PERRET, Clement

PERRET, Clement Exercitatio alphabetica nova et utilissima

[Antwerp], Christopher Plantin, 1569


FIRST EDITION third issue. Folio. 35 engraved plates; engraved title, colophon, and 33 plates of calligraphic specimens by Perret, all within ornamental strap-work borders decorated with a variety of grotesque figures, animals, fruits and flowers. A fine copy with superb impressions of the plates, in handsome late C19th crimson morocco gilt by David, covers double gilt ruled to a panel design, large fleurons gilt to outer corners, spine with gilt ruled raised bands double gilt ruled in compartments, large fleurons gilt at centres, title and author gilt lettered direct, edges double gilt ruled inner dentelles richly gilt,  marbled endpapers, a.e.g.

First edition, third issue with the ‘rare’ engraved ‘privilege’, of this outstanding writing manual, one of the first to be printed from engraved plates. The plates combine art and alphabets, each set of letters is placed within a wonderful ornamental cartouche made of elements of strapwork and grotesque design, with monkeys, sphinxes, masks, putti, and other elements. All the elaborate writing samples are in different fanciful styles such as using mirror writing, or a calligram in the form of four hearts, woven in a single line of text in minute letters. “The Exercitatio alphabetica, was not only the first ever to be reproduced entirely by copper engraving, but also the first with examples in seven languages, [including English] all of them written in the appropriate hands. Moreover in this book, the first to be produced in the Low Countries in such a large, oblong size, all plates had lavishly executed borders, designed on an architectural framework on which a variety of objects, human figures, grotesques, animals and so on were depicted. The book was obviously designed for collectors, wealthy connoisseurs and fellow writing-masters.” Ton Croiset Van Uchelen. ‘The mysterious writing-master Clemens Perret and his two copy-books.’ “With the exception of Neudörffer’s early experiments with etched lettering samples […], Perret’s book is the first intaglio writing manual’ (Becker). Its attraction lies not only in Perret’s superb calligraphic specimens but in their extraordinary borders, strongly influenced by Hans Vredeman de Vries, which show the ornamental genius of Flemish Mannerism at its most exuberant. ‘This was a book not only for writers but also for artists, mapmakers, metalsmiths, and needle workers – in short, all those who used letters or borders in their work” Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Despite the recent revival of interest in calligraphy two writing books (both of them considerable rarities) produced in the Netherlands during the sixteenth century by Clément Perret have scarcely received due notice. The British Museum has a copy of one of them Exercitatio alphabetica 1569; of the other Examine Peritiae Alphabetum (1571), only one copy is known and that is, at present, in the custody of the ‘Heissischen Treuhandverwaltung des fruheren preussischen Kunstgutes’ in Weisbaden. Of the author of these two books we know almost nothing, and after their publication all trace of him vanishes. He was evidently precocious, as his two title pages show. It seems probably that he died when young. That he enjoyed a considerable local reputation in his day is shown by the estimate of him in Sweertius’s Athenae Belgicae of 1628. His books were published by the printer- publisher Christopher Plantin. The Excercitatio has one leaf (not present in the British Museum copy) giving the privilege of sale to Plantin for a period of six years, and dated Brussels, 13 February 1569.” Colin Clair. Bibliographical Notes: Clément Perret Calligraper.”

The plates were engraved by the celebrated Dutch engraver Cornelis de Hooge. “His skill in engraving is exemplified in a very attractive writing-book, with letters and script within a great variety of strap-work and figured borders, Clement Perret’s Excercitiatio Alphabetica. It was a most worthy forerunner of Jodocus Hondius’s Theatrum Artis Scribendi of 1594. His signature on the title, favours Breda for his birthplace rather than the Hague, which is mostly given.”

A beautiful copy of this wonderful and exceptionally rare work.

Adams P729; Becker 47; Berlin Kat. 5002; Bonacini 1404.  Voet 1961.
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