MEJÍA, Pedro


MEJÍA, Pedro Della selva di varia lettione parti cinque

Venice, Francesco Sansovino and Co., 1560


8vo, ff. [12], 438, [2]. Predominantly Italic letter, little Roman; printer’s device on title, historiated initials and decorative head-pieces; printing tear to lower margin of f. 204, displacing a few letters. A fine copy in contemporary tan calf, gilt supralibros and initials of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, within double-fillet border with flower at corners and blind-tooled external panel, on both covers; five compartments with gilt floral decoration on spine; a. e. g.; short ms stubbs; c18 and c19 bookplates of Robert John and John Peyto Verney, Lords Willoughby de Broke, on front pastedown and endpaper; Pirie’s bookplate on rear pastedown.

Very rare Italian translation of one of Shakespeare’s, Montaigne’s and Cervantes’s sources, first published in Seville in 1540, in of the most iconic bindings of Elizabethan England. Pedro Mejía (1497-1551) was a prominent Spanish humanist and historian. A friend of Erasmus and Luis Vives, he was appointed by Emperor Charles V as royal chronicler in recognition of his wide-ranging knowledge. The Silva de varia lección (A Miscellany of Several Lessons) was his masterpiece, with countless editions across Europe and early transposition into Italian, French and English. As the title suggests, it provides insights into a great variety of subjects (geography, history, ethnography, natural science, ethics, theology, astrology and medicine), mostly relying on exemplary stories taken from ancient sources, such as Plutarch, Pliny, Aulus Gellius and Macrobius, but also borrowing from Erasmus’s writings. The Silva served as one of the earliest portable encyclopaedia. Amongst the many interesting subjects randomly arranged in the book, one can find: the invention of letters, writing, paper, book collecting and printing (with mention of Aldus, Badius and Froben); the origin of wine making and banquets; several gastronomic tips; Colombus’s discovery of the Americas; the descriptions of newly-explored islands, coasts, cities mostly under the Viceroyalty of the New Spain, with a few chapters devoted to Borneo and Moluccas. This is the first appearance in print of the expanded Italian translation made by Francesco Sansovino (1521-1586), a publisher and elegant writer of the Italian Renaissance.

This is the personal copy of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), the second Englishman after Thomas Wotton to commission gold-tooled bindings. Dudley was one the key statesmen of Queen Elizabeth, for many years her greatest favourtie and the most accredited of her suitors. A posthumous inventory records among Dudley’s possessions 232 books, of which over eighty are known. His distinctive badge (a rampant bear marked with a crescent and chained to a ragged staff) and his initials are here gilt on both covers, following the style of the second group of Dudley’s early bindings named by Nixon as the ‘Frame Group’: ‘This consist of twenty bindings all with Dudley’s large badge, and the initials R.D. added with hand tools. The decoration is simple, consisting of a two-line frame with corner fleurons. … They appear to have been bound within a year or two of 1560, the last imprint date.’

‘Illus. The Book Collector, winter 1975’ and ‘Quaritch – Bookbindings, 1921 # 18’ in pencil on fly.

Extremely rare. No recorded copies in the US and UK.Not in BM STC It., Adams, Brunet, Graesse, Sabin or Simon. EDIT16, CNCE 30982; Alden, 559/28; Oberlé, 348 (French 1643 ed.). Binding: Nixon, ‘Elizabethan Gold-Tooled bindings’, in Essays in Honour of Victor Scholderer, Mainz 1970, p. 228, no. 19; Nixon, Five Centuries of English Bookbinding, 16.
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