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A: Paris, Île-de-France, France

"Les neuf preux," A Unique Copy of an Intermediate Form Between a Collection of Prints and a Blockbook

Circa 1460 to 1465

It appears that no blockbooks (block books) in the literal sense were published in France in the 15th century. An example of an intermediate form between a collection of prints and a blockbook printed in France about 1465 was a collection of three woodcuts with text, printed on one side of three sheets, entitled Les neuf preux. This is known from a single copy preserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The unique copy appears to not undergone significant scholarly research. The only account of the prints of which I am familiar is that from Duff published in 1893. He wrote:

"It consists of three sheets of paper, each of which contains an impression from a block containing three figures. They are printed by means of the frotton in light-coloured ink, and have been coloured by hand. The first sheet contains pictures of the three champions of classical times, Hector, Alexander, and Julius Caesar; the second the three champions of the Old Testament, Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeaeus; the third, the three champions of mediaeval history, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Boulogne. Under each picture is a stanza of six lines, all rhyming, cut in a body type.

"These leaves form part of the Armorial of Gilles le Bouvier, who was King-at-Arms to Charles VII of France; and as the manuscript was finished between 9th November 1454 and 22 September 1457, it is reasonable to suppose that the prints were executed in France, probably at Paris, before the latter date. The verses are, at any rate, the oldest printed specimen of the French language" (Duff, Early Printed Books (1893) 17-18).

The unique copy of the prints called Les neuf preux is described by Ursula Baurmeister in Catalogue des incunables de la Bibliothèque nationale de France (CIBN), Vol. 1, fascicule 1 (Xylographes) no. NN-1.

The Armorial of Gilles le Bouvier is BnF Ms. fr. 4985.

In "Prints in the Early Printing Shops," Parshall (ed) The Woodcut in Fifteenth-Century Europe (2009) 39-91 Paul Needham discusses publications related to Les neuf preux, but does not mention the specific woodcuts and text.

NOTE: When I returned to this entry in September 2020 I was unable to find any images of the unique prints in BnF Ms fr. 4985. This was evidently an instance in which it was probably necessary to visit the BnF to see the actual manuscript.

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