Vitae duodecim Vicecomitum Mediolani Principum

Lutetia [Paris] Ex officina Rob. Stephani [Robert Estienne]. 1549.

First edition. 4to. 214x145mm. pp. 199, [1bl]. Ten woodcut portraits making this one of only five illustrated books by Robert Estienne. Beautifully bound for Thomas Wotton in contemporary calf with elaborate gilt and dark brown strapwork with tendrils and leaf motifs in gilt and dark brown inlays. At the centre of both covers is a cartouche framing Thomas Wotton's coat of arms. Rebacked in the late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century with five raised bands, compartments with gilt flower motif, second compartment with morocco label lettered in gilt. All edges gilt, marbled endpapers, front pastedown has the bookplate of Hagley Hall. Housed in a brick-red morocco slipcase. In excellent condition but with a couple of tiny holes and a small mark on the upper cover and a small worm track on the lower cover. Internally very good, a little soiled in places and with the upper margin trimmed.
All bindings made for Thomas Wotton are rare (it is thought that only about 140 survive) and those bearing his cost of arms rather than his name and the Grolieresque "et amicorum" at the centre of each cover are especially so. However, a "Wotton Binding", with its dark brown geometric strapwork, flowing, curvilinear gilt decoration and relatively limited range of tools is so distinctive that it can be identified even without his name or coat of arms. H.M.Nixon identified three groups of Wotton Bindings. The first set date to the 1540s when Wotton first spent time in Paris. This binder "A" ceased business at the end of that decade. Wotton was in Paris again in 1549, 1551 and 1552 and during these visits gave his books to two binders. There is a high degree of similarity between the work done by these binders "B" and "C" over this three year period. However our binding, bearing the coat of arms with no lettering is almost certainly from group "B". The strapwork shares features from all three Wotton binders but the distinctive leaf motifs on our binding are also found on Eusebius Pamphili's Opera at Wormsley which has been dated to 1551 and ours fits with that date.
Paolo Giovio's Life of the Visconti family, the Dukes of Milan forms part of his series of Vitae virorum illustrium published between 1549 and 1557, this volume being the first part. This first edition is perhaps best known now for its splendid woodcut portraits, each signed with a Cross of Lorraine and made from the portraits on the original manuscript in the BNF.

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