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Hubert Goltzius 'Icones'

Item Reference: BKS1146

Hubert Goltzius 'Icones'

Goltzius, Hubert. Icones, Vitæ Et Elogia Imperatorum Romanorum, Ex Priscis Numismatibus Ad Vivum Delineatæ, Et Brevi Narratione Historica Illustratæ Per Hubertum Goltzium. Antwerp, Hieronymus Verdussen, 1678. Folio, pp. engraved title page by Cornelis Galle after Peter Paul Rubens dated 1645, title printed in red and black with the Verdussens’s woodcut vignette below, xiv, (2), 423, (5); woodcut vignette to final leaf, woodcut initials throughout, 160 striking chiaroscuro plates featuring depictions of Roman rulers over 153 exceptional full page chiaroscuro plates (8 of which are blank). With the printing device of the Plantin-Moretus Press (LABORE ET CONSTANTIA) on the recto of the final leaf.

Contents wonderfully fresh and bright throughout. Bound in full calf, ruled in blind on each cover, expertly rebacked with the original laid on, five raised bands, gilt in compartment. Marbled page edges. From the library of both the Earl of Kintore and Phiroze Randeira with the engraved armorial ex-libris of the former on the first pastedown and the beautifully etched ex-libris of the latter on the opposite leaf. A magnificent copy of this very rare and important book.

Dekesel (G101) Only one location cited, Brussels, Koninklijke Bibliotheek Albert I

Hubert Goltzius (1526-1583), frequently referred to as the ‘Father of Ancient Numismatics’, originally trained as a painter before moving to Antwerp in 1546. It was at this time that he turned his attention towards trading in Greek and Roman coins as well as antiquities and printing. It was also shortly after this, in 1549, that Christoffel Plantin started to devote himself to the printing profession and started the now world-famous Plantin Press which was later to become heavily involved in the widespread distribution of Goltzius’ landmark works.

A capable dealer, Goltzius became more heavily interested in coins and perhaps noticing an opportunity, took the decision to write comprehensively on the subject. He travelled extensively for research, gaining access to some of the major collections of the time before publishing this first work, ‘Icones’ at the age of 31 in 1557.

This was the first comprehensively researched numismatic publication written by an author who had actually seen and handled the coins in question and was evidently well received, being published almost consecutively in six languages; Latin, German, Tuscan, Italian, French and Spanish. Of particular note are the plates in this, his first publication.

Goltzius was one of the first publishers to use the Chiaroscuro technique and the end result is particularly striking. It is widely believed that it was Goltzius himself who engraved the 133 plates in the first edition, as it is unlikely that he could have afforded to pay another artist to do so at that time. During his lifetime Goltzius wrote and published an astonishing 10 folio books as well as one quarto and his work remained the authority on Greek and Roman numismatics for the next 200 years. His influence was widespread and many of the numismatic publications produced in the following centuries make reference to his ground-breaking work.

The edition listed here is exceptionally rare, being a re-issued edition (in very small number) of a 1645 reprint which was originally issued by Plantin. Upon Goltzius’ death in 1583 the engraver, author and numismatist Jacob de Bie bought the remainder of Goltzius’ stock which he kept until he was declared bankrupt in 1623. He subsequently sold them onto Peter Paul Rubens who, as well as being a celebrated artist, was, unlike De Bie, a shrewd businessman and close friend of the Plantin family.

Rubens stored this stock for some time before selling them onto Balthasar Moretus (then head of the Plantin Press) in 1630.

Moretus took the decision to re-issue the book in 1645 with a new frontispiece which was engraved after a design produced by Rubens himself and with plates recut by Christofffel Jegherendorf. At least a thousand of the new frontispieces were produced which gives an indication of the number of copies issued (or at least planned for issue) at the time, although Dekesel (G99) lists only 63 copies.

It is unknown when and for how much Verdussen acquired the Plantin’s stock but in 1678 a ‘new’ edition of Icones appeared consisting of the Plantin’s 1645 printing with a new title page depicting the Verdussen’s woodcut - and it is this edition which is listed here.

The exact number of these produced is unknown although it is safe to suppose that the number was very low as Dekesel (G101) lists only one copy found. It was, at this time relatively inexpensive for a new title page to be produced and as such it is entirely possible that this edition was produced specifically for one person in order to provide a ‘unique’ edition for a special client.

A wonderful title with a fascinating history and exceptionally rare thus.