ESTIENNE, Robert I. Alphabetum Graecum.

Paris, ex officina Robert Estienne., 1543

Octavo (168 x 112 mm.), 16 unnumbered leaves, woodcut printer's device on title-page.XX century gilt- and blind-stamped pebble-grain leather, spine ends and cover corners worn; contents toned with occasional foxing and soiling. A good copy.The very rare first appearance in printing of the Grec du roi.The son of Henri Estienne, Robert I (1507-59) took over the family press upon his father's death in 1520; he carried on the tradition of great classical printing, with attention to lexicography, philology and the greatest Latin and Greek historians and poets, also publishing eight editiones principes. Alphabetum graecum was first printed in 1528 with a different Greek typeface. It is one of many slim student books that came out of the Estienne press, which reprised, in this case, the popular genre of Greek primers. Like its ideal companion, Alphabetum hebraicum, it featured the Greek alphabet, a short grammar, tables with ligatures, biblical passages and Latin translations.By 1540, Estienne was Royal Printer of Latin, Hebrew and Greek – a title conferred for professional merit or in order to ensure a high-quality supply of books on specific subjects (Costantinidou, ‘Printers', 287). With it came the responsibility of excellence, as Francis I requested of him ‘print books in Greek to be placed in our Libraries', based on manuscript works in the royal collections (Armstrong, ‘Robert Estienne', 52). Estienne commissioned, on the King's behalf (hence Grec du roi), the creation of a new Greek font from one of the best punch-cutters of the time, Claude Garamond, a former pupil of Geoffroy Tory.The resulting typeface – Great Primer or Gros-romain – was first used in this edition of Alphabetum. It was the first of several, based on the handwriting of the Cretan copyist Angelo Vergecio, the copyist and cataloguer of Greek royal manuscripts at Fontainebleau. The typeface displayed an extensive number of variant letters and ligatures, rendering accents, aspirations and abbreviations; these can all be admired in the section on ligatures of Alphabetum. Garamond's successful imitation of Greek handwriting was exalted in Estienne's postscript in his edition of Cicero's Tusculanae disputationes of 1542, which advertised those ‘new and accurately imitated letter forms' soon to debut in print (Vervliet, ‘Greek Printing Types', 394). The success of this first Grec du roi ‘paralleled, even surpassed, the earlier success of the Aldine founts in setting a European pattern', remaining for two hundred years the Greek typeface of choice, whether cast from the original matrices or from imitative ones, at major European printing houses (Ingram, ‘Ligatures', 377).Pettegree & Walsby, French Books, 52761; USTC 140774; Vervliet, ‘Greek Printing Types', n.2. Not in Brunet, Schreiber, The Estiennes, or Renouard, Annales des Estiennes.COPAC locates 1 copy in the UK (Oxford); WorldCat locates 3 copies in the US (Newberry, UMass and Yale).H.D.L. Vervliet, ‘Greek Printing Types of the French Renaissance', in The Palaeotypography of the French Renaissance, 2 vols (Leiden, 2008), I, 383-426; E. Armstrong, Robert Estienne, Royal Printer (Cambridge, 1954); N. Costantinidou, ‘Printers of the Greek Classics and Market Distribution in the 16th Century', in Specialist Markets in the Early Modern Book World, ed. R. Kirwan and S. Mullins (Leiden, 2015), 275-92; W.H. Ingram, ‘The Ligatures of Early Printed Greek', Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 7 (1966), 371-96.



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