8vo (144 x 85 mm). , 196 leaves. Title printed in red and black. Bâtarde type. Small typographic pointing hands used in text throughout. Half-page woodcut opening text of an author presenting his book to a seated dignitary, with reserved space for letterpress name, here “Jehan bocasse”; a variety of metalcut floriated initials, final verso with woodcut device of Guillaume Le Bret (Renouard 588). Title with old repair at top slightly affecting 2 letters, and a couple of tiny holes, worming in or near gutters catching a few letters in quires R-T, very skilful discreet repairs in ff. CC3-6, occasional faint foxing, small stain in quire M. Nineteenth-century French blue straight-grained morocco (ca. 1820), covers with gilt rule border enclosing blind roll-tooled neoclassical frame and central blind-stamped lozenge, spine gold-tooled and lettered, board edges very finely gold-tooled, gilt edges, green patterned pastepaper endleaves (corners very lightly bumped, else fine). ***
An attractive copy of the second edition of De mulieribus claris in French, following the Vérard edition printed in 1493. Although Vérard tried to pass the translation off as his own, it was in fact a slightly revised version of an anonymous French translation made ca. 1401. Vérard’s editions of Boccaccio in French had made the writer more accessible to a French public, but it was not until the sixteenth century that his works became more widely known, and frequently imitated. This was the “golden age” for Boccaccio in France, one that would draw to a close with the restrictions placed by the Church on the racier passages of the Decameron.
On Famous Women was, as its author proclaimed, the first biographical survey devoted exclusively to women in (Western) literature. Clearly, though, in spite of the plethora of surviving Latin manuscripts of the text, Boccaccio’s survey of 106 women of distinction (some for their vices) from the Bible, mythology, history, and from amongst Boccaccio’s contemporaries, was of less interest to 16th-century French readers than Griseldis, Fiametta, or indeed the Decameron. Forty-five years had passed since the appearance of the first and still the only printed edition before a group of Paris publisher-booksellers decided to publish the work anew. In order either to blanket the market, to obviate pirate editions, or to spread the risk, no fewer than thirteen booksellers shared this pocket-sized edition. Only the title-pages and final pages with publisher’s device appear to have been reset for the various issues. The present copy bears the imprint of Philippe Le Noir and the woodcut device of Guillaume Le Bret. The metalcut capital initials used at the head of each chapter were identified as those of the printer Jean Réal (and a couple of copies with his device are known); this was the first book from his press.
The unusual typographic pointing hands in the text were added by the printer as a finding aid, to signal the Latin articulating phrases left in by the translator (the Latin phrases appear also in Vérard’s edition, but without any specific typographic mark highlighting them).
Two US copies located, at Princeton and Smith College. Moreau V, 742; BM / STC, p. 71; Brunet I, 990-91; Bechtel B-224; cf. BnF, Boccace en France (1975), 123. Item #2986