Only known copy of this edition illustrated by one of the most beautiful French woodcut series of the 15th century
39 Jacobus de Theramo, Belial. Cy commence le proces de Belial a l’encontre de IhesusLyons: Mathias Huss, 19 May 1486. Fourth French edition.
2°, 241 mm x 164 mm. 152 unnumbered leaves: a-t8. – 35 lines per page. Rubricated throughout, with red and blue lombards. 99 woodcuts of 64 blocks, six with some details coloured in red. – Fine condition, fol. a3-m2 with a wormhole, some of the lombards shining through, erased stamp on title.The first two leaves are inserted from a different copy. – Brown morocco with raised bands and gilt title on spine, all edges gilt, signed on first flyleaf: Rivière & son (London).
PROVENANCE: 1. Ancient note on the first leaf:“Ce present livre est a moy […] de Lagny […] moy dans ung foire à […] no en veau noire & qu’il est en latin [et en] francoys Imprimée à lion”. 2. Charles Gillet (1879-1972), Lyon. 3. H. P. Kraus (April-May 1969). 4. Collection Otto Schäfer, Schweinfurt, OS 715.
TEXT: Jacobus Palladinus de Theramo (1349-1417), a member of the powerful Palladini family, was an Italian canon lawyer and bishop. His birthplace,Theramo, now in the Italian region of Abruzzo, was then part of the Kingdom of Naples. After studying canon law at the University of Padua he was archdeacon at Aversa in 1384 and held several posts in the Papal Curia before being appointed bishop of various dioceses in Italy. In 1417 Pope Martin V sent him as legate to Poland, where he died the same year. Jacobus is the author of various texts, the most peculiar of which is certainly the Consolatio peccatorum, seu Processus Luciferi contra Jesum Christum, written c. 1382. This ‘consolation of sinners’ (with the colophon ‘Liber Bellial’) takes the form of a lawsuit between Lucifer and Jesus Christ, with Solomon presiding, in which the Devil sues Christ for having trespassed by descending into hell. At the first trial Moses is counsel for Jesus Christ and Belial for the Devil. At the second trial the Patriarch Joseph is judge, Aristotle and Isaiah defend Jesus Christ, and the Emperor Augustus and Jeremiah defend the Devil. In both trials the decision is in favour of Christ, but at the second trial the Devil is granted the right to take possession of the bodies and souls of the damned at the Last Judgment. Recently it has been suggested that the Belial was intended as a legal text book exemplifying the canonical process of a trial for laymen such as bailiffs, solicitors etc. Despite being considered blasphemous by some later historians for depicting a charge against Christ, the Belial sets out to demonstrate the power of Christ over the Devil and to offer, as the Latin title indicates, consolation for sinners. Although obviously a work of Christian theology, the Belial also incorporates figures from Judaism and pagan antiquity. Translated into several languages, the work was repeatedly reprinted, with Latin and German editions both appearing in 1472. In 1481 a French edition was printed, translated from the Latin text by the Augustinian Pierre Farget from Lyons. Our copy represents the fourth French edition.
ILLUSTRATION: After the second German edition in 1473, the first to be illustrated with woodcuts, the incunabular printings were usually accompanied by a series of extremely curious illustrations. The same is also true of the French editions. Our copy presents a truly magnificent series of 99 woodcuts, one full-page and the other 98 half-page, made of 64 repeated blocks.Almost every scene of the trial is illustrated by a superb figure.This series was made for the edition printed by Martin Huss in 1481 and was re-deployed in subsequent editions. However, as the Catalogue of the British Museum states, two woodcuts are likely to have been done for earlier publications: the one representing a stoning (fol. 104, n8) was probably used in an earlier edition of Aesop, and the one representing a woman killing a man with a key (fol. 107, o3) in another unspecified book. The woodcuts can be attributed to two different artists who worked in Lyons and are known to have previously executed several woodcut series for the Huss workshop in that city (e.g. for a French Bible and a Vergil of Guillaume Le Roy). It seems that they copied the scenes for the Belial from the Strasbourg series, but augmented them considerably. The figure of Belial is always given as a human-sized character with elongated ears, sometimes with horns too, and cloven hoofs, so he is easily recognizable in every woodcut. The landscapes, background scenery and figures are clearly outlined and shaped, whilst almost completely lacking any hatching. Each woodcut is combined with an explanatory headline and thus becomes a visual summary of the following chapter.
PRINTER: This beautiful copy was printed by the successor of Martin Huss, Mathieu or Mathias, no doubt a relative from the same region in Bottwar,Wurttemberg, whose workshop in Lyons must have been busy well into the 16th century. For this volume Huss used types he had imported from Nuremberg. The other illustrated editions published by the Huss family in Lyons are dated 8 Nov. 1481, 21 Jan. 1482/83, 22 Mar. 1484/85, 7 Nov. 1487.
RARITY: Our copy is the only surviving example of the fourth French edition.The number of editions bears witness to the great popularity of the text in France, but even stronger evidence lies in the fact that only 7 complete copies of all those editions survived worldwide, suggesting that they must have been read and reread until the books fell to pieces.
LITERATURE: Claudin 1900, III, 180-185; Hind 1935, p. 604; Geldner 1968, II, p. 217; Arnim 1984, no. 179; GW M1110310; ISTC ij00072900.