[History of Italy] [Renaissance Bindings - French 'entrelac' bindings]

Francesco Guicciardini,

L'histoire d'Italie [Storia d'Italia, in French]

Paris, Jacques Kerver, 1568.

$4,800   INQUIRE

FIRST EDITION IN FRENCH. Translated by Jérôme Chomedey, and dedicated to Catherine de'Medici, Queen-mother of France. Includes prefatory poems by Pierre de Ronsard (see I. Silver, Ronsard's Philosophic Thought, p.198), and other two members of La Pléiade - Jean Dorat and Jean-Antoine de Baïf.


EXTREMELY RARE! While USTC states "No Known Surviving Copy," WorldCat locates 6 copies of this issue worldwide (of which 3 in the US.)

This issue has the imprint and device of Jacques Kerver (son of Thielman Kerver); three other issues of the 1st edition exist with imprints by Bernard Turrisan, for Vincent Normant, and for Jean Dallier (all of them mentioned in the Royal printing privilege that appears on verso of the title page.

Note that the supposed 1567 Kerver edition mentioned by Brunet is certainly a ghost, stemming probably from the dating - Sept. 1567 - of the "Privilege du Roy" in this 1568 Kerver edition. Most authoritative early and recent sources date Chomedey's translation to 1568, e.g. Bayle's General Dictionary: Historical and Critical (vol.V, London, 1737, p.613) writes in the entry on Guicciardini: "His History of Italy is a very good one. Many are of opinion that he deserved the character of an impartial historian, who flatters no man [...]. One Jerome Chomedey, a Parisian, published it in French at Paris in 1568." (See also: V. Luciani, Francesco Guicciardini and His European Reputation, p.42, 230; P. Burke (ed.), Cultural Translation in Early Modern Europe, p.135; and P. France (ed.), The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation, p.484, all dating the 1st French edition to 1568.)

The 1st English translation of this celebrated work, done by Fenton in 1579, was based on the Chomedey's French translation rather than the Italian original: "Fenton's immensely successful translation of Guicciardini's history of Italy published in 1579, was [...] taken from the 1568 French version by Chomedey." (O. Classe (ed.), Encyclopedia of Literary Translation Into English, I, p. 716)

A friend and critic of Niccolò Machiavelli, Francesco Guicciardini (1483 - 1540) is considered one of the major political writers of the Italian Renaissance. In his masterpiece, The History of Italy, Guicciardini paved the way for a new style in historiography, with his use of government sources to support arguments and the realistic analysis of the people and events of his time.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Guicciardini was [...] the first, in his Storia d'Italia (1537-40), to compose a truly national history of Italy, setting it in a European context and attempting an impartial analysis of cause and effect." In the words of one of Guicciardini's severest critics, Francesco de Sanctis: "If we consider intellectual power, [the Storia d'Italia] is the most important work that has issued from an Italian mind."

Written during the last years of Guicciardini's life (while he was living in retirement, in his villa at Arcetri), this monumental work contains the historian's observations collected over his entire lifetime, and was a work intended for posterity.

"The Storia d'Italia embraces the whole period from the death of Lorenzo de'Medici in 1492 to that of Clement VII in 1534, that most disastrous epoch in Italian history which witnessed the loss of the nation's independence. Its vast accumulation of details does not obscure the main lines of the terrible story. The author writes as an eyewitness who has himself taken part in the scenes he describes; a keen observer, with no delusions, no enthusiasms, and little hope for the future; one above all intent upon tracing the motives of men's actions - almost invariably, in his opinion, bad or unworthy." (Catholic Encyclopedia)

In his research Guicciardini drew upon material that he gathered from government records as well as from his own extensive experience in politics. His many personal encounters with powerful Italian rulers serves to explain his perspective as a historian: "Francesco Guicciardini might be called a psychological historian - for him the motive power of the huge clockwork of events may be traced down the mainspring of individual behavior. Not any individual, be it noted, but those in positions of command: emperors, princes and popes who may be counted on to act always in terms of their self-interest - the famous Guicciardinian particolare." (Sidney Alexander)

Guicciardini was friends with Niccolò Machiavelli; the two maintained a lively correspondence until the latter's death in 1527. Though Guicciardini was on a somewhat higher social standing than his friend, through their letters a relaxed, comfortable relationship between the two emerges. "Aware of their difference in class, Machiavelli nevertheless was not intimidated by Guicciardini's offices [...] or by his aristocratic connections. The two established their rapport because of mutual regard for each other's intellect." They discussed not only personal matters, but political ideas as well, and influenced one another's work.

