Item #4318 Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François. Publius OVIDIUS NASO.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François.
“De tous les imprimeurs de Paris, celui qui a produit les plus jolis petits livres ornés de gravures sur bois” — Firmin-Didot

Les XV. livres de la Metamorphose d’Ovide, poète treselegant, contenants l’Olympe des histoires poetiques, traduictz de Latin en François. Paris: [Étienne Groulleau and] Jehan Ruelle, 1554.

16mo (121 x 73 mm). Collation: A-Z Aa-Zz AA-CC8. 386, [6] leaves. 3 parts, continuously foliated. Roman types (petit romain, 67 mm). 29 lines & headline. Woodcut printer’s device (Renouard 1023) on title, 150 woodcut illustrations printed from 107 blocks, woodcut initials (one signed IR [Iean Ruelle]) and narrow head-pieces, typographic arabesque tailpieces and full-page arabesque ornament at end. Fine. 19th-century brown morocco, sides with double gilt panel and central arms of the Prince d’Essling, spine in six gilt-paneled and -lettered compartments, four with his VM monogram, wide turn-ins gold-tooled, red watered silk liners, extra marbled flyleaves, edges gilt over marbling, by Belz-Niédrée, with his gilt stamp on upper turn-in (upper joint starting, a bit tightly bound). Provenance: Victor Masséna, 5th Prince d'Essling, 5th Duc de Rivoli (1836-1910); 19th-century shelfmark (2106) on front flyleaf. ***

One of two known copies of a copiously illustrated edition of a popular French adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This edition is modeled on Denis Janot’s 1539 edition, and uses many of the same woodcuts. It was printed by and shared with Janot’s successor Etienne Groulleau or Grouleau, who had married Janot’s widow in 1546. I locate no other copies of this Ruelle issue, and a single copy of the Groulleau issue, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (RES P-YC-1628; their identical typesetting has been verified).

The prose text is remote from Ovid’s verse. First published by Romain Morin in Lyon in 1532, under the title Le grand Olympe des Histoires poëtiques du prince de poësie Ovide Naso en sa Metamorphose, this version was directly derived from the Bible des poètes, a moralizing French prose paraphrase of the fables, first published by Vérard in 1493/1494. The text was reprinted several times until the early 1530s, always in folio editions illustrated with large woodcuts, based on those of Vérard. (Vérard’s text was a slightly modified version of that compiled by Colard Mansion from earlier French sources and published in Bruges in 1484, with woodcuts that also inspired Vérard’s.) While the Bible des poètes was heavily laced with allegorical explanations, the Grand Olympe eliminated that commentary: “it basically consists of the text of the Bible des poetes with all the interpretations removed, so that it reads as one long narrative, like the original Metamorphoses. But, apart from some minimal rewriting ... there is no attempt to translate Ovid literally... So what we have ... are the characters and plots of Ovid’s tales, told in language which deliberately avoids figurative expressions ... [in] a plain narrative style which relies very much on dialogue” (Moss, Poetry, p. 42).

The formula proved popular, and of course (like all fables and all Ovid) lent itself to illustrations. Janot’s 1539 edition, printed in roman types in his favored sextodecimo format, with small woodcuts from his stock, has been justly praised (see Firmin-Didot, Brun, Mortimer), and was later imitated. From several different series, the Janot cuts, most of which reappear here, include two openwork Italianate groups of blocks showing the influence of Geoffroy Tory, of which one set exhibits “a perfect mastery of the Italian line” (Mortimer). Famous among these cuts is the Proserpina scene (fol. N4v in this edition), in which Pluto and his horse are printed in solid black, a technique associated with Tory, although used to great effect in several important French illustrated books not related to him (see Mortimer 304, note). The second group of openwork cuts has more awkward figures, with some shading; and the remaining woodcuts are more primitive and rather crude, but charming. Most of these woodblocks had been used by Janot in other editions (“in keeping with the practice of the time” — Rawles, p. 24, q.v. for a complete accounting of the appearances of the woodcuts in Janot’s editions).

No copies appear to survive of a second Janot edition, from 1543, recorded by Duplessis (78) and Brunet, and declared lost by USTC (95472). The present edition is thus the second extant edition of this French prose Ovid to contain the Janot cuts, here winningly integrated into his own edition by his successor, 15 years later. For this edition Groulleau used 88 blocks which had been used in the 1539 edition, as well as 19 other blocks, of which six are from a set not represented in the 1539 Ovid, in which the close hatching and slender figures seem to show the influence of Bernard Salomon. (This would indicate that they were recent additions to Groulleau’s stock, since Salomon’s earliest illustrated book for de Tournes did not appear until 1545.) Oddly, none of the “new” blocks was used more than once, whereas there are 43 repeated impressions of blocks previously used in the 1539 edition.

Firmin-Didot noted that the combination of these different styles of woodcuts in Janot’s Ovid made the book a sort of “resumé” of the progress to date of the art of woodcut book illustration. This edition shares that quality. He furthermore praised Groulleau as “perhaps of all the printers in Paris, the one who produced the prettiest little books illustrated with woodcuts” (col. 159, transl.). Indeed, to our eyes, Groulleau’s edition is more aesthetically unified than Janot’s sometimes haphazard layouts and mixtures of type fonts.

The present copy does not appear to have been offered in Essling’s sales of 1845, 1846, or 1847.

Neither this nor the Groulleau issue is recorded by USTC, Brunet, OCLC, Catalogue collectif de France, etc.

Georges Duplessis, Essai bibliographique sur les différentes éditions des œuvres d'Ovide ornées de planches publiées aux XVe et XVIe siècles (Paris, 1889), no. 91 (this issue); R. Brun, Le Livre français illustré de la Renaissance (1969), pp. 50-51, 263 (Groulleau issue). On the Janot 1539 edition, cf. Harvard / Mortimer French 399, and Rawles, Denis Janot (2018), 105; Firmin-Didot, Essai typographique et bibliographique sur l'histoire de la gravure sur bois (1863), col. 155-160. On the text, see G. Amielle, Recherches sur des traductions françaises des Métamorphoses d'Ovide illustrées et publiées en France à la fin du XVe siècle et au XVIe siècle (1989); A. Moss, Ovid in Renaissance France, A Survey of the Latin Editions of Ovid and Commentaries Printed in France Before 1600 (1982), p. 23-27 & 38; Poetry and Fable: Studies in Mythological Narrative in Sixteenth-Century France (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 41-49; W. Kemp, “Les petits livres français illustrés de Romain Morin (1530-1532) et leurs dérivés immédiats,” in A. Possenti, G. Mastrangelo (éd.), Il Rinascimento a Lione. Actes du Colloque de Macerata (6-11 mai 1985), Montréal, 1988, 465-525.
Item #4318

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