Le Jardin de contemplation.
Le Jardin de contemplation.

Le Jardin de contemplation. (colophon:) Paris: Jean Petit, 25 October 1516.

8vo (134 x 90 mm). Collation: a-z8 et8 A-D8. [224] leaves, including final blank. Batarde types, 27 lines. Publisher’s woodcut device on title (not in Renouard), 8- and 4-line metalcut initials. Colophon printed in a cruciform X-shape. Title and last leaf stained, occasional small stains elsewhere, minor worming in lower margins, not affecting text. 18th-century mottled calf, smooth spine gold-tooled with allover floral decor, edges stained red (joints split, quite worn). Provenance: flourished contemporary signature at end (De cannes?); traces of deleted annotations in lower margins of first quire and on final blank leaf; 12 [symbol for livres tournois], 3940, early purchase note in red ink on verso of front free endpaper; Louis-César de la Baume de Blanc, Duc de La Vallière: 18th-century pencil number “759” on front flyleaf = Guillaume François de Bure, Catalogue des livres provenans de la bibliotheque de M.L.D.D.L.V. [Monsieur le Duc de La Vallière], Paris 1767, lot 759; Lambert, former Lieutenant-Colonel des Dragons, sale Paris: De Bure, 14 February 1780, lot 136. ***

only edition of an allegorical tale for nuns. According to the publisher’s brief introduction (a2r), and to a preliminary letter from the Mother Superior herself, the work was composed at the request of the Abbess of the convent of the Clarisses (Poor Clares) of Aigueperse (founded in 1422, and until the Revolution one of the largest convents in Auvergne). Speaking for all the sisters, the Abbess begs Henry to fulfill his “large promesse” of books of religious instruction for the convent. Jean or Jehan Henry (whose name is given in the incipit) was the author of a handful of devotional works, all published posthumously, mainly by the printer-publisher Jean Petit in or around 1516. From a family of Norman petits nobles, Henry became royal councillor in 1463 and served as President of the Chambre des enquetes (Chamber of Inquiries) of Parliament. From 1468 he also served as canon and cantor of Notre-Dame in Paris. Henry wrote all of his works for a feminine audience, mainly for female religious communities (cf. Berriot-Salvadore), and most were cast as allegorical meditations, as here (cf. Boulton and Hasenohr). His books were acts of piety and apparently self-financed.

The four-part treatise, whose principal theme is the definition of the contemplative life, and its possible reconciliation with the vie active, is couched as an allegorical vision experienced by the author after receiving the Abbess’s pleas. The dream / allegory features a mystical garden of contemplation, with at center the Tree of the Cross. The author’s initial vision appears in the form of a female figure “of very small stature and simple bearing, whose gaze was directed heavenwards, who wore a robe of little color and of poor material, and a black veil and light shawl like a shroud”; he realizes that she is not his usual dreamtime companion, Dame Sollicitude (Lady Worldly Care), who is “of tall stature, light bearing, vague regard, [and] pompous attire of many colors” (ff. b1v-b2r), and he later learns that the mysterious lady is Humility. She narrates Part I, in which humility is presented as the necessary foundation for Faith. Part II is introduced by Faith herself, who explains to the author the meaning of the Tree of the Cross. She is soon joined by a host of other allegorical personnages: Prudence, Office [worldly duties], Contemplation, Charity, Pity, Peace, and so on, each arguing her own point of view; the contemplative life is concluded to be superior to the active life. Along the way are imparted histories of the first anachorites and of the origins of convent life, and it is explained that the Minorite female communities sought to emulate those first hermits and monks. In a chapter on Elizabeth of Hungary (gg8v-h2r), the establishment of hospitals is presented as a paradigm of charity, embodying Henry’s values. In Part III the author, and by extension the reader, by means of her devotional practices, are guided into the garden. The allegorical thread is sustained throughout this exposition of the path to divine understanding, attainable through contemplation of the mysteries of the Passion and of the Seven Words of Christ. In the brief fourth part author and reader attain the top of the Tree of the Cross. Significantly, the work concludes with the recognition, by Prudence, that the contemplative life and an active life in the world are not mutually exclusive.

