French Decorative Bookbinding - Sixteenth Century

l'atelier des reliures LOUIS XII et FRANÇOIS Ie
the decorative bookbindings from the workshops of Louis XII and Francis I

click to enlarge

Comparative Diagram 1 - early and middle period bindings from the atelier of Louis XII

(click on the image to see an enlargement)

In the past few weeks we have been reviewing the claim by various authors and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, that the atelier of Simon Vostre was the first French bindery to make regular use of gold tooled decoration, and more specifically that all the bindings previously referred to as reliures Louis XII, or the atelier de Louis XII, were actually made by the atelier of Simon Vostre. This idea was originally proposed by Jacques Guinard in 1966, and was in opposition to the 1933 proposal of Emile Dacier, who suggested that the bindings were made by an atelier situated in Blois. I have gone to great lengths to show that there is no evidence to support Guignard's propositions, no evidence that Simon Vostre ever owned any of the tools that were used on the Louis XII bindings, and no evidence of these tools in the bindings of Pierre Roffet, a proof offered by Guignard that can shown to be incorrect. When someone proposes such an important theory they should have at least several pieces of incontestable evidence, instead Guignard did not manage to produce anything that can stand as a sort of proof of Vostre's involvement. Meanwhile there is a mountain of evidence to indicate that such a theory is very unlikely. The fact that most of the bindings in question are found on books that had nothing to do with Vostre, or the fact that none of the tools that were used in to decorate these bindings were ever found among Vostre's equipment, purchased after his demise by Pierre Roffet, or the fact that bindings found on Vostre's books are usually decorated with large plaques, which was the quick and easy way to handle the mass production of Books of Hours, The history of which has been clearly detailed by G. D. Hobson in 1933. If you read Guignard's papers on this subject carefully you will discover that even he was not completely convinced, and suggested that further investigations were necessary. So how did the Simon Vostre myth/conspiracy happen? Just recently I think I may have found the answer.
In his 1999 publication entitled Renaissance Book Collecting, Anthony Hobson stated on page 9 in reference to the Catullus binding (shown above No. 1):

Clearly the book was decorated and bound before Grolier's first visit to Italy, but it is not necessary to conclude that the binding is exactly contemporary with the date of printing, nor - though the tooled ornament is extremely rough - that it was Simon Vostre's first essay at gilding. The Italian fashion of gilt-tooling was disseminated by Italian scholars in Northern countries and often first brought into use on their presentation copies to prospective patrons. What could well be Simon Vostre's first gilt-tooled work is to be seen on the manuscript of Fausto Andrelini's poem of 1507 celebrating the French capture of Genoa, perhaps bound for presentation to Louis XII.

Here is the source of the myth and a huge blunder by Hobson who is such a well known authority that he can charge high prices for his books of rather mediocre quality (poor quality black and white images), that he obviously never bothered to have edited, or are books decorated before they are bound? Only a huge authority can make huge mistakes which then enter into text books and are repeated by minor experts and librarians for centuries. Hobson should know better by now, than to write n'importe quoi as the French say! His statements here derive from another of his books, that we need to refer to (buy) for more information. In chapter 8 of his 1990 publication Humanists and Bookbinders Hobson states:

The first French shop to make a regular practice of tooling in gilt was active in the same decade (1500-1510). It has been given various names, among them the 'atelier de Blois' and the 'atelier des reliures Louis XII'. Nixon proved that it must have been situated in Paris and not in proximity to the French court and the royal library at Blois as had previously been suggested. His view was confirmed by Guignard, who provided convincing evidence that the shop's owner was the Parisian bookseller and publisher of printed 'Horae' Simon Vostre.

This is Hobson's first most obvious mistake, Guignard provided little evidence, let alone convincing evidence, he himself was not convinced! If Hobson had of researched this issue he would have known that the atelier of Simon Vostre was the most unlikely choice of candidates for this bindery Even his own father Geoffrey Dudley Hobson carefully explained in a lengthy 1933 article entitled Parisian Binding 1500-1525, that the Parisian booksellers such as Vostre, were busy mass producing plaque bindings to meet the heavy demand for their Books of Hours and had no time for small tools and or intricate laborious decoration such as required by gold-tooling. Paris was one of the last places where gold tooling appeared. Further to this Nixon ('Wingfield'1974) indicated that Guignard's theory concerning Vostre tools in Pierre Roffet's bindings was a fabrication and this was his only "proof' of a link to Vostre. Still Hobson continues...

