[COLONNA, Francesco (1433-1527)]. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, in Italian. Venice: Aldus Manutius for Leonardus Crassus, December 1499.
Super-chancery 2° (316 x 207mm). Collation: \Kp\k4 a-y8 z10 A-E8 F4 (\Kp\k1 title, \Kp\k1v dedicatory letter by Crasso to Guido, Duke of Urbino, \Kp\k2r poem to Crasso by Giovanni Battista Scita, \kp\k3 synopses in verse and prose, \Kp\k4v verses by Andrea Maro of Brescia, a1r second title, a2r book I, A1r book II, F3r colophon, F3v epitaphs, F4r errata, F4v blank). 234 leaves. 39 lines. Type: 115R (evolved from 2:114), 7:114Greek, 10:82R, 9:84Greek, square Hebrew, letters AM stamped in by hand as correction in line 5 of second title (a1r) as GW Anm. 2. 172 woodcuts attributed to the Paduan miniaturist Benedetto Bordon, of which 11 are full-page (the Priapus cut untouched), 39 woodcut initials form an acrostic spelling the name Franciscus Columna.
Binding: Parisian binding of c. 1552-55 by Gommar Estienne for Jean Grolier: brown calf, sides with interlace painted black, a solid and a hatched leaf tool (Nixon, C. de P. 59, 69), title tooled at centre of upper cover, Grolier's ownership formula below, his motto at centre of lower cover, flat spine with 18th-century gilt-tooled backstrip, gilt edges, vellum pastedowns, two pairs of paper flyleaves watermarked with a pot [similar to, but not identical with, Briquet 12632, Troyes 1542], probably late 18th-century, at each end, one at the front bound as an outer sheet of the first quire (sides and backstrip preserved over modern boards, a little rubbed, lightly restored); modern red morocco folding box.
Provenance: Jean Grolier (1479-1565; binding) -- Alexandre Albert François, prince de Bournonville (sale Paris, 13 December 1706, lot 312) -- Mr. Fauvres, Paris, 1748 (inscription on front pastedown: "Ce livre appartient a Mr Fauvres Maistre des Comptes, resident rue St. Antoine pres la rue royalle 1748") -- lines in Italian in an early hand -- George John, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1836; leather book label; sold by his heirs en bloc to form:) -- John Rylands Library, Manchester (1894 bookplate, deaccession label; sale Sotheby's, 14 April 1988, lot 42).
FIRST EDITION of the most celebrated illustrated printed book of the Italian Renaissance, bound for the most celebrated Renaissance bibliophile, Jean Grolier, and later owned by the greatest English bibliophile of his era, Earl Spencer. Although bound half a century after publication by Aldus Manutius at Venice, this is undoubtedly the work's first binding, as shown by the virtually full sheet size and fresh, pristine condition of its leaves. It is closely associated with the press: not only had Grolier himself been agent for the Aldine Press at Paris, but by the 1550s so too was Gommar Estienne, one of Grolier's binders. Grolier had a particular penchant for the work and owned no fewer than five copies, one other also bound by Estienne (now Royal Library, Stockholm. Cf. Hobson, Humanists and Bookbinders, 207-09, 271, correcting Nixon's assignment to Claude de Picques; and Renaissance Book Collecting, App. I). The binding was exhibited at the British Museum in 1965 (Nixon catalogue, no. 94, pl. 88), and reproduced by G.D. Hobson in Maioli, Canevari and Others, 1926, p. 43, pl. 50.
The ownership of this volume is documented for much of its past. On Grolier's death in 1565 the major part, but not all, of his library passed to Méry de Vic. A distinctive feature of the Vic ownership is his, or his descendants', programme of re-tooling the spines of Grolier bindings reflecting the change from displaying books with their covers facing out to shelving them with the spine outwards. The re-tooling of the spine of the Grolier-Spencer copy is apparently later and shows no evidence to associate it with the Vic collection. Early and mid-18th-century ownership inscriptions account for the book's whereabouts for much of that century, and by the early 19th-century it entered the library of Earl Spencer, amongst whose collection it remained until sold in 1988. Dibdin wrote of this volume in his catalogue of the Spencer library: [it is] the most perfect specimen of the press of Aldus. ... Everything in it conspires to charm the tasteful collector [and to] delight and gratify the judgment of the Virtuoso. ... The present copy...is perhaps unrivalled for its size and beauty" (Dibdin, Bibliotheca Spenceriana, IV, p. 145, no. 833). Dibdin later compared it to the Mathieu copy (now at the British Library) and declared "the triumphant superiority of the Grolier copy" (Bibliographical Decameron, II, p.475).
The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili epitomizes the Aldine mastery of type, illustration, design and execution. The identity of the artist responsible for the renowned woodcuts has long been debated, but the Paduan miniaturist Benedetto Bordon, active primarily in Venice, is now widely considered their author. The work tells the tale of Polifilo in search of his lost love, Polia. His journey takes him through a fantastic dream-world of pyramids and obelisks, classical gardens, ruined temples and bacchanalian festivals, before finding her and gaining ultimate enlightenment at the temple of Venus. Interpretations of the intricate text are many; a recent investigation into explicative near-contemporary annotations written into a copy at Modena shows that it served as a sort of humanist encyclopedia (D. Stichel, 'Reading the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili in the Cinquecento, marginal notes in a copy at Modena,' Aldus Manutius and Renaissance Culture, Essays in memory of Franklin D. Murphy, Florence: 1998). HC *5501; GW 7223; BMC V, 561 (IB. 24499-24502); CIBN C-523; IGI 3062; BSB-Ink. C-471; Bod-Inc. C-391; Renouard Alde, 21.5; Sander 2056; Essling 1198; Nixon 94; Austin 141; Goff C-767.