ISOCRATES. Ισοκρατους Ἁπαντα. Isocratis scripta, quae nunc extant, omnia.

Basel, Johannes Oporinus, 1553


8vo, pp. (xvi) 1034 (vi). Italic, Greek and Roman letter. Woodcut floriated and historiated initials, one horoscope diagram. Intermittent light age browning, lower outer corners of first and last gatherings lightly waterstained, small tear to blank margin of t-p, light ink stain at gutter of pp. 494-495, fingermarks and soiling to margins of a couple of final ll. A good, crisp copy, in superb contemporary morocco ‘a la cire’, covers bordered with a triple blind rule, triple gilt rule internal panel with gilt fleurons at corners, second border infilled in black and worked into an interlaced strapwork design in black and gold, missing ties. Spine with double blind and single gilt raised bands, gilt fleurons in compartments, joints and spine slightly cracked, light wear to covers. All edges gilt and richly gauffered. 5-lines ms. dedication by the German humanist Hieronymus Wolf (1516-1580) to his patron J. Jakob Fugger (1516-1575), followed by 6-lines ms. dedicatory poem in elegiac couplets to fly. Label of Cortlandt F. Bishop to front pastedown, ms. “Ad requiem salu(tis): Fridberga 1761” to t-p.

A stunning copy, beautifully bound, of this edition of Isocrates’ works translated into Latin and commented by the important German historian and humanist Hieronymus Wolf (1516-1580). “The merits of Wolf are very considerable; he has corrected the Greek text from the Fuggerian MS, and examined all the ancient editions, including the editio princeps” (Dibdin). The Fugger family was a prominent German family of bankers and patron of the arts. In particular, this edition includes – at pages α6-α7 – the translator’s special thanks to Johann Jakob Fugger (1516-1575), owner of a splendid and important library which for some years was the largest and most complete in Germany and which laid the foundations of the Munich Hofbibliothek – now the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. In 1551, Wolf became Fugger’s librarian and, two years later, this particular copy of Isocrates’ works was presented and gifted by the humanist to his patron. On the first fly, Wolf wrote a short dedication, followed by a charming and elegantly composed poem in Latin elegiac couplets. In these verses, Wolf praises Fugger’s knowledge, intelligence and wealth, and expresses the hope that his work will be appreciated using refined metaphors and references to the classical literature. Not only similar long, elaborate and finely written dedications are extremely rare, but this is also an unedited and exquisite example of Wolf’s erudition.

The superb binding, decorated with a charming ‘a la Grolier’ gilt and painted strap-work design, is a contemporary artwork of great expertise. Although the technical procedure of gilding and painting had been developed in Italy, similar ‘relieures à la cire’ with coloured or uncoloured geometrical interlacings quickly came to typify the elegance of the French Renaissance binders, and it is characteristic of Parisian workshops. Enamelled onlays and fine gilt borders were particularly appreciated by the grandest patrons of the mid C16 and realised only by a handful of skilled ‘doreurs sur cire’. This example finds some close parallels in the bindings made by the French Claude de Picques (50 relieures de la Rèserve des livres rares, p. 85) and by Wotton’s French binder B (The Henry Davis Gift I, pl. II.11). However, the main feature of these bindings is that each one is unique. This example in particular is outstanding as the strapwork decoration covers the entire central panel, while in the majority of the cases it is worked around a central oval or circular empty space. The gilt edges are also remarkable, each side being carefully gauffered with an external border of fine dots, followed by a frame of swirl ornaments filled with hatching and a series of short linear stamps aligned in a symmetrical pattern.

Isocrates (436-338 BC) was one of the greatest Greek rhetoricians and founder of the first academy of rhetoric in Athens. This edition of his works includes all the 21 orations that remained in transmission by the end of the Medieval period, as well as a series of his letters. Three biographies of Isocrates by the ancient authors Plutarch, Philostratus and Dionysius of Halicarnassus are also included. At the end, there is also a short collection of Wolf’s poems.

From the library of the American pioneer aviator, traveller and book collector Cortlandt F. Bishop (1870-1935).

USTC 668336; VD16 I399; Graesse III, p. 434; this ed. not in BM STC Ger., Brunet. Dibdin, An introduction to the knowledge of rare and valuable editions of the Greek and Latin Classics II (London, 1827).