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Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Printed on paper; paper binding over board; bookplate of Dr Georg Kloss inside front board.
The 'Argonautica' tells the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and was traditionally ascribed to Orpheus, the mythical Thracian poet, although it was actually a much later poem, heavily dependent on the version by Apollonius Rhodius (third century BC). Holbein (1497/8-1543) first designed this title-page metalcut border in 1521, when the printer Andreas Cratander used it on an edition of Lactantius. It was subsequently used in other works, including this volume printed in 1523. Holbein’s complex architectural design features an arched building with a base bearing Roman medallion heads. In the bottom centre stand two putti supporting a shield showing Cratander’s printer’s device of the figure of 'Occasio' (Opportunity); on the left-hand side stands the Roman matron Lucretia, with a dagger at her breast; on the right stands Judith with the head of Holofernes. The central panel containing the text is surmounted by a triangular pediment, surrounded by five putti. Lucretia, as narrated by Livy ('History of Rome', 1, 57-60), committed suicide after being raped by Sextus, son of the last tyrannical King of Rome, Tarquin the Proud; her suicide was the immediate cause of the revolution that led to the downfall of the monarchy in Rome and the establishment of the Republic. Judith, as told in the Book of Judith (8-16), originally part of the Old Testament, first stupefied Holofernes with wine and then beheaded him, in order to prevent his army from attacking Israel.
Catalogue entry adapted from 'The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein', London 2011.