[Early illustrated books - Bible - Old Testament]

Hans Holbein

Icones historiarum veteris testamenti

Lyons: Jean Frellon, 1547.

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A splendid copy of this esteemed edition of Holbein's celebrated series of Old Testament illustrations, with Corrozet's French verses accompanying the woodcuts.

This is the fourth edition to contain the complete set of 94 woodcuts (first printed by Melchior and Gaspard Trechsel in 1538). The first four smaller blocks are from Holbein's famous Dance of Death series.

This is the scarcer First of the two 1547 editions published by Frellon, with the 5th line of the title ending "emenda-", and the first line of the French text on L1r ending "vices."

"With the Holbein volumes, Bible illustration at Lyons changed significantly [...]. The Holbein blocks were widely imitated." (Mortimer, p. 341).

The success and subsequent influence of the Holbein illustrations was enormous, and copies and imitations appeared even up till the nineteenth century.

“Ces planches en bois ont été gravées avec beaucoup de délicatesse." (Brunet)

Holbein showed supreme skill at placing grand spiritual narrative within a compact domestic setting, thereby challenging the popularity of classical themes. Frellon's address to the reader on verso of the title-page urges the reader to reject the lustful images of goddesses such as Venus and Diana in favor of the "sacrosanctas Icones."

Holbein's name, while not mentioned on the title-page, appears in the prefatory epistle in Latin verse by Nicolas Bourbon. Nicholas Bourbon de Vandeuvres (1503 - after 1550), a French court preceptor and poet. He wrote a collection of poems called Nugae (known as the Bagatelles in French). He went to England in 1535 to pay homage to Henry VIII of England and his second Queen Consort Anne Boleyn in gratitude for help received from them while under persecution in France. He later wrote a series of poems describing Anne Boleyn as one of God's beloved servants.

The French quatrains under Holbein's woodcuts are by Gilles Corrozet (1510 - 1568), a French writer and bookseller. A poet himself, he was also responsible for publishing books by some of the principal authors of his era, Clément Marot, Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay and Pierre Belon. He is also known for the French versifications of Aesop's Fables, Les Fables du très ancien Esope, mises en rithme françoise (1542).

Physical description:

Slim quarto; text-block measures 19 x 13 cm (wide margins). Bound in appealing late 19th-century brown polished levant morocco by Thivet (signed in turn-in) with gilt-lettered spine and elaborate gilt turn-ins. Marbled endpapers. All edges gilt. Green silk bookmark attached.

[52] leaves (forming 104 pages). Signatures: A-N4. COMPLETE.

Printer's woodcut device (crab and butterfly) on title; 94 woodcuts after Hans Holbein the Younger, by Hans Lützelberger, printed one to a page with Latin text in roman type above and Corrozet's French quatrains in italic type below; also 4 fine medallion woodcuts (by a different artist) of the Evangelists on leaf N3v at end (these appear in this edition for the first time!). Two woodcut historiated initials.

Preliminaries include François Frellon's address “To the Christian Reader" (on A1v), followed by Nicholas Bourbon's prefatory Latin poem 'Ad lecture carmen' and additional distich (in Greek and Latin) both naming Hans Holbein as the artist of the woodcuts (leaf A2r,v); and Corrozet's preface in French verse 'Aux Lecteurs'.

Corrozet's postscript on leaf N3r headed "L'autheur" and signed with Corrozet's motto "Plus due coins".

Colophon on recto of the final leaf (N4r), verso blank.


Listed in the catalogue issued by the late 19th-century Paris bookseller Damascène Morgand, Bulletin de la librairie Damascène Morgand, Tome VII (Paris, 1895), no. 26820, describing the book as "Cet ouvrage est un des plus beaux livres à figures sur bois publiés au XVI siècle", and this copy as "Exemplaire beau d'épreuves et grand de marges."

Bookplate of Gaspard Ernest Stroehlin (1844 - 1907), a Swiss minister, historian and professor at the University of Geneva (specializing in history of French Protestantism), and an avid book-collector. The bookplate depicts Calvin preaching shown against the backdrop of towers of Geneva (the building in the background is probably St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, where Calvin famously preached); and bears Stroehlin's initials 'GES' and his motto "Mente libera". The word "Champel" below appears to be an allusion to Champel, Switzerland, where the reformer Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in 1553. [This is rather interesting, as Servetus was closely associated with Frellon: “the famous Michael Servetus, in 1536 came to Lyons, and dwelt some time with the Frellons as corrector of the press [...] John Frellon was the friend both of Servetus and of Calvin, and was the medium of their communication." (Henry Green, Holbein's Icones historiarvm Veteris Testamenti, p.87-8)]


NEAR FINE. Interior with only very light occasional soiling (mostly marginal), and a few minor spots. Binding extremely fresh and supple with only minimal rubbing to extremities. A very attractive, wide-margined and clean example, with excellent impression of its fine woodcuts.

Bibliographic references:

Adams B1963; Fairfax Murray/French 244; Harvard/Mortimer-French 281; Baudrier V, p.209; Brunet III, 252; Rothschild I, no.16; Damascène Morgand, Bulletin de la librairie Damascène Morgand, Tome VII (Paris, 1895), no. 26820 (this copy!).

Please click on thumbnails below to see larger images.