French Bookbindings at the Worth

French Book Bindings at the Worth

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French Books and Bindings in the Worth Library: an Exhibition to accompany a Colloquium on French Books and Irish Research, held at the Edward Worth Library, 18th December, 2006.

There is ‘no more honest and assured means for acquiring a great renown among the peoples than to erect handsome and magnificent Libraries in order then to dedicate and consecrate them to use of the public.’

Gabriel Naudé, Advis pour dresser une bibliothèque (Paris, 1627)

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Herodoti Halicarnassei historiae lib. IX & de vita Homeri libellus. Illi ex interpretatione Laur. Vallae adscripta, hic ex interpret. Conradi Heresbachii: utraque ab Henr. Stephano recognita. Ex Ctesia excerptae historiae…

Geneva, Henri Estienne, 1566. 2o.

Henri Estienne II, 1528-98, was a member of the famous Parisian printing family founded by his grandfather Henri and continued by his father Robert. This translation of Herodotus’ Histories and Ctesias’ biography of Homer by the humanists Lorenzo Valla and Conrad Heresbach, formed part of Henri Estienne II’s humanist mission to publish works by ancient authors. The binding is contemporary and is in the style of Jean Grolier’s ‘Last Binder’. Grolier, 1489-1565, who had died in the previous year, is regarded as the greatest French bibliophile of the Renaissance. A friend of Aldus Manutius, the noted Venetian printer, he was heavily influenced by his time spent as a French Treasurer of Milan. Encouraged by his patronage and that of the French kings François I and Henri II, French binding reached a renaissance of its own in the middle of the sixteenth century. Some of Grolier’s binders have been identified but his last two binders are known only as ‘the Cupid’s Bow Binder’ and ‘Grolier’s Last Binder’. The symmetrical style, incorporating graceful lines and geometrical shapes proved attractive to many and by the early eighteenth century, when Worth was collecting, books owned by Grolier, or connected to his binders, began to be much sought after.


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Publius Vegetius Renatus
Pub. Vegetii viri illustris Mulomedicina… Opera Ioan. Sambuci Pannonii.

Basle, 1574. 4o.

This work on veterinary science by Publius Vegetius Renatus, c. 383-450, was edited by János Zsámboky, 1531-1584, a Hungarian doctor and historian who is perhaps most famous for his Emblemata et aliquot nummi antiqui operis (Antwerp, Plantin, 1566) in which he included a dedicatory epistle to Grolier. This gold-tooled armorial binding on citron sheepskin bears the coats of arms of Jacques Auguste de Thou and his first wife Marie Barbançon, the latter’s coat of arms featuring three crowned lions. The monogram ‘MAI’ decorates both the spine and the centres of the covers and refers to de Thou’s marriage to Marie, which took place in 1587. Since the intersection of ‘A’ and ‘M’ also constituted a ‘thêta’, the Greek for ‘th’, standing in this case for ‘Thou’, de Thou began at this point to incorporate their conjoint cipher on his books, and even after her death in 1601 and his subsequent marriage to Gasparde de la Chastre, he continued to include the ‘MAI’ monogram – at least until c.1608 when Gasparde evidently enforced a change in policy and ‘G’ replaces ‘M’ in the cipher. This relatively simple style of armorial binding was adopted by de Thou in the later 1570s after the somewhat excessive all-over decoration of the semé and fanfare styles which were so popular in late sixteenth-century France. De Thou, 1553-1617, was one of the most renowned scholars of early modern France. Like the earlier Groliers, his family had been involved in the French administration and he, like Grolier before him, was first and foremost a humanist. He was chiefly famous for his Historiarum sui temporis (Paris, 1604-8) which was itself comprised of 138 books, but his collections, bought over a period of forty years, were equally famed as the most important private library in France, numbering 6,600 volumes at the time of his death.


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Georg von Logau
Poetae tres egregii nunc primum in lucem editi, Gratii, qui Augusto Principe floruit…

Venice, Aldus Manutius, 1534. 8o.

Georg von Logau, c.1500-53, was a Silesian poet and editor of classical works. His dedication of this beautiful Aldine volume of classical poetry to the wealthy Anton Fugger, 1493-1560, reflects the humanists’ dependence on financial support from wealthy patrons – and few were as wealthy in sixteenth-century Europe as the banking house of the Fuggers. The binding is considerably later and bears the distinctive coat of arms of the family of Loménie de Brienne: the woman arising from a tub holding a mirror portrays the legendary Mélusine, an allusion to the ancestral home of the family in Limoges. The Comtes de Brienne had experienced a steady rise to power during the seventeenth century since Henri-Auguste Loménie bought the countship of Brienne from Cardinal Richelieu. Henri-Auguste’s political career had been aided by his own political affiliation with Cardinal Mazarin and his wife’s close ties to Queen Anne of Austria. His son, Louis-Henri, became a counsellor of State at the age of sixteen but this royal favour did not last long, the rise of Colbert ensuring the decline of his diplomatic career. Louis-Henri’s subsequent life was somewhat erratic: he joined the Oratorians in 1664 only to be expelled six years later; a life of dissipation and periods of mental ill health followed. He was finally released from the lunatic asylum of the Maison de Saint-Lazare in Paris in 1692 and four years later he retired to the Abbey of the Canons Regular de Saint Victor at Château-Landon to write his memoirs. He died there in 1698. His library, which came on the market in 1724, was regarded as one of the finest of its kind and Worth was one of a number of Irish collectors, including Dr. Claudius Gilbert, 1670-1742, who purchased copies for their private collections.

