Mashal Hakadmoni [“Proverb of the Ancient”].

Auction 85 | Thursday, November 07th, 2019 at 1:00pm
Fine Judaica: Printed Books, Manuscripts, Graphic & Ceremonial Art

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Lot 128

Mashal Hakadmoni [“Proverb of the Ancient”].

Third edition. Eighty unusual woodcut illustrations (few repeated). Printer’s device on title (Yaari, Printer’s Marks no. 14). ff. 64. Occasional light wear and stains, previous owner’s marks, few small marginal tears and Modern calf, spine gilt. Sm. 4to. Vinograd, Venice 319; Adams I-180 (incomplete); A.M. Habermann, Kiryat Sepher vol. XXIX pp. 199-203; Amram, pp. 367-71.

Venice: Meir Parenzo, c. 1547

Est: $20,000 - $30,000
<<“The illustrated Hebrew book par excellence.”>> A.J. Karp. From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress (1991) p. 125. Rare Venetian edition of a collection of allegories, fables and puns with moral inferences all written in rhymed prose. The book takes the form of a dialogue between the author and an opponent. The opponent attempts to prove that the cultivation of virtue is worthless, while the author defends the necessity of each virtue. Both sides employ animal fables as a means of expressing their ideas. Not only do the animals talk, they actually hold long discourses on matters scientific and philosophical and serve as the mouthpiece of the author’s views on all branches of knowledge. Thus, for example, in one portal, a deer delivers a discourse on the classification of the sciences, and in another, a dog lectures on the principles of psychology. These animals are well versed in the Bible and Talmud and make dexterous references to Biblical verses and Talmudic passages in the subjects under discussion. The use of animal characters is highly untypical in Jewish literature, the author here employs this device in order to deliver the tale’s moral in the clearest way possible. While animals in Christian fables were usually characterized by a single dominant characteristic (the cowardly rabbit, the cunning fox), Ibn Sahula gave the animals in his fables complex characters and highly specific religious tendencies: The birds gather for a minyan in the synagogue; the lion dreams of making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the deer prays three times a day, etc. The first edition of this work was prepared by the Soncino family of printers in Brescia 1491. Meir Parenzo, the printer of the present edition, commissioned an entire new series of woodcuts providing more detail and artistic sophistication. Some eighty woodcut illustrations grace the 64 leaves of this book, with one or two captioned woodcuts to a page. The illustrations were prepared by three different hands. See C. Roth, Jewish Art, cols. 476-77; Pierpont Morgan Library, Hebraica from the Valmadonna Trust (1989) no. 32; National Library of Canada, The Jacob M. Lowy Collection (1981) no. 111; New York Public Library, A Sign and a Witness (1988) no. 181.