16th Century Books
1502 The Logic of the Merchants
2019 SOLD for $ 1.21M including premium
In the best tradition of the antique and Arabic science which includes for example Euclid, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Avicenna, Pacioli is a compiler. He relies among other sources on the Liber Abaci prepared in 1202 by Fibonacci, which demonstrated that the Indo-Arabic numbering system is much better than the Roman numerals.
Pacioli does not omit anything about arithmetic and its applications. He promotes the double entry bookkeeping already practiced by some merchants, separating the recordings of debit and credit. He illustrates the position of fingers to identify high numbers in the decimal system. He defines the perfect proportions in the arrangements of elementary geometrical figures.
His book titled Somma di arithmetica, geometria, proporzioni e proporzionalita, published in Venice in 1494, is the first arithmetic treatise in the vernacular. Of middle class origin, Pacioli wants above all to provide a guide of good practices for the merchants.
He succeeded beyond all hope. Merchants follow his recommendations, constantly maintaining a situation analysis of their business. The clarity of their accountings puts an end to the mistrust of their clients.
Pacioli has a breakthrough influence on the art of the later Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci is passionate about the book up to becoming a close friend to the author. He reuses in his Last Supper the geometrical principles proposed by the mathematician. A direct influence by Pacioli on Dürer is also very likely.
On June 12 in New York, Christie's sells a complete copy from the second issue of the first edition, printed circa 1502. This book is in its original state : it was not trimmed and has kept its period vellum wrapper. It is estimated $ 1M, lot 1. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This June 12 we will offer at auction Luca Pacioli’s Summa de Arithmetica: The Birth of Modern Business in #NewYork. Known to represent "the pinnacle of mathematical knowledge in the Renaissance" Pacioli's book is considerably an icon of the history of all human knowledge. pic.twitter.com/RYSyANDl4V— Christie's (@ChristiesInc) February 21, 2019
1507 Pleasures of Hunting
2016 SOLD for € 520K including premium
Gaston is the sun king of his time and accepts the nickname Febus which will be re-spelled Phebus at the Renaissance. He loves pleasures and women and composes poetry. The comment of the chronicler Froissart who visits him in Orthez in 1388 or 1389 is extremely laudatory.
Gaston Febus is a great hunter. In 1387 and 1388 he composes in French one of the earliest hunting books in order to preserve and share his passion and his technique.
The princeps edition of the Livre de Chasse by Gaston Phebus is made circa 1507 in Paris by the very active bookseller Antoine Vérard under the title "Des deduiz de la chasse des bestes sauvaiges et des oyseaux de proye." The publisher joined a very long anonymous hunting poem titled "Roman des oyseaux" later identified as the work composed after 1359 by Gace de la Bigne at the request of King John the Good. "Deduits" is an obsolete word for "plaisirs".
This in-quarto 23 x 17 cm is illustrated with about 50 figures of animals and hunting scenes in woodcut. Some figures had been reused by Vérard from previous works and therefore are not related with an illuminated manuscript of the book. The text is printed in two columns.
A copy of this edition is estimated € 150K for sale by Sotheby's in Paris on October 5, lot 212.
1520-1539 The Princeps Edition of the Talmud
2015 SOLD for $ 9.3M including premium
The invention of printing was not immediately applied to Hebrew types. In Italy, some Christian illuminators were able to continue their business during the last decades of the fifteenth century by adapting their expertise to the copy of Hebrew books.
The first books printed in Hebrew also appeared in Italy. A Mishneh Torah printed in Bologna in 1482 was sold for € 2.8 million including premium by Christie's on April 30, 2014. The texts are cleverly arranged in blocks for an easy comparison within the page between the basic text and its commentaries. There is nothing similar in the Christian culture as far as I know.
Daniel Bomberg, a Christian printer in Venice, obtained in 1515 the permission to print in Hebrew. His princeps editions of the Talmud are a major project carried out in three phases : the Babylonian Talmud from 1520 to 1523, the Talmud of Jerusalem in 1522 and 1523 and additional tractates from 1525 to 1539 that went to complete his Babylonian Talmud.
The result is an achievement. The composition continues the tradition of confrontational blocks with such skill that they will serve for centuries as a prototype for further printed editions of the Talmud. The rabbinical sources are carefully selected and considered as indisputable. The book is printed on a beautiful heavy paper.
Westminster Abbey once owned the finest surviving copy of the Babylonian Talmud of Bomberg, complete of its 3472 leaves of great freshness, in nine volumes 39 x 27 cm in a period binding. When he was assembling his Valmadonna Trust Library, the collector Jack Lunzer managed to acquire this set by providing in exchange a valuable old charter of the abbey.