This particular work belonged to Louis-Henri’s son, Henri-Louis, whose coat of arms is visible on the cover. Henri-Louis’ coat of arms was very similar to that of his father but there are differences – in Henri-Louis’ version the lions rampant are in the regardant pose (i.e looking away from each other), unlike those of his father who looked towards the coat of arms. Secondly, Henri-Louis (or his binder) evidently considered the wreath of his father a little too ornate and instead opted for a more retrained crenellated fillet surrounding the whole. The lady Melusine was, however, retained in the crest. The binder of Henri-Louis’ books evidently liked to use red goat or highly polished tan calf and in the main these are far superior bindings to those of his father. It is possible that this work was bound by the famous French bookbinder Augustin du Seuil. As Mirjam Foot reports, we know that Duseuil was born in Provence in 1673 and by 1699 he had married into the binding dynasty of Padeloup. In the early eighteenth century he was certainly binding for members of the court as he is mentioned in 1714 (just one year before Louis XIV died), as being the binder of works belonging to Monseigneur et Madame la Duchesse de Berry. By 1717 he had been appointed ‘relieur ordinaire du Roi. Woodman and Lyon, in their 1724 sale catalogue of the Brienne library, were keen to ascribe du Seuil’s name to many of the bindings and Birley has noted that many of the books bearing Henri-Louis’ coat of arms are recorded in the 1724 catalogue as being bound by the mysterious abbé – many but not all (Birley notes 19 as being identified as being by du Seuil and 15 without attribution). However, since some of these books have publication dates as late as 1723, a time when du Seuil was binding in Paris, and there is little difference between books ascribed to him by Woodman and those not ascribed but evidently belonging to Henri-Louis, it seems safe to assume that he (or his bindery) were the principal binders for Henri-Louis Loménie de Brienne.




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Cl. Galeni Pergameni Ars Medica, quae et ars parva, Martino Acakia Calalaunensi Doctore medico interprete & enarratione.

Paris, 1543. 4o.

The editor of this work, Martin Akakia, d. 1554, was a professor of medicine at the University of Paris. A committed humanist he devoted himself to the elucidation of ancient sources by Galen, the renowned doctor from Pergamun, 129-200, his efforts  finally being rewarded by an appointment as royal physician to François I. Akakia’s choice of Galen reflects the continuing dominance of galenic medicine throughout the renaissance. Galen’s popularity was closely linked to the early sixteenth-century vogue for editions of Aristotle since the galenic theory of medicine was essentially based on aristotelian principles and the hippocratian four humours. This simple binding in contemporary tan calf with gilt tooling on the spine and a blind triple fillet on the covers is relatively plain. The copy bears an inscription on its title-page of ‘Bibliotheca Colbertinae’, an indication that it once belonged to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, 1619-83, Louis XIV’s great financial minister. Colbert had carefully built up his personal collection as an archive which would underpin his grandiose claims for the French crown and in this he may well have been influenced by the example of Richelieu and Mazarin. Though the initial focus had been on the acquisition of rare documents which were of political and historical significance, by the early 1680s Colbert and his librarian, Étienne Baluze, aimed to make the collection as far-reaching as possible. At the time of his death in 1683 Colbert had amassed 23,000 books and 5,212 manuscripts, many of which were later sold by his family in the early 18th century.

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Nicolas Chesneau
La pharmacie theorique, nouvellement recueillie de diuers autheurs, Par N. Chesneau, Docteur en Medecine…

Paris, 1660. 4o.

Nicolas Chesneau, 1601-c.1669, was perhaps best known for his many observations  published in 1672 under the title Observationum libri quinque, quibus accedunt ordo remediorum alphabeticus, ad omnes fere morbos conscriptus, sicut et Epitome de natura et viribus luti et aquarum Barbolanensium (Paris, 1672). This volume on pharmacology may be seen as a companion piece, concentrating on theoretical issues rather than the practical observations of his later work. Bound in contemporary hollow-backed vellum with a manuscript title on the spine it represents the more restrained bookbinder’s art. The choice of vellum may have been guided by considerations of cost since vellum was cheaper than leathers such as goat, calf or sheep-skin. Here we see a stiff vellum binding which in the seventeenth century became more popular than bindings in limp vellum, the prevalent choice in vellum bindings of the sixteenth century. This style of full vellum over boards was far more popular on the continent than it was in England. At times though, the direct adhesion of the vellum to the board made for tight joints and thus ensured that the book was more difficult to open.








