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Pindarus (518-after 446 BC)

Pindari Poetae vetustissimi, Lyricorum facile principis, Olympia Pythia Nemea Isthmia. per Joan. Lonicerum Latinitate donata: adhibits enarrationibus, è Graecis Scholijs, & doctissimis utriusque linguae autoribus desumptis... Basel, Andreas Cratander, 1535

€ 168.000
An 'Apollo and Pegasus' binding
Pindarus (518-after 446 BC). Pindari Poetae vetustissimi, Lyricorum facile principis, Olympia Pythia Nemea Isthmia. per Joan. Lonicerum Latinitate donata: adhibits enarrationibus, è Graecis Scholijs, & doctissimis utriusque linguae autoribus desumptis.... Basel, Andreas Cratander, 1535

4° (214x135 mm). Collation: α6, A-Z4, a-z4, Aa-Mm4, Nn6. [12], 458, [18] pages. Greek, italic, and roman type. Woodcut printer's devices on the title-page, and verso of the last leaf. Woodcut animated and decorated initials. Roman binding executed between 1545-1547 by Niccolò Franzese for Giovanni Battista Grimaldi. Gold- and blind-tooled dark brown morocco, over pasteboards. Covers panelled with interlocking central lozenge containing the horizontal plaquette of Apollo driving the sun chariot towards Parnassus, upon which Pegasus is standing. Traces of gold and green paint on the plaquette. The motto 'ορθοσ και μη λοξιωσ' is tooled around it. The title 'PIN/DARVS/POETA' is gilt lettered on the upper part of both covers. Spine with three double bands, decorated with a gilt line, alternating with four single bands, decorated with short gilt diagonals. A small foliate tool alternately vertical and in horizontal in the compartments. Gilt edges. Headbands renewed, expert repairs at spine extremities, joints and corners. In a modern brown cloth solander box. A very fine copy, light browning and spotting, repaired neat tear in on one leaf, tiny marginal hole in the final two leaves, a paper flaw to the lower blank margin of fol. t2. Flyleaves slightly wormed. The number '679' inked on the lower margin of the title-page.

Provenance: Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (ca. 1524-ca. 1612; binding); Libreria Ulisse Franchi (sale Florence 8 April 1902, lot 450); the exiled Russian aristocrat Jacques de Zoubaloff (1876-1941); L. A. Barbet (inked ownership inscription on the upper outer corner of the title-page, 'A Barbet 300 c'; see Catalogue de la bibliothèque de feu M. L.-A. Barbet. Première partie, Paris 1932, lot 127, 'Precieux exemplaire portant au centre de chaque plat l'emblème [...] qu'on a longtemps cru être celui de Demetrio Canevari, médecin du pape Urbain VII, mais qui est celui du Duc Pier-Luigi Farnèse, fils du pape Paul III'); the Italian art historian Federico Gentili di Giuseppe (1868-1940); by descent to his daughter Adriana R. Salem, Paris (ex-libris with initials A.R.S. on the front pastedown); sale Sotheby's, 31 October 1977, lot 52); to the London bookseller H. D. Lyon (1917-2004; his notes); Michel Wittock (ex-libris on the front pastedown; see The Michel Wittock Collection. Part I: Important Renaissance Bookbindings, Christie's London 2004, lot 92).

A marvellous example of an 'Apollo and Pegasus' binding: the copy of the second Latin edition of Pindarus' works, bound in about 1545-47 by Niccolò Franzese for the banker Giovanni Battista Grimaldi, from one of the great and wealthy patrician families of Genoa. Anthony Hobson identified three binders in Rome who were engaged by Grimaldi: Maestro Luigi, Niccolò Franzese, and Marcantonio Guillery. Niccolò Franzese was the most innovative among them.

As indicated by his name, Nicolò Franzese – the binder responsible for the Pindar presented here – was a Frenchman by origin, born Nicolas Fery of Rheims. He probably settled in Rome as early as 1526. The cardinal-librarian Marcello Cervini employed him at the Vatican Library from 1549 to 1554, and in 1556 he was appointed Vatican Binder. He worked in Rome for the papal court and other high-profile clients from 1542 until his death in 1570-71.

The covers are panelled with a central lozenge containing the celebrated medallion showing Apollo driving the chariot of the sun towards Mount Parnassus, upon which Pegasus is standing with the Greek motto 'ορθοσ και μη λοξιωσ' ('straight and not crooked') lettered around him. This device, or impresa, is a celebration of virtù, and was invented for Grimaldi by the Sienese humanist and secretary of Pier Luigi Farnese, Claudio Tolomei (1492-1556). Tolomei was further tasked with procuring, for Grimaldi, a 'complete library' – or libreria finita – of about two hundred volumes, in order to further his education. “The choice was to be a balanced one between modern and ancient literature, but Greek poetry, since Grimaldi did not know the language, was provided in Latin translation. This dichotomy, or balance, was given visible expression in the bindings: works in modern languages were to be bound in red morocco, those in classical languages in various shades of green or brown. The library, of about 200 works or volumes, took two years to assemble [...] The task of binding was shared out between three booksellers/binders, who presumably supplied the books as well as providing the gold-tooled morocco covers” (Hobson-Culot, Italian and French 16th-Century Bookbindings, p. 23).

Great collectors have always paid particularly close attention to these precious bindings – stamped for Grimaldi with the distinctive Apollo and Pegasus – owing as much to the quality of their materials and manufacture as to their rarity. Their renown even led to at least two – and possibly more – nineteenth- and twentieth-century binders producing forged or faked Apollo and Pegasus plaquettes, often using sixteenth-century bindings (see no. 118). Anthony Hobson has located 144 true bindings tooled with this medallion plaquette, all of exceptional value: the copy of Pindar presented here is included in his census.

VD16 P-2798; G. D. Hobson, Maioli, no. CII; De Marinis, Legatura artistica in Italia, I, no. 763; Hobson, Apollo and Pegasus, no. 97; Cinq siècles d'ornements, no. 1; Hobson-Culot, Italian and French 16th-Century Bookbindings, no. 5 (all mentioning this copy); Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 90.