The Bomberg Talmud of the Valmadonna Trust Library is estimated $ 5M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 22, lot 12.
The Valmadonna collection was exhibited at Sotheby's in February 2009. The video below, which is an introduction to the 11000 pieces displayed in this exhibition, demonstrates convincingly why the Bomberg Talmud is the most important jewel in this stunning library.
1530 The Passion of William Tyndale
2016 SOLD for $ 670K including premium
As early as 1524 he had chosen to go into exile on the Continent, for reasons of security, but also and especially because owning texts in Hebrew was forbidden in England since the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews in 1290.
Translated from Greek, the New Testament of Tyndale was published in 1526. The copies exported to England were burned by the bishop of London in dramatic humiliating processions of penitents which will in turn increase the notoriety of the translator.
Tyndale then worked on a translation of the Pentateuch directly from Hebrew which was published in Antwerp in 1530, reusing Holbein's woodcuts for an Old Testament published in Basel in 1524.
The Pentateuch of Tyndale is extremely rare. Only eight copies survive. The only one in private hands is estimated $ 300K for sale by Sotheby's in New York on December 5, lot 44.
Condemned for heresy by the inquisitor of Charles V, William Tyndale was strangled and burnt at Vilvoorde in 1536. He had written a pamphlet in 1530 against the first divorce of Henry VIII, but the king needed some moral support against his ecclesiastical opponents. As early as 1538 the use of the Tyndale Bible is recommended to all Englishmen.
1540 Astronomy for the Use of Charles V
2014 SOLD for CHF 660K including premium
In 1540, he designs, prints and publishes at Ingolstadt one of the finest books of his time, the Astronomicum Caesareum, for explaining the position and movements of stars and planets to the Emperor Charles V. His effort was rewarded: a comfortable pension is promised and he is knighted.
The book is produced by woodcut and brightly colored. In the fashion of his time, sun and moon have faces. The plates include charts that allow the calculations. It is a very interesting example of an old book with mechanisms : some elements are rotating on the principle of the volvelles, and beads moving along colored cords facilitate the marking.
The book includes 36 full-page illustrations. The map of the constellations is illustrated with human and animal figures, similar as those used by Dürer for the Emperor Maximilian on the concept of Stabius a quarter of a century earlier.
His use of the geocentric system three years before Copernicus' book unfortunately discredited this great work of both science and education.
A copy of the Astronomicum Caesareum is estimated £ 600K, for sale by Koller in Zurich on September 20, lot 402 shared on Invaluable. It still has volvelles and cords but not the beads, and its binding is later.
1540 Visit to an Old Canon
2016 SOLD for £ 1.8M including premium
Georg Joachim Rheticus was fond of astronomy, perhaps as a result of the appearance of the comet of 1531. He enrolled at the University of Wittenberg led by Melanchthon, the theoretician of Lutheranism.
As early as 1536, Rheticus was appointed professor of mathematics. Barely released from astrology, astronomy was at that time a branch of mathematics. The learned calculations made by Regiomontanus in the previous century had fruitfully revived the speculation about the true movements of the planets.
Two years later, Melanchthon allows Rheticus to suspend his teaching for a tour of Europe where he will visit the humanists. He hears of an old canon who spent his lifetime improving his astronomical calculations at such a point to solve the old issue of the motion of Earth, discussed since antiquity.
Rheticus so becomes the assistant to Copernicus in Frauenburg (Frombork). For nearly thirty years, the canon had refined the text of his demonstration of the heliocentric system, sometimes sending manuscripts to the very few scholars able to understand it. He does not think to edit because of an obvious difficulty to print his figures.
Rheticus supports Copernicus with enthusiasm. The younger scientist prepares a comprehensible summary with the agreement of the master. Printed in Gdansk in 1540, that 'De libris revolutionum ... narratio prima' is the first report ever published on heliocentrism. The theory is clearly and fully attributed to Copernicus without indicating the name of his efficient collaborator.
This first edition is extremely rare. A copy is estimated £ 1.2M for sale by Christie's in London on July 13, lot 87.
1543 That Copernicus book revolutionized the science
2008 SOLD 2.2 M$ including premium
Of relatively small size (20 x 27 cm, 202 pages), this book that forever changed the design we had of the universe is decorated with woodcuts and tables of calculations.
A copy of the original edition is now for sale at Christie's, lot 60 of the sale of New York on June 17. It is nicely printed, and remained extremely clean. In its flexible binding of same period, it was part of a prestigious library during the seventeenth century.
Its estimate? 900 K $.
One of my previous articles made me review the fate in two April auctions of books by other big names in science, including De humani corporis of Vesalus, also of 1543. This very important book did not find a buyer in Paris on April 23 for 140 K €, at Pierre Bergé et Associés.
