient sources and present the Emperors and their relatives starting with a genealogy, moving on to public and personal life, and finally death. A bibliography of sources is included, and further references are indicated in the margins. An unusual aspect is the particular attention dedicated to women. In contrast to many other portrait books of the period, Hulsius did not censor or exclude the biographies of the most famous ‘deviant’ women of the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties. Here, the profiles of controversial, eccentric and powerful women such as Messalina and Poppaea are presented as examples of sinful behaviour that should be avoided in order not to suffer the ‘pain and humiliation’ they went through.

This copy belonged to Sir William Augustus Fraser, 4th Baronet of Leadclune. A distinguished English politician, author and bibliophile, Fraser was the owner of a remarkable book collection, part of which was sold at Sotheby’s in 1901. Also, from the prestigious numismatic library of Patricia Milne-Henderson (1935-2019), British art historian and collector of fine historic numismatic books, coins and medals.

USTC 707518; VD16 H 5875; BM STC Ger. 16th century, p. 422, Graesse III, p. 388; Cicognara 2886. Not in Adams or Brunet.
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