George Imbert

Quaestio Medica eaque therapeutica, proposita ab illustrissimo viro D.D. Francisco De Chicoyneau, Regis Consiliario & Medico, nec-non in Almam Montpeliensium Medicorum Academiam Professore Regio…Quam Deo duce & Auspice Dei param, propugnabit in Augustissimo Monspeliensi Apollinis Fano, M. Georgius Imbert Melitensis, Liberal Art. Magister, & jamdudum Medicinae Studiosus, mensis Maii 1723.

Montpellier, 1723. 8o.
This medical dissertation is one of several purchased by Worth which is connected with the University of Montpellier, the pre-eminent French medical university. The presiding professor, François Chicoyneau, 1672-1752, was Regius Professor of Anatomy. His finest hour came in 1720 when he was called upon to tackle an outbreak of the plague at Marseille, which he did with some courage. On his return to his native Montpellier he was acclaimed as a hero and was later appointed as physician to the royal family – an appointment no doubt connected to the fact that his father-in-law Pierre Chirac was the royal physician before him. Chirac, 1650-1732, is mentioned in the list of disputants, as, indeed is a ‘M. Garottus Fitzgerald’. The former had taught François Chicoyneau, having been appointed by his father Michel Chicoyneau when the latter was Chancellor of the University of Montpellier – a sign of the close inter-familial connections of many academics at the time. Chirac had himself been a professor at Montpellier prior to accompanying the Regent, Philip II, Duc d’Orléans, 1674-1723, on campaign to Italy and Spain and as a result had been appointed royal physician. Garret or Gerard Fitzgerald (d. 1748) had been born in Ireland but studied medicine at Montpellier where he obtained his doctorate in 1719. He became a professor of medicine there in 1726 and on the death of Chirac succeeded to his chair. This copy, badly in need of attention, demonstrates a paper covering of the period. The sewing, in this case ‘stab stitching’ in which the thread was passed through the entire pamphlet, is clearly evident here, and was used for cheaper works such as unbound pamphlets. Likewise, the use of marbled paper was typical, especially the pattern bearing the unmistakeable ‘French curl’, a design associated with the highpoint of French marbling in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.


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Jean Baptiste van Helmont
Joannis Baptista van Helmont… Opuscula medica inaudita. I. De lithiasi. II. De febribus. III. De humoribus Galeni. IV. De peste…

Frankfurt, 1709. 4o.

Bound in contemporary French tan calf this volume by the famous Belgian doctor Jean Baptiste Van Helmont, 1577-1644, bears the initials BB on the spine compartments and a black goat shelf label at the foot of the spine bearing the label ‘BIBLIO BIGNO I 1707 30’. This attribution is further confirmed by large device on the centre of the covers which incorporates ‘BIBLIOTHEC BIGNON’ into a design which is surrounded by triple fillet frames. The prolific author Jean Paul Bignon, Abbé de St. Quentin, 1662-1743, had been royal librarian and was as assiduous a book collector as he had been an author. A leading figure in the history of the Académie de Science and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres he was instrumental in broadening the remit of the Journal des Savants. His collection was bought by Cardinal Guillaume Dubois, 1656-1723, himself an honorary member of the Académie des Sciences. When Dubois’ collection was sold in 1725 at The Hague, Worth was one of many collectors who were attracted to this collection. The appeal of Van Helmont’s work for Worth is not difficult to deduce, since Van Helmont was the leading practitioner of the iatro-chemical school which emphasised chemical explanations of phenomena. His work marked a fundamental turning point in the history of medicine and chemistry.


Ercole Sassonia.
Herculis Saxonia… De plica quam Poloni gwozdźiec, Roxolani koltunum vocant. Liber nun primum in lucem editus.

Padua, 1600. 4o.

This work on hair disease, written by Ercole Sassonia, 1551-1607, is bound in near contemporary French dark brown armorial calf. Its spine compartments are tooled with a repeated fleur de lys and its cover bear a large coat of arms and the monogram of a double C in each corner. The armorial design demonstrates that this book was the possession of Nicolas Chevalier, 1562-1630, a lawyer, financier, poet, orator and soldier. Chevalier was a successful diplomat in late sixteenth-century France and like his distinguished fifteenth-century ancestor Étienne Chevalier, had been appointed as French ambassador to England and Italy. Nicolas Chevalier was evidently eager to draw attention to the latter connection, and, indeed, emphasis the nobility of his family, by drawing attention to it on his books. This coat of arms, which liberally adorns his library, bears two large ‘E’s in gold in the first and fourth quarter, while the lions in the second and third refer to Jeanne Picard, a daughter of Martin Picart, the Lord of Grange-Névelon, who had married Étienne’s son Jean. The double ‘C’ monogram lends further emphasis to the name of ‘Chevalier’. The work was later bought by Esprit Fléchier, 1632-1710, Bishop of Nîmes, and, like Chevalier, a noted French orator. On the auction of his collection on the 24th January, 1726 Worth added it to his collection.


This exhibition was curated by Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, Assistant Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.

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