The shop's first securely datable gilt binding is on a manuscript poem by Fausto Andrelini dedicated to Louis XII and celebrating his capture of Genoa (fig 139 is the binding in question). It must have been written and bound in 1507, the year the french took the city. this seems to be Simon Vostre's first essay in gold-tooling.

This is another of Hobson's errors, just looking at this binding (the larger of the two bindings shown at the top of this page) compared with the other Louis XII bindings, it is very obvious that the elaborate Andelini binding would not have been the first. Further to this, when we research the history of the writings of Andrelini, we find that there are no records of Andrelini writing any such poem in 1507. Below is a list of his writings in this period:

Deploratio de morte Petri Coardi, 1505

Epistolae proverbiales et morales, 1508

De regia in Genuenses victoria libri tres, 1509

Epistola in qua Anna gloriosissima Francorum regina exhortatur maritum regem Ludovicum duodecimum ut expectatum in Galliam adventum maturet posteaquam de prostratis a se Venetis triumphavit, 1510

Only in 1509 did he produce any works of a similar nature, the 1509 De regia in Genuenses victoria libri tres, is obviously of the same subject. This is confirmed in the biography of Publio Fausto Andrelini by Robert Weiss found in the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani - Volume 3 (1961)

Nel 1502 l'A. ricevette la naturalizzazione francese, privilegio allora raro. Proprio in questo, periodo egli cercò di conquistarsi la protezione del cardinale Giorgio d'Amboise, in cui onore scrisse i De gestis Legati, pubblicati probabilmente nel 1503, dove mise particolarmente in rilievo gli intenti di riforma ecclesiastica del prelato. Sempre nel 1502 l'A. corse il pericolo di essere ferito da Alfonso d'Este, allora a Parigi, per alcuni versi diretti contro Battista Mantovano nel poemetto sulla battaglia di Fornovo, versi che erano spiaciuti anche al marchese di Mantova. Al punto che nel 1504 il D'Atri e l'Equicola visitarono l'A. e gli fecero promettere di sopprimere tali versi in future edizioni. Grazie al favore reale l'A. diventò verso il 1505 canonico di Bayeux. Al 1508 appartengono le Epistolae morales, cioè una serie di lettere latine ad uso degli studenti con esempi di latinità classica e discussioni morali, dove è evidente l'influsso degli Adagia di Erasmo e del commento all'Etica aristotelica del Lefèvre d'Étaples, ed all'anno seguente (1509) il poemetto in tre libri sulla conquista di Genova, nonché quello dove la regina Anna lamenta l'assenza del marito impegnato nelle guerre d'Italia.

On a previous page we have been studying the chronological importance of certain tools that have been employed in the decoration of the atelier Louis XII bindings. We noted a number of Italianate tools arriving around 1509 this coincides with the binding of Andrelini's manucript that may be from 1509 or later, but certainly is not the first gold tooled binding from this shop that appears in no way connected to Simon Vostre.

It is the most Italianate of the shop's early bindings - indeed some of the tools were almost certainly imported from Italy. They include one of two dolphins diving on either side of a fountain, indistinguishable from stamps found in Rome, Venice and milan, a foliate border tool and a lozenge-shaped ornament which in Italy would have been used as a centerpiece. To this core of imported tools were later added others engraved in Paris, including blocks of the royal arms and emblems. But though the binder was supplied with Italianate tools, he was evidently not given an Italian model to copy. he arranged them - the dolphins upside down - in the French manner in vertical strips, side by side that would have looked very foreign to Venetian or Milanese eyes.

click to enlarge

Comparative Diagram 2 - Italian 16c binding vs reliure Louis XII

(click on the image to see an enlargement)

click to enlarge

Comparative Diagram 3 - atelier Louis XII imprint 'O' vs Italian imprints

(click on the image to see a 600 dpi enlargement)

In Comparative Diagram 3, I show the 'O' imprint from the Andrelini binding flanked with two Italian examples, the red leather example is from a Venetian binding. The Italian imprints look very similar but are not identical to the Andrelini imprints, the two Italian imprints appear however nearly identical, possibly this tool was mass produced in Italy and the model copied in France. Only a large collection and thorough comparative study of these imprints may reveal whether this tool was imported directly from Italy.

Hobson has made some serious mistakes here and the Bibliothèque nationale de France appears to be his first victim... and then this author of fanstay history relates yet another bit of total fiction: 'It seems probable that it was at Andrelini's suggestion that Simon Vostre equipped himself with fresh tools and started using them in gilt"... n'importe quoi!

Click on this link to return to the Inventory page

about the author VIRTUAL BOOKBINDING