Item #4317 Sacra Poësis. Benoît LE COURT, Gaius Vettius Aquilinus, owner — JUVENCUS, Caelius SEDULIUS, Subdiaconus ARATOR.
Sacra Poësis.
Sacra Poësis.
Sacra Poësis.
Generations have treasured it

Sacra Poësis. Lyon: Jean I de Tournes & Guillaume Gazeau, 1553.

16mo (111 x 72 mm). 316 pp., [2] blank leaves. 3 parts, parts 2 and 3 with half-titles. Italic (text) and roman types (preface). Printer’s double viper woodcut device (Cartier Vip. o) on title, type-ornament headpieces, woodcut initials. Ruled in red throughout (slight overall discoloration, inkstains on f. a2v.) Contemporary Lyonese calf, both covers stamped in gold with a geometric interlace panel, four small rosettes, and the central arms of Benoit Le Court; spine with four raised bands and two faux bands, in 7 gilt-paneled compartments, each with a rosette, edges gilt and gauffered (joints worn). Provenance: Benoît Le Court (or Lecourt, ca. 1500-1559), supra-libros; with Librairie Damascène Morgand, Paris, Répertoire méthodique, part 1 [1893], item 2727, and several later catalogues up to 1920; Édouard Rahir (owner of Damascène Morgand from 1897), bookplate (sale, Paris, part 1, 7-9 May 1930, lot 123); sold to Librairie Lardanchet, Paris; Anton W. M. Mensing, Dutch art dealer and auctioneer (1866–1936) (sale, Sotheby’s, London, 15–17 December 1936, lot 337); sold to Librairie Lardanchet, Lyon (Catalogue 41, [1937], item 68); Paris, Binoche et Giquello, 19 October 2016, lot 64; sold to T. Kimball Brooker (sale, Sotheby’s New York, part 1, 11 October 2023, lot 55).***

This volume belonged to the most celebrated sixteenth-century Lyonese bibliophile, the jurist Benoît Le Court, whose gold-tooled arms occupy the center of the stamp on each cover. It contains the first de Tournes edition of an anthology of three early Christian poets, intended for the use of students. Juvencus’ 4th-century rendering of the Gospels in proper Virgilian Latin, was fed to schoolboys for generations: “the cold correctness of the work recommended it to the taste of the Middle Ages, when it was frequently quoted, imitated, and copied” (The Catholic Encyclopedia [1919], 8: 586). It is joined by Sedulius’ early 5th-century Carmen paschale, another adaptation of the Gospels, in hexameters, and the 6th-century Ligurian poet Arator’s De Actibus Apostolorum, a history of the Apostles, also in epic verse.

These works were already out of fashion: in the dedication to the humanist Cardinal Georges d’Armagnac (ca. 1501–1585), the anonymous editor complains that today’s readers, avid for novelty, no longer read these old models of pure Latin. But no doubt relying on school orders, De Tournes issued two more editions, from Lyon in 1566 and Geneva in 1588.

The family armorial of Benoît Le Court ("D'azur à trois molettes d'or"), misattributed by Guigard, was first correctly identified at the end of the 19th century. Although no inventory survives, 85 volumes from Le Court’s library, containing over 200 titles, have been identified to date from his various armorial binding stamps and from purchase inscriptions (by Hélène Lannier, in her 2018 doctoral dissertation). His library forms “the most homogenous ensemble available to us of sixteenth-century Lyonese bookbinding” (Toulet, p. 147). Le Court was not a wealthy or princely collector: he was a prosperous bourgeois of la Robe, and most of his books were soberly bound. Although he corresponded with contemporary poets, and he himself published a couple of humanist texts (including a Latin juridical commentary on Martial d’Auvergne’s Arrests d’Amour), many of the texts in his library were theological, not surprisingly for a curé (of the village of Coise) and one of seven jurist-officers of the Lyon Cathedral, known as “Chevaliers de l'église de Lyon.”

The interlace panel stamp of the present binding appears to be a unique survival, being recorded on no other bindings. A different entrelac panel stamp was used on another small format (sextodecimo) book with Le Court’s arms, a 1548 Lyonese edition of Livy (the copy was in the collection of Mme. T. Belin, sold in 1936), in which the interlaces are curved rather than mostly right-angled as here. The binder of both is unknown. Jean Toulet praised the two bindings as belonging to a handful of bindings from Le Court’s library which were given “des décors exceptionnels”; most of his books, as noted above, having been more plainly decorated. (Our binding is pictured in Toulet’s article — apparently reproducing the photo in the Damascène Morgand / Rahir 1910 catalogue Livres dans de riches reliures, where it is item 44 — but it is incorrectly identified as the Livy, which is in fact not illustrated.)

Many of Le Court’s books originally had a purchase inscription inside the front pastedown, some including the cost of the binding. Unfortunately in this volume any early inscriptions were erased.

Apart from its most recent seven-year sojourn in the library of a private collector, this fine book has been treasured by various members of the book trade for the past 130 years. Perhaps it is time for it to find a more permanent home.

Cartier, Bibliographie des éditions des de Tournes (1937), no. 250; Adams J-793; BM/STC French, p. 248; Gültlingen, Bibliographie des livres imprimés à Lyon au seizième siècle, IX p. 174, no. 254. On the provenance and binding: Baudrier, Armorial des bibliophiles de Lyonnais, Forez, Beaujolais et Dombes (1907), pp. 347-349; J. Toulet, “L’Ecole lyonnaise de reliure,” in Le Siécle d’or de l’imprimerie lyonnaise (1972), pp. 147-148, & fig. 135; H. Lannier, Benoît Court: un juriste humaniste et ses livres [doctoral dissertation], Université Lumière Lyon 2, 2018; H. Lannier and Wm. Kemp, “Du nouveau sur la bibliothèque de Benoît Lecourt,” Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance 78 (2014): 47-73.
Item #4317

Price: $12,000.00