BERNARD, Saint Sermoni diuotissimi ad vna venerabel sua sorella monacha: del modo del ben viuere

Venice, per Bernardino de Viano vercelese, 1529 adi vintisete nouenbrio


8vo. ff. CXIX, [i]. Roman letter. Large woodcut on title, representing St. Bernard seated giving a book to a nun with the words ‘Omnia Vanitas’, repeated on recto of last, (reproduced Essling), small white on black floriated initials. Light age yellowing with some mostly marginal spotting, a few quires lightly browned, the occasional small marginal mark. A good copy in fine contemporary calf gilt “a la cire”, covers double blind and gilt ruled to a panel design, gilt fleur de lys to corners of outer panel, infilled in red, central panel with ornate gilt interlacing strap-work design infilled in green, red, yellow and white, with semé of pointillé tooling at center and sides, expertly re-backed to match, remains of ties, all edges richly gilt and gauffered.

A lovely ‘reliure mosaiquée à la cire’ perhaps from a Lyonese workshop, the principal source of production of these charming and colourful bindings during the reigns of Francis I and Henry II. Although the style originated in Italy, where it was a conscious attempt to recover part of the decorative splendour of ancient Rome, it came to typify the elegance of the French Renaissance. For a short period in the middle of the C16 the use of enameled inlays (or onlays) was the height of French bibliophilic fashion espoused with enthusiasm by the grandest patrons – Grolier, Henry II, Catherine de Medici and practised only by a handful of ‘doreurs sur cire’. “These great artistic creations …. are the highest achievements in the art of bookbinding in the Renaissance period…. and some must be counted among the greatest works of art in the French Renaissance”, Goldschmidt I p. 104.

Rare edition of this early translation into Italian of the ‘Liber de modo bene vivendi ad sororem’, which, in the Middle Ages, was widely attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux in manuscripts. In the seventeenth century Charles de Visch attributes the Liber to another Cistercian, Thomas of Froidmont, a follower of St. Bernard; more recently other scholars have also accepted Thomas of Froidmont as the author. Although the Liber is not written by St Bernard to his sister, it is nevertheless addressed to a ‘Charissima mihi in Christo soro’. It is a substantial treatise of seventy-three chapters, sometimes referred to as ‘exhortaciones’ or ‘sermones’, and it is part of a long tradition of male advice to female religious, which dates back to, among others, Ambrose, Augustine, Caesarius, and Jerome. The identity of the ‘woman for whom the Liber was written, remains a mystery. At one point, the text alludes to ‘nobilitas generis tui’ and ‘nobilitas parentum divitum’, which suggests a nun of noble descent. Both the prologue and the epilogue indicate that the author has been asked to provide the addressee with ‘verba sanctae admonitionis’. The virtues (faith, hope, charity, mercy, obedience, etc.) and sins (‘tristitia’, strife, lust, drunkenness, murmuring, and so on) all have chapters devoted to them. However other, more general matters, such as the grace of God, novices, the active life, the contemplative life, and dreams, also figure prominently. A charming woodcut.

IA 117.521. Not in BM STC It. C16th. Sander I 960. Essling 810.
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