FLACIUS, Matthias. Ecclesiastica historia.

Basel, J. Oporinus, [1564]


Folio. Parts 1-3 only. pp. (xxxvi) 382 (xix); (viii) 683 (liv); (viii) 283 [i.e., 281] (xxii); (viii) 319 (xxxvi). Italic letter, with Roman, double column. Woodcut printer’s device to t-p, decorated initials. Intermittent very light water stain to lower outer blank corner, t-p a little dusty, small tear to upper edge to first k4, penultimate leaf a bit dust-soiled, lower outer blank corner of last couple of ll. a bit softened, small ink burn to outer blank margin of last three ll. A very good, clean copy in contemporary polished calf over wooden boards, rebacked preserving original spine, lacking clasps, double blind ruled to a panel design, outer border with blind-stamped falcon on a globe surmounted by English Royal crown, Golden Fleece hanging by a chain from Imperial Crown, and a cherub blowing air (the wind?); inner border with blind-stamped heads within roundels with ornaments and binder’s initials RB, centre panel with lozenge-shaped design with decorated rolls in blind and oval stamp with unicorn arms (perhaps slightly later), raised bands, some loss to lower edges, scattered worm holes to boards. C15 rubricated ms. (Cistercian breviary) used as spine lining just visible at hinges, C16 inscription ‘segregate mihi paulum et Barnabam in opus ad quos assumpsi eos’ (Acts 13), booklabels ‘E.PH.G.’ (E.P. Goldschmidt) and J.R. Abbey to front pastedown, another (modern) of K.J. Hewett and modern shelfmark label to rear pastedown.

In a handsome C16 English binding—a copy formerly in the fine collection of the bookseller and scholar E.P. Goldschmidt, also illustrated in his book on Gothic and Renaissance bindings. The heraldic roll may represent ‘the emblems of Queen Mary (1553-8) and her husband, King Philip of Spain’; although ‘the badge of the falcon on a globe has never been attributed to Queen Mary, […] the allusion to Spain by the Golden Fleece badge seems […] clear’. He adds: ‘the armorial stamp of the unicorn is exceptionally fine and delicate workmanship’, though he could not identify the owner, as the heraldic unicorn was used by several, including Sir John Harling (‘Gothic & Ren. Book Bindings’, 304). The heraldic roll is a slight variant of Oldham 450 and HE. k(1) 766, both attributed to the obscure but prolific R.B., whose bindings have ‘the characteristic London lozenge panel’ (Oldham, ‘English Blind-Stamped Bindings’, 33). Oldham’s study isolates the use of these rolls on books printed in 1556-68, but, mostly, to books printed in the late 1580s (p.51). The stamp with the blowing wind—a very unusual motif—may be the key. The bird was meant to signify Elizabeth I, the falcon being a badge she had inherited from her mother. Here, however, there appear to be flames behind the bird’s neck, and the phoenix too was a symbol of the queen. If the crowned Golden Fleece represents Philip II, the wind may provide a connection to the victory of the Armada (1588). The English were greatly aided by a providential storm (nicknamed ‘Protestant Wind’) which dispersed the Spanish ships. We have been unable to trace the owner of the unicorn stamp.

The ‘Ecclesiastica historia’, also known as ‘Magdeburg Centuries’, is an ecclesiastical history, spanning the origins of the church to 1289. The result of the cooperation of several Lutheran theologians, it was published in parts between 1559 and 1574. The most important of the ‘Centuriators’ was the Croatian reformer Matthias Flacius (Matija Vlačić, 1520-75), professor at Wittenberg and Jena, and a stern opponent of the negotiations between Charles V and the Lutherans (i.e., ‘Augsburg interim’ and Melanchthon’s ‘Leipzig interim’). The ‘Ecclesiastica historia’ is the first such work produced in the Protestant world, and became a model for this genre. Most importantly, it relied on the extended use of primary sources, as its authors researched documents throughout Europe. This is the third, scarce reprint of Oporinus’s edition of Centuriae 1 to 3 only, published separately. One of its companions was probably the similarly bound copy (including the C17 unicorn) sold by Maggs in 1987 (‘English Literature…H-L’, n.10); there the Goldschmidt provenance is not mentioned, suggesting the volumes were separated early on.

Only Graduate Theological Seminary and Capital University copies recorded in US. Goldschmidt, Gothic & Ren. Book Bindings, 233 (‘English, about 1565’); Graesse II, 103 (does not mention this ed.); BM STC Ger., p. 306.
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