Engraved Portrait of Spinoza, bound with Opera Posthuma
Amsterdam, circa 1677
Quarto. (40), 614, (34), 112, (8) pp. Bound with the original free end-papers in well-executed 20th century quarter calf and marbled boards, with four raised bands, gilt title-label and gilt ornaments to spine. Textblock edges a bit browned. Copper engraved portrait of Spinoza(after leaf 20). Overall Near Fine.
The portrait is somewhat browned and has a tiny repair to the lower outer corner of the blank margin, and a small tape repair on the verso of the upper right corner – neither affecting the plate. A dynamic image of the iconic philosopher and a tremendous scarcity.
Provenance: Ownership inscription on title page of Samuel Parr(1747-1825), an influential English literary figure who was widely involved in intellectual and political life.
According to a handwritten note to front paste down, the book was bound by A.N.L. Munby(1913-1974). He worked in the rare book trade at Quaritch and Sotheby's before becoming Librarian at King's College, Cambridge in 1947.
Opera Posthuma(1677) features the first printing of Ethics - Spinoza’s critique of the traditional philosophical conceptions of God, humanity and the universe, and of the religions and the theological and moral beliefs grounded thereupon – the first systematic exposition of Pantheism. The book received venomous reviews: “A book which…surpasses all others in godlessness and which endeavors to do away with all religion and set godlessness on the throne.”
The portrait displays the dates of Spinoza's birth and death(born:11/24/1632, Amsterdam - died: 2/21/1677, The Hague). Spinoza appears in a circular frame above a pedestal that bears his name and a Latin poem:
“He to whom nature, God and the cosmic order of things were known,
Here he, Spinoza, may be contemplated.
Only his visage is displayed, but to portray his mind
Even the artistry of Zeuxidis would not suffice.
Seek that out in his written words, where he treats of things sublime.
Who wishes to know him, read his works.”
Possibly authored by Lodewijk Meijer(1629-1681) or Johannes Bouwmeester(1630-1680), both intimate friends of Spinoza.
Known as the “Opera portrait,” Spinoza scholars consider it(along with the Herzog August Library’s painting of him) as the only accurate portrait of the famed philosopher – comporting with the few contemporary descriptions of his appearance which emphasize his modest stature, dark eyes and dark curly hair.
Jan Rieuwertsz the Younger(1651/2-1723), the son of the printer of Spinoza's works, informed two young German scholars who were sent from Halle to the Netherlands in 1704 to learn more about Spinoza’s life, Gottlieb Stolle and Dr. Hallmann, about the history of this portrait and the poem. Rieuwertsz said that the portrait had been made 3 to 4 years after Spinoza's death. He didn’t know the author of the Latin poem - or he didn’t want to say, but he knew that Spinoza's friends quarreled about its contents.
The portrait’s rarity is primarily due to this Spinoza’s banned status – sellers and owners of his work faced punishment. Including it(on which the name of the author is mentioned) in the anonymously published Opera would certainly put one in further jeopardy. Consequently, the portrait is seldom found in the existing copies of Spinoza's magnum opus – either in the Latin or Dutch versions. Jan Rieuwertsz the Younger had been arrested himself in May 1695 for selling Spinoza's works, and in the same month the notorious bookseller Timotheus ten Hoorn was arrested for the same reason and fined. Also, its creation via etching was a more complicated and costly technique - limiting the number of copies produced.
This is a significant, compelling rarity of Spinoza material.
Radical Enlightenment, Israel
Spinoza im Porträt, E. Altkirch
A Unique Copy of Spinoza's Nagelate Schriften, Thomas Carson Mark