LUDOLPHUS DE SAXONIA (ca. 1300-1377/78). Vita Christi. [Lyon: Johannes Siber, probably for Jacques Buyer, not after Lent 1487].
Median 2o (329 x 229 mm). Collation: a-l8 [a2-a4 signed "a,a2,a3"] m12 n-r8 8 s-t6 v-z8 aa-8 ss-tt6 vv-zz8 8 8 8 A-F8 (a1 blank, a2r prologue, a5v Part I, ee5r table to Part I, ee6r Part II, F4v table to Part II, F7v colophon with woodcut printer's device [Polain Marques 66 = BMC device A], F8 blank). 443 leaves (of 444, without the final blank). 55 lines and headline, double column. Types: 2:124G (headlines and headings); 7:100G (other headlines and headings); 3:87G (text). 3- to 15-line initial spaces, most with printed guide-letters. 15-line divided Lombard in blue and red on a5v, smaller Lombards alternately red and blue, paragraph marks mostly in red. The third sheet in quire n misbound in quire p. (Occasional marginal dampstaining, scattered light discoloration or staining, stain on 2 affecting a few letters on verso, ?ownership mark in lower blank margin of a6 cut away, marginal tear in m9.) 18th-century French speckled calf over pasteboard, spine gold-tooled in compartments, red and green morocco lettering-pieces (joints and extremities rubbed).
Provenance: Jacques Buyer, brother of Barthélemy Buyer, the first printer at Lyon, the volume presented by him to -- Laurent Bureau (d. 1504), Bishop of Sisteron, confessor to Charles VIII and Louis XII, who preached in Lyon in 1487, as attested by two inscriptions in Bureau's hand, the first, on a1r, signed by Buyer (Hoc volumen de vita christi gratis et ob dei amorem michi fratri Laurentio burelli theologo doctori dedit vir insignis ciuis lugdunensis magister Jacobus buerii eo anno quo lugduni terciam quadragesimam predicavi qui fuit millemus ccccmus lxxxviius teste signo suo manuali hoc apposito. J. Buyer); the second on F7v (anno domini Millemo ccccmo lxxxviio hic liber michi gratis datus est. Burelli); Bureau's signature on F4r; contemporary marginalia in at least two hands, one probably Bureau's -- Dijon, Carmelites: 18th-century inscriptions -- Anatole Claudin (1833-1906): cf. Histoire de l'imprimerie en France, III, 204 -- Albert Ehrman (1890-1969), Broxbourne Library: bookplates; sale, Sotheby's London, 15 November 1977, lot 326 (to Lathrop Harper).
First edition printed in France. One of the most popular devotional works of the late Middle Ages, Vita Christi is a meditation on the life of Christ incorporating prayers and doctrinal and spiritual instruction. Its author was Prior of the Charterhouse of Koblenz from 1343 to 1348, when he renounced his office to resume the life of an ordinary monk. "The most successful product of German mysticism" (Verfasserlexikon2 5:973), the Vita Christi owed its tremendous success to its elegant distillation of "almost the entire relevant patristic, early medieval, and contemporary literature" (op. cit., p. 972, q.v. for a detailed analysis of the sources). It enjoyed great popularity among diverse proponents of reform in the 15th and 16th centuries, and was equally revered by the Devotio moderna, the French Benedictines, the Reformers of Melk, and members of the Dominican and Carthusian orders. The work was especially prized in Spain and France. Thirty-five 15th-century editions are recorded, including translations into Dutch, French, Portuguese, and Catalan.
Although this edition was previously dated to 1496, the inscriptions in this copy, reproduced by Claudin (III, 204), show that it must have been printed at least nine years earlier. Johannes Siber learned printing at Basel and began his career at Lyon in collaboration with two members of the Huss family, Martin and Matthias, who worked separately and with whom he printed a total of four medical and legal textbooks in 1478. Siber collaborated on Barthélemy Buyer's imposing edition of the works of Bartolus de Saxoferrato (1481-82, Goff B-184), possibly acting as liaison with Venetian suppliers of the type of that edition (cf. Scholderer, BMC VIII, xlviii). "A most competent craftsman" (op. cit., p. xlv), Siber worked on his own from 1481, specializing in law books and remaining highly productive until the end of the century. This copy contains the earliest but not the only appearance of Siber's name in connection with Jacques Buyer, Lyonese lawyer and brother of that city's prototypographer, who was himself registered as a printer [i.e., publisher or stationer]: in 1498 Siber printed an edition of Bouhic, Distinctiones super V libros Decretalium (Goff B-1049) at Jacques Buyer's expense, and Scholderer considered it likely that Buyer was a regular patron of the press. In such a capacity it would have been natural that he should present a copy of this first French edition of the Vita Christi to the Carmelite Laurent Bureau, prédicateur du roi, who was renowned for his eloquent preaching and opposition to Church reform, and who had come to Lyon in 1487 to deliver the Lenten sermons. In July of the same year, Buyer's name reappears as publisher in the colophon of the first French translation of the Vita Christi, printed by Matthias Huss (C 3670; CIBN L-274).
This edition is rare: there are no institutional copies in America, and none in the British Library. C 3663; Polain(B) 2531; BMC VIII, xlix (citing this copy); Claudin III, 204 (citing this copy); not in Goff.