The Most Sumptuous Book on Fencing ever produced
Academie de l'Espee ... ou se demonstrent per reigles mathematiques sur le fondement d'un cercle mysterieux le theorie et pratique des vrais et jusqu'a present incognus secrets du maniement des armes a pied et a cheval.
Leiden: Elzevier, 1628.
1st Edition. Hardcover. Large Folio. Very Good. Item #003627
1628-1630. Two parts in one volume. Large folio (540 x 405 mm). Engraved title, portrait of the author, preliminaries including a dedication leaf to emperor and princes, 9 leaves of engraved plates showing the coats-of-arms of the dedicatees, privilege leaf of King Louis XIII and the States-General of the Netherlands, additional imperial privilege leaf of Ferdinand II in Latin, epigramma and applausus leaf; an unnumbered leaf "Advertissement au lecteur" with colophon bound at end, 46 plates of fencing (45 double-page and mounted on stub) interleaved with explanatory text, woodcut initials, head- and tailpieces. The work is divided into 33 sections in the first part, and 13 sections in the second, each separately paginated and preceded by an engraved plate. Bound in early 19th century half red morocco over marbled boards, blind-tooled and gilt-lettered spine (extremities rubbed, corners worn and bumped, leather and paper over boards little cratched), marbled endpapers. Text with little uneven browning, minor occasional spotting, plate II in the second part incorrectly bound and inserted after plate II in the first part, plate I of second part slightly smaller in size, clean tear and small hole in plate VI of part II, short clean tear in plate XXXIII of part I repaired, long clean tear in plate XIII of part 2 repaired, plate XX (part I) and plate XI (part II) with light water staining to lower corners, 3 leaves (Latin privilege, epigramma and colophon) with paper repairs to blank margins. Provenance. from a private Swedish collection (bookplate to front pastedown). Complete with the 15 preliminary leaves, the final advert/colophon leaf and 46 engraved plates. ----
FIRST EDITION, AND EXCEPTIONALLY RARE IF COMPLETE AS HERE. Berghman, after 20 years of research, could only identify 5 copies, all defective (Berghman 687). "Can be reckoned, without exception, the most elaborate treatise on swordsmanship, and probably one of the most marvellous printed works extant" (Castle). Brunet gives the place of publication as Anvers, but the name of printer and place of impression can be found in the colophon leaf which also gives the year of publication with 1630 (the title page is dated 1628). On this leaf, there is also the announcement of the death of the author. The part of the work relating to the exercise on horseback was never published. Our copy well conforms to the digitized copy at Biblioteca Patrimonial of Universitat de Barcelona.
The Academie de l'Espee is the finest publication of the Elzevir press, and one of the 17th-century's most lavish publications. Gerard Thibault was born at Antwerp around 1574 and followed other members of his family into the wool trade. In about 1603, he was living at Sanlucar de Barrameda, south of Seville, where he learned the mathematical method of fencing taught by the famous Luis Pacheco de Narvaez. Thibault further refined and elaborated on this system and, soon after returning to Flanders in 1611, presented himself and his system to the Dutch fencing masters assembled at Rotterdam for a competition. After further demonstrations to Prince Maurice and Prince Henry, he conceived of the idea for his book. Thibault's system is based on the 'mystic circle', a diagram drawn on the floor within a circle, the radius of which is in accurate proportion to the stature of the fencer and the length of his sword. The circle was marked according to the probabilities of strokes and parries, and one contestant was intended to traverse from one intersection to the next. If this stepping was done correctly, the result was a foregone victory, and if both contestants followed the system, they could fence without fear of injury. The book was produced during a period when the Italian rapier (or epee) held sway. "The Italians discovered the effectiveness of the dexterous use of the point rather than the edge of the sword. By the end of the 16th century, their lighter weapon [. . .] and simple, nimble, and controlled fencing style, emphasizing skill and speed rather than force, spread throughout Europe. Most of the wrestling tricks [used in earlier disciplines] were abandoned, the lunge was discovered, and fencing became established as an art" (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
The unnumbered plates consist of: title page engraved by Schelte van Bolswert and Gerard Gauw (the latter responsible for the lettering); portrait of the author engraved after a painting by D. Bailly; 9 unsigned dedication plates. The numbered plates are the work of 16 different engravers from Amsterdam, The Hague, Haarlem, Leiden, Delft, Utrecht, and Germany and nearly all on double leaves (apart from plate II in the first sequence). They are engraved by Johann Gelle (6 plates), Claes Pietersz. Lastman (3 plates), Crispijn van de Passe (1 plate), Andries Jacobsz. Stock (3 plates), Adriaen Matham (4 plates), Egbert van Panderen (4 plates), Robert Baudous (1 plate), Peter Iselburg (1 plate), Willem Delff (3 plates), Pieter van Serwouters (3 plates), Schelte Bolswert (4 plates), Crispyn van de Queboren (5 plates), Boëce van Bolswert (2 plate), Salomon Savery (3 plates), Pieter de Jode (1 plate) and Jacob van der Borcht (1 plate). 1 plate is unsigned. Two plates are enlarged copies of emblematic engravings in praise of fencing which Michel le Blon had produced for Thibault around 1615.
References: Willems 302; Brunet V, 815; Lipperheide 2960; Vigeant p.125; J. Gelli, Bibliografia generale della scherma, 1895, pp. 448-52; C.A.Thimm, A complete bibliography of fencing & duelling, 1898, p.287; Hofer, Baroque Book Illustration 124; Castle, Schools and Masters of Fence; Berghman 687 (after 20 years of research could only identify 5 copies, all defective).
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