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SPECULUM VITAE HUMANAE
Strassburg: J. Prüss, 1507. Hardcover. 285 x 200 mm (11 1/4 x 8"). 14 p.l., 91, [1] leaves (the last blank). Contemporary limp vellum, flat spine with two brown leather squares stitched on, ink titling, no pastedowns (allowing a very good view into the binding structure). With large foliated and historiated woodcut initials throughout. Inner front cover with bookplate of the James V. Brown Library; front flyleaf with faded early ink inscription and a number of calligraphic flourishes; head of title with heavily struck through early inscription, its iron gall ink causing three small holes in the leaf. Adams R-646; Proctor 9981. Vellum somewhat stained and rumpled, two small tears to spine, but the original binding sound and pleasing as an unlikely survival. Very faint browning throughout, more noticeable in three or four quires, occasional light dampstain to tail margin, intermittent minor foxing or smudges, last (blank) leaf trimmed an inch or so along fore edge, but still an excellent copy, the thick, textured leaves generally clean and crisp. One of the most popular books in the early years of printing, this "mirror of the human condition" offers an intriguing sociological look at that period by examining the joys and consolations as well as the perils and adversities of every personal station and occupation. The first part of the book deals with laymen, from emperors to common folk, and the second discusses the various hierarchies of the Church, from pope to lowly monk. In perhaps the most interesting sections of the book, Sanchez discusses such varied occupations as soldier, judge, farmer, lawyer, notary, cloth maker, armorer, hunter, shepherd, physician, merchant, mathematician, astronomer, musician, and actor, presenting a fascinating analysis of contemporary society. Coming at his subject a different way, he also covers marriage, praising the institution in one chapter, but following this with another "On the Miseries of Spouses." In a piece of eternal wisdom, Sanchez observes that every station in life has its vicissitudes, suggesting that no one is completely happy, and everyone would be best off accepting whatever fate has bestowed. Rodrigo Sanchez de Arevalo (1404-70) was a lawyer in Salamanca before entering the church, a successful career move that culminated in a number of important positions at the papal curia. He became one of the first living authors to have a book published when Sweynham and Pannartz printed "Speculum Vitae Humane" in 1468. Our edition of the work is of particular interest because it was prepared by two friends of Erasmus, Johann von Blotzheim and Jakob Wimpfeling, and enjoyed the support of the local Strassburg humanists. In an early version of the promotional blurbs that appear on today's book jackets, this work contains recommendations in verse form from such prominent humanists as Sebastian Brant and Beatus Rheanus, apparently solicited by the enterprising publisher. The present volume also allows us a closer view of early Renaissance bookbinding: the lack of pastedowns gives us a clear view into the inner works, including bands, stitching, and a scrap of Medieval manuscript lining the spine. The two squares of leather on the spine are stiched to inner bands, and serve a structural as well as a decorative function. While one would probably consider this a modest book in terms of aesthetic values, its pleasing typeface--with unusually large, rounded, even elegant letters--and the liberal use of woodcut initials make this an attractive volume. Ours seems to be the first post-incunabular printing of this text and is rare: since 1975, ABPC lists three copies at auction (including this one), the last selling in 1988.
      [Bookseller: Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Mediev]
Last Found On: 2013-11-29           Check availability:      Biblio    

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