A compact edition, with an unrecorded imprint, of the most popular of all Christian devotionals, the Imitation of Christ, printed at Paris by Ambroise Girault about 1530. Known in more than 210 manuscripts antedating the handpress era, with dozens of stemmae, at least 76 incunable editions in nine languages, and countless later editions (Maximilian von Hapsburg counts 745 expressions before 1650), the Imitatio Christi represents the flagship work of the second wave of the pious Devotio moderna movement, and Thomas à Kempis, its enduring voice. But historians have had to fight to rightfully attach his name as author. The Imitatio, divided into four books of focused spiritual contemplation and published anonymously in 1418, had been variously attributed for five and half centuries to Jean Charlier de Gerson, Bonaventure, Pope Innocent III, Thomas himself, and others, until L.M.J. Delaisse's 1950's discovery and examination of an original autograph manuscript (c1441), his exhaustive study, and his conclusive verdict of Thomas as author. Our libellus edition, with authorship attributed to Gerson, chancellor of the University of Paris, was originally thought to have been shared by three Paris publishers: Enguilbert de Marnef, Jean Petit, and Jean Saint-Denis; our copy, recently come to light, is the first evidence that the industrious printer Ambroise Girault also shared in the publication. Girault's distinctive pelican woodcut device (a variant of one used by de Marnef) graces the title, and the verso of the last leaf bears a woodcut of the martrydom of St. Quentin, imagery also associated with Girault's publishing concern: his atelier c1530 was called the Saint-Quentin workshop. A very good copy of an unrecorded edition of the Imitatio, worth examination in the light of Paris publishing practices, and the renewed interest in devotional literature in the 1530s.
Full title: ❧DE IMITA | tione Chriſti libellus/ a Joanne Gerſon do- | ctore theologo/ nec non eccleſie Pari- | ſienſis cancellario editus:om- | nibus Chriſti fidelibus | ſumme neceſarius. | 12 | [Ambroise Girault's woodcut pelican device] [Paris, Ambroise Girault, c1530]
Paris: Ambroise Girault, c1530.
Octavo, 136 x 98 x 19 mm (binding), 134 x 96 x 18 mm (text block); a-m8 =  ff. Eighteenth-century vellum jaspé, titled in gilt on maroon morocco skiver lettering-piece: GERSON | DE | IMITAT | CHRISTI. Vellum worn at extremities; covers a trifle concave; head and tail caps chipped; binding structurally sound. Interior: leaves slightly toned; minor spotting passim; pale transparent damp to head fore-corners of final two gatherings. A few deckles preserved.
Delaisse, L.M.J., Le manuscript autogaphe de Thomas a Kempis et limitation de Jésus-Christ; examen archéologique et edition diplomatique du Bruxellensis 5855-61, University of Louvain, dissertation, Paris: Éditions Érasme, 1956; Hyma, Albert. The Christian Renaissance: A History of the Devotio Moderna (1380-1520), Grand Rapids: Reformed Press, 1924; Ampe, Albert, L'Imitation de Jésus-Christ et son auteur, Rome: Editions de storia et letteratura, 1973. cf. Delaveau-Sordet, 75; Moreau III 2153 (Saint-Denis, de Marnef, and Petit issues); Renouard, Marques, no. 370. Also see Pettegree and USTC, under title Imitatione de Christi libellus, for a census of copies.