29 January: Mme Isabelle de Conihout (Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris) spoke at the Seminar on the History of the Book about ‘The beginning of collecting printed chivalric romances in seventeenth-century France’ She discussed the collection of Daniel Dumonstier (1574-1646), painter, collector of natural history and musical instruments, and of books. He had an especially good collection of chivalric romances, the stories of valiant knights such as Amadis de Gaule and King Arthur. In his copy of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, (Venice: Vincenzo Valgrisi, 1560), recently acquired by the Bibliotheque Mazarine with the help of the Breslauer Foundation, he wrote a “Catalogue de tous mes romans” subdivided into 56 French, 11 Italian and 14 Spanish. It contains some 80 titles of mostly chivalric romances; the medieval component is very noticeable, with 35 Gothic romances out of 72 known titles; what he did not collect were sentimental romances in translation, mock-heroic and antiquity romances.
Dumonstier’s list raises the question of how to evaluate his collection of romances, as it was generally thought that collecting chivalric romances, after a continuous interest during the 15th and 16th centuries, disappeared in the 17th century, only to start again in the 18th century by amateurs and continue in the 19th century by bibliophiles. Was he old-fashioned, or ahead of his time?
The books we own reveal our tastes in many ways, not only by their titles but by how we keep them. Another peculiarity of Dumonstier’s collection is that he wrote his ex-libris in manuscript not only on the first leaf, but also along and across the fore-edges of his books, a medieval custom completely out of use by his time.
His books were auctioned in 1646; 13 books can still be found today in the Mazarine.
— from Cristina Dondi.
The Seminar on the History of the Book is convened by Prof. Ian Maclean at All Souls College.