New York is not Paris, but I am afraid that Christie's get some difficulties to sell this book.
POST SALE COMMENT
After revolutionizing science, this book has just revolutionized the auction world: $ 2.2 million fees included. It is a very important result for a an exceptional specimen of one of the most significant books in the history of our civilization.
1543 De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Vesalius
1998 SOLD for $ 1.65M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2012 before the sale of another copy by Heritage (see below)
Born to a family of doctors, he observed the decomposed corpses on the gibbet of Brussels, in front of his home. He early appreciated that only direct observation could lead to the relevant understanding.
Not only he refuted all the errors of Galen which had prevented the progress of medicine and surgery, but also he explained the reason why : in order not to defy the taboos of the Roman Empire, Galen had dissected monkeys. I give only one example among so many, but it is spectacular : analyzing breathing, Vesalius paves the way for life saving ventilation.
His drawings are plagiarized and challenged. Vesalius therefore decides that he must collect his observations and figures in a masterly work. After four years of preparation, De Humani Corporis 'libri septem' is published in Basel in folio format 43 x 28 cm in 1543. The anatomical drawings were prepared in Venice by an anonymous artist, probably from Titian's studio.
A copy owned by the Emperor Charles V, considered to be his dedication copy, was sold by Christie's on March 18, 1998 for $ 1.65M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 400K, lot 213. All illustrations including initials had been colored with highlights in liquid gold and silver.
I previously narrated two other copies in this column. One was sold for $ 122K including premium by Heritage on October 4, 2012, and the other for £ 255K including premium by Christie's on December 1, 2015.
1572 Multilingual Bibles
2018 SOLD for £ 490K including premium
Christophe Plantin moves to Antwerp in 1549 as a bookbinder and becomes a printer in 1555 in that city.
The Bible of Alcala was out of date. It was criticized for being unequal, due to the difficulty of the publishing team to master the four languages. Moreover most of the copies had disappeared in a shipwreck and it had not been reissued.
Plantin has the idea of creating a new polyglot Bible based on the Alcala Bible. He exhibits some models of pages at the Frankfurt Fair in 1566 to find sponsors, putting in competition Catholics and Protestants. The project fascinates the King of Spain Philip II who is also the sovereign of the Netherlands. The king sends in 1568 his chaplain Benito Arias Montano to create a team of philologists and supervise the edition.
In the four languages as well as for the Syriac that has been added, the printer manages to choose the most beautiful available types, including the Hebrew characters used by Bomberg and Greek by Aldus. In the workshop four presses are used for five years.
For his personal use and to present to dignitaries, the king orders thirteen copies on vellum. These very luxurious books are finished in 1572 in folio 42 x 30 cm. Two volumes of thesaurus are not ready but their paper version may be added later.
Philip II had kept five copies for his personal use. They will remain grouped in the royal collection for more than two centuries, until King Charles III shares them among his sons. The youngest son's copy, 6 volumes bound in 11 books, is estimated £ 400K for sale by Christie's in London on July 11, lot 152. It is the last copy on vellum remaining in private hands. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
1580 Montaigne by Himself
2009 SOLD for € 715K including premium by Christie's
2018 SOLD for € 680K including premium
In 1572 Montaigne has retired for two years from his position as councilor in the Bordeaux Parliament while remaining in the active service of the king, notably for military operations. He is sociable without being a courtier. Aged 39, he already knows that he has managed his life. He becomes a moralist by relying first on ancient authors.
When his public engagements leave him some free time, he isolates himself in his library and writes. Gradually appreciating that his way of being could serve as a model, he will give visibility on his psyche and emotions without hiding his flaws.
He does not know if his work can be useful. Indeed no similar introspection existed in literature except perhaps the Confessions of St. Augustine whose goal was very different.
The Essais de Messire Michel Seigneur de Montaigne are published in 1580 in Bordeaux in two books often in a single binding. This edition also includes several sonnets by the late Stoic poet La Boétie, with whom he had the strong empathy that made him want to explain his own feelings. This section will be deleted in the posthumous editions of the Essais.
The best copy of the first edition of the Essais surfaced in an auction by Christie's on June 25, 2009 where it was sold for € 715K including premium. It has retained its original limp vellum binding and is complete including the rare errata leaves.
Now coming from the library of Pierre Bergé, this book is estimated € 400K for sale on December 14 in Paris - Drouot by the auction house Pierre Bergé et Associés in association with Sotheby's, lot 855.
After these first two books, Montaigne explores his ego with an increasing acuteness. It is the subject of the third book published in 1588.