The only known copy of a splendid incunable with a famous text
41 Olivier de la Marche, Le Chevalier Délibéré[Gouda: printer of the Chevalier Délibéré (Collaciebroeders?), after 31 October 1489.] Second edition.
2°, 256 mm x 176 mm. 34 leaves (last leaf blank), complete: a-e6, f4; four additional flyleaves on both front and back cover.Watermarks: three different bull’s heads, two letters ‘p’, one gothic cross (WILC-Numbers:WMI 55764-55773). – Two columns of 24-32 lines, type 100G. Almost completely rubricated with the initials in red and blue. 16 full-page coloured woodcuts with headlines by Jacob Cornelisz, one printer’s mark. – In excellent condition, very few water stains, soft vellum-like paper of high quality, paper darkened only towards the inward binding. – Dark green 19th-century (between 1848 and 1877) morocco binding with blind-stamped ornamental frames, richly gilt leather paste-downs à la fanfare, signed ‘Trautz-Bauzonnet’, all edges gilt, attached red ribbon page marker.Two leather labels with coat of arms cut out from the former covers are pasted to the marbled front and back flyleaves. Marbled slipcase.
PROVENANCE: 1. A contemporary note on the last page testifies to the examination of the work by the religious censor:“ In hoc libro nihil est quod offendat… Ita est Johannes a fine plebanus beate Marie virginis oppidi Antwerpum.” 2. Charles-Jérôme Cisternay Du Fay († 1723). 3. Bibliotheca Colbertina, entry on titlepage, sold 1728. 4. Karl Heinrich, Graf von Hoym (1694-1736), sold 1738. His coat of arms on the flyleaves. 5. Charles-Alexandre, marquis de Ganay (1803-1881), acquired before 1862 (cf. Brunet 1860, III, col. 781); in 1881 sold to Léon Techener, bookseller in Paris. 6. Michel-Pierre-Antoine-Laurent Agar, comte de Mosbourg (1824-1892); sold 1893. 7. Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905). (cf.Arnim) 8. Baron J[ames] de Rothschild (1878-1957). (cf. Tchemerzine) 9. Charles Gillet (1879-1972), Lausanne; sold to H.P. Kraus, New York. 10. Collection Otto Schäfer, Schweinfurt, OS 534, acquired 1967.
TEXT: Le Chevalier Délibéré is a long didactic poem with allegorical characters. It describes the journey of a knight (L’Acteur), who on realizing that the days of his life are numbered, sets out in search for salvation. The armour and weapons of the protagonist are also allegorical: his helmet has been made by Dame Temperance, his cuirass is called Force with its lower extensions consisting of Consummate Chastity, and so on. Three characters, Thought, Understanding and Fresh Memory, accompany him at different points on his journey, aiding him in his perilous encounters with such adversaries as Quareller, Age, Accident and Weakness. Together with Fresh Memory he also witnesses three battles, in which Philip the Good is overcome by Weakness, and Charles the Bold, as well as Mary of Burgundy, are killed by Accident. Olivier de la Marche (c. 1425-1502) entered the services of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy as a young boy. Throughout his lifetime he remained loyal to the Burgundian court; he fought and was taken prisoner at Nancy, the battle where Charles the Bold was killed. After the death of this last of the Valois dukes of Burgundy, he gained position in the service of Maximilian of Hapsburg, the husband of Mary of Burgundy, and later served as preceptor for Philip the Fair. His most important literary work is his Mémoires, which is one of the most valuable sources on life at the court of Burgundy during the 15th century. However, he was also famous for his poetic oeuvre, within which Le Chevalier Délibéré is the major piece. The poem was enormously successful at the end of the Middle Ages: 12 editions appeared in France between the late 15th and early 16th centuries, the first in Paris 1488 (cf. no. 40). The present second edition is the first and only printed in Gouda.
ILLUSTRATION: The series of woodcuts illustrating this text is wholly exceptional in the history of art. Schretlen attributes it to Jacob Cornelisz van Oostzanen as his first dated work. He specifies: “The excellent series of woodcuts that enriches this book (…) are among the monuments of woodcutting; they often combine highly decorative effect with minute execution. (…) We used to observe symptoms of the approaching Renaissance in the work of Gerard David, in the beginning of the 16th century, but here we find them at the close of the 15th century in the cuts of Jacob Cornelis.” Hind is equally eulogistic: “The design of the Gouda woodcuts are the work of an artist (probably a painter) of real merit. One of the most important illustrated books of the period.” One of the Chevalier-manuscripts (Paris, BN, ms. Fr. 1606) gives the author’s directions for an illustration, including both design and colour.These directions are closely followed in the book at hand, which reinforces the preciousness of this unique copy. Hind could not find any contemporary illuminated manuscripts containing designs corresponding to the woodcut series in either the Dutch or the French editions.The watercolours must have been applied by a professional painter, as he tried to add a sense of threedimensionality to the woodcuts in supplying various shades of one colour to both the scenery and the figures.
PRINTER: The printer’s mark shows a very delicate version of the Elephant and Castle motif with an imprinted emblem of the city of Gouda. This points to the Collaciebroeders, a convent in Gouda, who started a printing press in 1480. Slightly revised, this mark occurs only in one other print, i.e. the Historie van hertoghe Godevaerte van Boloen (Gouda, 1486/89).The initial letters G and D accompanying the mark cannot yet be attributed to any known person.They probably refer to a patron who commissioned the print.
RARITY: Extremely rare.The only known copy of this marvellous edition published shortly after the first (Paris 1488). The rarity of incunabula printed in Gouda is well known, so is the importance of the poem of Olivier de la Marche.
LITERATURE: Campbell 1874, no. 1083; Hain/Copinger 1895, 4950; Schretlen 1925;Tchemerzine 1927,V, 918; Hind 1935, pp. 587-590; Hellinga 1965, pp. 76-86; Kraus 1978, p. 312; Arnim 1984, no. 205;Van Thienen/Goldfinch 1999, no. 1403; 205 & figs.; exh. cat. Schweinfurt 2001, no 39; ISTC: IL 00029010;WILC.