12mo (binding size 143 x 82 mm). 2 parts, separately titled and paginated, 262, ; 239,  pp. Woodcut title vignettes. A few corners creased. Contemporary French embroidered binding of ivory silk over pasteboards, each cover with a different floral design of flowering plants, buds, fruits and leaves, in variously colored threads, a few tendrils and sequins scattered in the background, within a border of braided metallic ribbon, edges of boards with additional border of striated silver thread, spine with design of Monogram of the Virgin, instruments of the Passion, and the Sacred Heart, gilt edges, liners of striated pink, white and blue satin, two flyleaves at front and back, two pairs of fore-edge catches, lacking clasps, loss to outer thread borders and to most of the embroidery on the backstrip, a few sequins bent, but overall well preserved. Provenance: Dr. Lucien-Graux, bookplate.***
a superb mid-seventeenth-century parisian embroidered binding on a popular devotional work. French embroidered bindings from this period survive in smaller numbers and appear much more rarely in the rare book trade than their English counterparts. This beautiful example features large naturalistic flowers, although blossoms from several species sprout from the same stem, including daisies (marguerites), carnations, lilies, a bluebell, a pansy, a gooseberry, a strawberry, and thistle flowers. The highly skilled embroiderer layered in and cross-stitched differently colored threads to create shading and blush on leaves and blossoms. The marvelous silk liners - using the colors of what was to become a century and a half later the French national flag! - add a further touch of whimsy to this wonderful binding.
Neglected in traditional French annals of bookbinding, embroidered bindings nonetheless were part of a long tradition in France. Until the sixteenth century, textile was the material of choice for sumptuous royal manuscripts and books, or for dedication copies. Starting in the sixteenth century these began to be eclipsed by decorated leather bindings, and, although a few splendid armorial embroidered bindings from this period survive, most of the small corpus of extant 16th- and 17th-century French embroidered bindings are found on books of religious devotion. Although expensive to produce, embroidery was everywhere in seventeenth-century domestc life – on walls, curtains, furniture, and above all clothing. It was also used on books, but a census carried out by the curators of the important exhibit of embroidered bindings held at the Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal in 1995-96 localized only forty seventeenth-century examples of French embroidered bindings (Livres en broderie, p. 24; 33 were included in the exhibit, and the others are inventoried at the end of the catalogue). The low survival rate is due as much to the perishable nature of these fragile bindings as to the French bibliophilic mania for rebinding. Thus the addition of one of these bindings to the corpus is a rare event.
The editors of the BnF catalogue note that the portions of embroidered bindings that have often suffered the most damage are the spines and the joints. They add that the technical complexity of embroidered bindings discouraged book conservators, which has preserved the authenticity and integrity of surviving examples. That is certainly the case for the present untouched example.
The BnF exhibit included a binding using similar techniques, possibly from the same workshop, covering the same Marian prayerbook, in a later edition (Paris: Barthelemy Quenet, 1651): cf. Livres en broderie no. 38. It is unfortunately not known where these two embroidered bindings were produced, whether in one of the many professional embroidery workshops in Paris, which employed both men and women, and whose confrérie (guild) had been established already in the 13th century, or by the sisters of one of the numerous convents who engaged in embroidery and the other textile arts, some of which were renowned for their exceptional artistry and technical prowess (op. cit. pp. 34-37), or perhaps even by a private individual. The anonymity of such embroidered bindings adds to their mystery, while not at all detracting from their beauty.
Lucien Graux (1878-1944), physician, writer, and successful entrepreneur, assembled one of the greatest collections of rare books and manuscripts of twentieth- century France. He joined the French resistance under Vichy, was arrested in June 1944, and died at Dachau that October. His collection was dispersed in nine sales from 1953 to 1957.
Cf. Sabine Coron & Martine Lefèvre, eds. Livres en broderie: Reliures françaises du Moyen Age à nos jours, (Paris: BnF, 1995). Item #2868