Browsing our rare books shelves, I came across two red leather slipcases marked “Exemplaire de Marguerite de Valois”. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened the cases to discover two small but exquisite volumes of the 16th century knight’s tale, “Amadis de Gaula”. Each volume is beautifully bound in 16th century Parisian morocco, lavishly decorated with gilt wreaths, small flowers and thistles.
A little research identified these volumes as once belonging to the library of the Venetian diplomat, Pietro Duodo (1554-1611), the binding’s provenance being established by the distinctive stamps used: the upper cover contains the armorial crest of the Duodo family; the lower displays Pietro Duodo’s personal motto, “Expectata non eludet” (“She whom I await with longing will not elude me”).
From 1594 to 1597, Duodo served as ambassador to King Henry IV in Paris, and took advantage of his residency to accumulate a gentleman’s travelling library of 90 works in 133 volumes. He commissioned a Parisian workshop to produce richly decorated, personalised bindings that were colour-coded by subject: literary works were finished in olive-brown morocco; theology, philosophy and history in red; and medical titles bound in citron.
The ambassador never had the opportunity to enjoy his library – he was unexpectedly recalled to Venice in 1597 and was unable to collect the books. They remained in Paris, packed away and untouched for two centuries, until rediscovered during the French Revolution. The volumes were mistakenly attributed to the library of Marguerite de Valois, possibly due to the ornamental daisies on the covers, and were immediately highly prized by collectors. Pietro Duodo was not identified as the true owner until 1925, long after his library had been dispersed.