Oblong 8vo (118 x 164 mm). Collation: A-E4 (E4 blank).  leaves letterpress text (final blank removed), 5 text leaves printed on one side only. Italic type, extrait du privilege at end in roman type. Thirteen engraved plates: engraved title, self-portrait of the artist aged 24, dedication leaf, 9 numbered plates of funerary ceremonies, and printer’s device, all by and after Pierre Woeiriot. This copy with an extra blank leaf after the engraved dedication leaf, on old paper but apparently supplied by the binder. Small round repair to outer blank corner of device leaf, lightly washed, very occasional small marginal stains. Dark olive-green morocco, sides with blind-stamped panel of interlocking ovoids, spine blind-tooled and gold-lettered, turn-ins gold-tooled, gilt edges, by Bauzonnet, stamped signature upside down on the lower free endpaper (slight rubbing at extremities of joints). Provenance: Guillaume Mouret, contemporary signature at end (E3v) and on title-page (faded); Gustave Chartener, bookplate, sale, part I, 4 May 1885, lot 134; Damascène Morgand (catalogue, 1900, no. 39695); (with Lardanchet, Paris, catalogue Feb. 2002, no. 10); Fred Feinsilber, booklabel, sale, Sotheby’s Paris, 11 October 2006, lot 19; Marc Litzler, book label, sale, Christie’s Paris, 20 Feb. 2019, lot 13.***
Only Edition, a superb, large-margined copy of one of the greatest and rarest French sixteenth-century illustrated books. Woeriot’s masterpiece can be considered the first French artist’s book. The text is secondary to Woeiriot’s extraordinarily fine engravings. Not only did the 24-year old goldsmith design and cut them, but, as he states proudly in his dedication, he cast and polished the copperplates, and had the work printed and published (the royal privilege is indeed granted to him, not to the printer).
Woeiriot was a goldsmith, and his works include designs for gold-wrought rings and sword hilts. A native of Neufchâteau, he is thought to have spent time in Italy, perhaps in Rome. The present illustrations were among his earliest works, produced soon after settling in Lyon, where he remained until ca. 1563 before becoming engraver to the Duke of Lorraine. Although Mortimer credits the printer Clément Baudin for selecting the text, it seems equally likely that Woeiriot chose the subject of his engravings, Lilio Gregorio Giraldi’s De sepulchris & vario sepeliendi ritu (Basel, 1539), a text that called out for illustrations during a period that was fascinated with ancient funeral rites. Its adaptation into excerpts was then probably carried out by Baudin, of whom this was the first imprint.
The artist’s mastery of the Fontainebleau mannerist style is impressive. The engraved title is lettered in an oval with distorted lettering as if on a curved surface, within a border of architectural forms filled with skeletons, standing, sitting, and in pieces. At the top two angels blow horns. The self-portrait, dated 1556, printed on the verso of the second leaf, shows the artist at the age of 24, flanked by grotesques. It is one of the most beautiful Renaissance portraits to appear in a printed book. The dedication to Charles III, Duke of Lorraine, of which the text was also engraved by Woeiriot himself, in rather endearingly adolescent slanted lettering, is set within symbols of war, including bound prisoners, and surmounted by the arms of Lorraine. The nine plates, ostensibly showing the funeral rites of different ancient peoples, of Rome, India, Scythia, Egypt and the Heruli, are above all exhibits of Woeiriot’s imagination and fine-tuned skill. Vast in scope, showing huge skies and distant panoramas, they provide at the same time extremely detailed close-ups of more-graceful-than-life crowds of mourners. Three plates (6, 7, and 8) juxtapose wild, exotic and sometimes horrifying scenes of partly fictive funeral customs with real French places, identified in the text, notably plate 6, showing Lyon. All are signed with Woeiriot’s full name and Lorraine cross (for his native province). In plate 9 (depicting cannibalism), his name appears in reverse. The wonderful engraved device for Baudin, with his elephant motif, was engraved for this edition and not used elsewhere.
The work was influential, being copied by Girolamo Porro for some of his illustrations for Porcacchi’s Funerali antichi (1574), which were in turn imitated in later funeral books (cf. Mortimer).
Noteworthy among the previous distinguished owners of this fine copy was Gustave Chartener (1813-1884), a native of Metz, who amassed a huge library of books and prints devoted to Lorraine, and who commissioned the sober retrospective binding from Bauzonnet.
I locate four copies in US libraries: the Philip Hofer copy at Houghton, the Sylvain Brunschwig copy at NYPL (Spencer Collection), the Rahir - Burton copy at the University of Virginia (Douglas Gordon collection), and a copy at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Baudrier V: 24 (illus.); Gültlingen XIII: 147.1; Harvard / Mortimer 555; Brunet V: 1469, Suppl. II: 952; Robert-Dumesnil, Le Peintre-Graveur Français 7: p. 53, no. 1 & pp. 86-93, nos. 193-204; Fontaine, Antiquaires et rites funéraires, pp. 339-355; The French Renaissance in Prints (1995), no. 140, p. 394; Brun, Le livre français illustré de la Renaissance (1969), pp. 97-98 & 316, pl. 31. Item #4003