The Jardin de Contemplation, of which at least one manuscript is known (BnF Département des manuscrits, Fr. 997, digitized on Gallica), has been viewed as the first of a series of fictions incorporating gardens as the structuring principle (Huë); as part of a surge, in the late fifteenth century, of devotional works written for cloistered women (Boulton and Hasenohr, p. 34); and as representative of the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century vogue for spiritual allegory, linking this type of treatise to morality plays (Hasonohr, p. 44: in Henry’s works, “all the instruction is set forth `by personnages [characters]’, and the author, who presents himself as the `pilgrim’ or the `actor’ [as here] directs the action” [trans.]).

The printer / bookseller Jean I Petit was active from ca. 1492 to ca. 1540. The woodcut device used on the title resembles Renouard 883 and features the same whimsical lion and a leopard-like creature holding aloft a shield with the IP monogram, in front of trees with birds and flanking putti, but is printed from a different block, unknown (unusually) to Renouard. Other printing oddities of the book are the calligrammatic colophon, and an upper-case A that is printed before the signature in the signature line of the first recto of each quire. This recalls the abbreviations of usage in the signature lines of French printed books of hours, and may have been a way of distinguishing this edition from the four other tracts by Henry published by Jean Petit at about the same time (3 are undated but attributed to 1516, cf. Moreau II 1374-1377); this would imply that the five editions were printed concurrently.

Like all of Henry’s books, this one is rare: OCLC, USTC and the sources cited below locate four copies in French libraries, of which two are imperfect. The present humble copy belonged to one of the greatest French book collectors, and among the greatest anywhere, “the paragon of the French bibliophile” (Coq), the Duc de La Vallière (1708-1780). The Duke bought and sold constantly, improving his collections; many of his books were sold as duplicates during his lifetime, usually through his bookseller de choix, Guillaume de Bure. The first of his large dispersals at auction was the 1767 sale by De Bure. In two volumes, it included many rarities, not least a copy (on paper) of the 1462 Fust and Schoeffer Bible (GW 4204), which brought the highest price in the sale. It should be noted that “in contrast to so many other bibliophiles, La Vallière only rarely marked his books with signs of personal possession ... It was as if he was content to have these books as part of his collection, even if it was only a matter of momentary possession” (Coq, p. 323, trans). Thus the faint pencil inscription of a lot number is in many cases the sole internal piece of evidence that a book passed through his hands. (The present binding, although already on the book at the time of the 1767 sale, was not the work of one of La Vallière’s customary binders.)

References: Moreau II:1373; Bechtel, Gothiques H-19 (incorrect collation); Higman, Piety and the People, H3; Brunet III:102. Cf. Dictionnaire de Spiritualité vol. 7 (1968), 259-263; Maureen Barry McCann Boulton, Sacred Fictions of Medieval France: Narrative Theology in the Lives of Christ and the Virgin, 1150-1500 (2015), p. 182; Denis Huë, “Reliure, clôture, culture : le contenu des jardins,” Vergers et jardins dans l’univers médiéval, Aix-en-Provence, 1990, note 19; Geneviève Hasenohr, “Aspects de la Littérature de Spiritualité en Langue Française,” Revue d'histoire de l'Église de France, vol. 77, no. 198, 1991, pp. 29-45; Evelyne Berriot-Salvadore, Les femmes dans la société française de la Renaissance (1990), pp. 289-90; Thomas Frank, Heilsame Wortgefechte: Reformen europäischer Hospitaler vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert (2014), chapter III.2, “Das Hotel-Dieu und andere Pariser Hospitäler im 15. Jahrhundert,” pp. 157-158; Dominique Coq, “Le duc de la Vallière et sa collection,” Histoire des bibliothèques françaises: les bibliothèques sous l’Ancien Régime 1530-1789, Paris: Promodis, 1968, pp. 316-331; Richard C. Christie, “The Catalogues of the Library of the Duc de la Valliere,” The Library Chronicle, vol. II, London 1885, pp. 153-159. Item #2847

Price: $10,000.00

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