Recently discovered during an appraisal, a book from Montaigne’s large library in the tower of his Dordogne château sparked a bidding war.
Plutarque (vers 46-120), Les Vies des hommes illustres grecs & romains comparées l’une avec l’autre par Plutarque de Cheronée translatées premièrement de grec en françois par Maistre Jacques Amyot lors abbé de Bellozane, …, in-folio, Paris, Michel Vascosan, 1565, ruled copy, remnants of binding, "Mõtaigne" signature crossed out.
This thick tome with a somewhat frayed binding conceals a real treasure that propelled it to the heights. Plutarch’s Lives (Paris, Michel Vascosan, 1565) ended its ascension at €369,000, nearly 10 times its €40,000 estimate. As the handwritten ex-libris at the bottom of the title page indicates, it belonged to Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. The great classic—indispensable for any learned man during the Renaissance—is one of Montaigne’s 500 books that have been inventoried so far (around a thousand are known to have existed). His handwritten annotations are another asset. But this was not the only book to honor the Aquitanian philosopher's memory: a second in-octavo edition of the Essays (Essais de Messire Michel, Seigneur de Montaigne, Chevalier de l'Ordre du Roy, et Gentil-homme ordinaire de sa chambre, Maire et Gouverneur de Bourdeaus, 1582, Bordeaux, Simon Millanges) fetched €103,320. It boasts the rare advantage of having a slightly later calfskin binding (17th century) featuring vignettes with an original composition, most likely by Strasbourg-born illustrator, painter and printmaker Johann Wilhelm Baur (1607-1640), who specialized in small formats on calfskin. The first edition of the Essays, dated 1580, was present but unfortunately incomplete. It sold for €24,600.