VERGILIUS MARO, Publius. Opera cum decem commentis

VERGILIUS MARO, Publius. Opera cum decem commentis, docte et familiariter exposita. The Burne-Jones copy.

[Lyon: Jean Crespin], 1529

£ 4,500

Folio (31.5x22cm); 2 parts in 1; lacking sigs. A at beginning, F4&5, †1-8 at end; modern binding with early calf boards overlaid, panels triple gilt ruled, central gilt ornament within triple gilt ruled frame, rebacked to style, 5 raised bands, compartments double gilt ruled with ornamentation, gilt title and year of publication; cracking on spine and along joints, worn and scratched, some worm trails making the inner board visible; marbled pastedowns, label to front pastedown of the library of Edward Burne-Jones, ink ownership marking ‘E. Burne-Jones. London. 1884.’; small roman double column commentary surrounding single column text, some pencil annotations; marginal repairs throughout the volume, spotting affecting text in places, and water staining to gutter and margins in parts, light worming to last few leaves; some early ink annotations to margins, 193 fine woodcuts within text, most of them half page, numerous woodcut decorative initials. The commentary is substantially that of the 1517 edition with the ‘Castigationes, & varietates Virgilianae lectionis’ of Giovanni Pierio Valeriano Bolzani added.

One of the most lavishly illustrated works of the sixteenth century, this work comprises 193 large woodcuts accompanying the works of Virgil. The woodcuts are the same Strasbourg blocks used in Jacque Sacon’s 1517 Lyons edition, designed for Johann Grüninger. It is ‘crowded with wonderful pictures, in which on the very eve of the Renaissance Virgil is thoroughly medievalized” (Pollard, Fine Books, p.112). Grüninger’s artist applied a skilled hand a vivid imagination and, although showing some wear and some having been replaced by repetitions of other scenes, these illustrations remain a major artistic endeavour. “The extremely detailed interpretation of the text by means of images implies a thorough knowledge of Virgil’s text, while the resulting visual narrative, in addition to the textual understanding supplied by the Latin writing, creates a striking and absorbing display” (Frick, Visual Narrative, p.241).

It comes as no surprise, the provenance of this book being the library of Edward Burne-Jones (1833 – 1898). A Pre-Raphaelite painter, Burne-Jones “rejected the industrial world of the Victorians, looking instead for inspiration from medieval art, religion, myths and legends. He made spectacular works depicting Arthurian knights, classical heroes and Biblical angels – working across painting, stained glass, embroidery, jewellery and more. With his friend William Morris he was a pioneer of the arts and crafts movement, which aimed to bring beautiful design to everyone” (Tate). Burne-Jones was also an illustrator, producing works in the same vein as his paintings with the Kelmscott Press between 1892 and 1898. No doubt inspired by some of the late medieval woodcut illustration of this Virgil, his works transport the viewer into a mystical past, not only on of aesthetic similarity but directly from the essence of his images.

USTC 203548; Adams V474; Redgrave: Bibliographica II. 47-60 ill.; Mortimer French 538; Brun, p. 322.