Both were innovative in their approach to history: "Machiavelli and Guicciardini are important transitional figures in the development of historical writing. The historical consciousness that becomes visible in their work is a significant rupture in our thinking about the past [...]. Human agency was a central element in the historical thought of Machiavelli and Guicciardini, but they did not have a modern notion of individuality [...] . They started to disentangle historiography from its rhetorical framework, and in Guicciardini's work we can observe the first traces of a critical historical method." (R. Bod, J. Maat, T. Weststeijn (eds.), The Making of the Humanities: Early modern Europe, p.362)

Physical description:

Folio, textblock measures 346 mm x 220 mm.
Foliation: [4], 414, [8] leaves (foliated in roman numerals).
Signatures: a4 A-Z6 Aa-Zz6 Aaa-Zzz6 χ16 &1.
COMPLETE, and with duplicate of quire Q6 (six extra leaves) bound in between quires O and P; quires G and H transposed in binding.

Large woodcut Kerver's unicorn device on title-page. Large elegant woodcut initials and head- and tail-pieces with floriated and grotesque motifs (presumably after Geoffroy Tory's designs). Text printed in single column in Roman type, with printed marginalia in italic type.

All pages (including title) neatly ruled in red throughout by an early hand.

Preliminaries include Privilege du Roy (a1v), Dedication ('A la Royne') by Chomedey to Catherine de' Medici (a2r,v) and three prefatory poems by the leading French poets, members of La Pléiade: by Pierre de Ronsard (a4r) and Jean-Antoine de Baïf (a4v), both in French, and by Jean Dorat (a3r,v) in Latin.

At the end of the volume are: Errata ('Faultes notables...", χ1r, verso blank), general Index ("Table des choses les plus mémorables...", ¶1r-6v) and a short chronological index ("Répertoire des années," &1r, verso blank).


A SUBERB CONTEMPORARY FRENCH ENTRELAC BINDING WITH MULTICOLORED INLAYS: full black calf, both covers with superb inlaid(?) arabesques centerpiece of interlacing strap-work motifs painted red, maroon, blue, green, black and white over azured gilt ground. Spine with raised bands and small gilt tools in compartments (very skillfully rebacked in matching calf with most of the original backstrip retained and carefully laid down). Housed in a black modern slipcase.

The binding reflects the mid-16th-century vogue for elaborate interlacing strapwork and arabesque decor. Partly influenced by Islamic models, entrelac style of decoration made its way through Italy and into southern France, where it came to adorn some of the finest bindings of the period, to be found in the private libraries of such celebrated bibliophiles as Henry II, Catherine de Medici, Jean Grolier, Marcus Fugger; and by Thomas Wotton. During this time, the use, as here, of painted inlays or onlays was considered the height of French bibliopegic fashion and one of the most charming manifestations of the esthetic elegance of the French Renaissance. Goldschmidt calls these bindings "great artistic creations" that represent "the highest achievements in the art of bookbinding in the Renaissance period."


The book belonged to Noël de la Houssaye (1895 - 1966), and is Inscribed with his cryptic pseudonymous signature "Nuper Leo" (abbreviated from "Nuper Leo natus est / Natus est puer leone" used as 'motto' on his ex-libris plate, which is not in this volume), and which he also used to sign the limitation page of the limited edition of his Odes pindariques in 1920s.

Houssaye was a notable French writer and bibliophile, author of the esoteric biographical novel "L'apparition d'Arsinoë, roman d'un frère d'Héliopolis," who was a prominent figure in the French alchemical/Hermetic milieu of the 1st half of the 20th century, and a close friend of René Guénon and Eugène Canseliet.


Near Fine. A magnificent, tall copy, with very ruled in red throughout, and in a superb French Renaissance entrelac binding. Interior quite clean; a few leaves at the beginning with very light, minor water-stain at bottom of inner margin (text not affected); occasional light soiling (mostly marginal). Several pages with minor ink underlinings and reading marks to margins in an early hand. First 3 quires with a small marginal wormhole to outer blank margin; a few leaves with minor marginal paper-flaws (text not affected). Binding slightly rubbed, very skillfully and sympathetically rebacked retaining almost entire original backstop; inner hinges unobtrusively reinforced with archival tape at the time of rebacking. In all, an exceedingly appealing, bright and solid copy, wide-margined and genuine (unwashed and unpressed).

Bibliographic references:

Pettegree, French Vernacular Books, 24176; Blanc, Bibliographie italico-française universelle, 529.

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.