SAMBIX, Félix van


SAMBIX, Félix van [Writing book with ms. calligraphy samples.]

Netherlands, 1619-31


Oblong 8vo. 28 unnumbered and unsigned ll.: 17 of extensive ms. calligraphy samples within ms. borders (14 with large printed woodcut initial); famous engraved portrait (folded and pasted) of Félix van Sambix by M.J. Mirevelt and W.J. Delff; and printed t-p, with woodcut border and decorated lettering, of Novvel ABC (Rotterdam, Ian Waesbergue, 1615) to which follow three signed gatherings (A-B 8 C 1-6 ), each with a printed initial. Gathering C 8 wanting last three ll. blank except initials T, V and Z, first leaf a bit dusty, adhering to following at fore-edge, little finger-soiling or toning, small light water stain to outer upper blank corner of C 8 , traces of horizontal folds. A very good copy in early limp vellum, (probably English) recased over original vellum wrappers preserved as pastedowns, later fep. C17 inscription ‘Sambix of Delft Aged 70 1631’ inked to upper cover, another in the same English hand ‘Wrote the 16 Nov[embe]r 1631’ at gutter of third leaf, contemporary inscription ‘1626 Jacob de Heyde 8/8’, in Sambix’s hand, to front pastedown, most calligraphic samples signed by Sambix with date and his age, one with monogram FVS.

Superb, mostly ms. writing book, a very scarce and unusual item, with handsome samples by the great Dutch calligrapher Félix van Sambix (1553-1642)—‘indisputably the “primus inter pares” of the band of penmen in the Dutch Republic’ (van Uchelen, ‘The Prix de la Plume’, 327). Before achieving fame with his much reprinted ‘Nouvel A.B.C.’ (1585), Sambix was a schoolmaster in Antwerp; in Delft, where he moved shortly after and remained for the rest of his life, he continued to teach—a profession common to other master-calligraphers. In 1590, Sambix won the prestigious Prix de la Plume Couronnée in Rotterdam. ‘Modest in volume is the manuscript work by this master which has survived’ in the form of composite albums like the present (van Uchelen, ‘The Prix de la Plume’, 328), signed and dated in the course of several years, as collections of leaves. All but one are at public institutions: 2 in France, 2 in the Netherlands and 1 in Belgium. We have been able to consult another at the Strasbourg National and University Library (Ms.5.529). Like the present, it features calligraphy samples produced at different times, between 1603 and 1631, and shares with this copy the following: a roundel signed FVS 1631, Sambix’s engraved portrait by Mirevelt (pasted), and similarly designed calligraphic samples (various kinds of italic, secretary, bâtarde and roman applied to texts in Dutch, French and Latin). It is customary for such albums to contain a variable number of pages (van Uchelen, ‘Vive la plume’, 6); the owner of this copy probably owned individual leaves as well as a partly completed, printed ‘book of initials’, which he decided to have bound together. Books of initials were used in calligraphy schools so that masters would not have to design a new initial—a time-consuming task—for their students every time (van Uchelen, ‘Vive la plume’, 11). The Strasbourg copy bears a ms. t-p with the name of the possessor of the album, drawn by Sambix; this copy has what appears to be an ex-libris or dedication in Sambix’s hand to Jacob de Heyde on the front pastedown. A Jacob van der Heyden (who, in his engravings, signed himself Jacob de Heyde, 1573-1645) was a Flemish painter; a book of emblems engraved by him was printed in Strasbourg in 1615. Sambix and de Heyde may have collaborated and it is common to ‘identify stylistic, professional and personal connections with some of the artists and publishers who included calligraphic inscriptions in their prints’ (Worthen, ‘Dutch Mannerist Prints’, 268). As in the Strasbourg copy, most of the plates in this, including the t-p, were produced in 1631, when Sambix was 78 and still magisterially competent. An anonymous English annotation inked the date on one leaf and the date and Sambix’s age on the upper cover. We do not know of any C17 English master-calligrapher visiting or studying in the Netherlands at the time.

Only 6 other similar writing books recorded, none in the US. A.R.A. Croiset van Uchelen, ‘Dutch writing-masters and the “Prix de la Plume Couronnée’,Quaerendo 4 (1976), 319-46; A.N. Worthen, ‘Calligraphic Inscriptions on Dutch Mannerist Prints’, NKJ 42/43 (1991-92), 261-306; T. Croiset van Uchelen, Vive la plume. Schrijfmeesters en Pennekunst in de Republiek (Amsterdam, 2005).
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