French Decorative Bookbinding - Sixteenth Century

l'atelier des reliures LOUIS XII et FRANÇOIS Ie
the decorative bookbindings from the workshops of Louis XII and Francis I

The mysterious disappearence of François Tissard d'Amboise

François Tissard came from a well to do family who lived in Amboise, in the latter part of the 15th century. We do not know the exact date of his birth, however we know that he studied the Humanities and Philosophy at Paris at an early age, from there he went to Orleans to study Civil Law. He must have been a serious student as he was not attracted to the "wild parties" in Orleans and soon went to study in Italy, where he learned classical literature under Calphurnius of Padua. He obtained special instruction in Greek from Demetrius Spartiata, and Hebrew from the priest of the synagogue of Ferrara. He attended the Universities of Ferrare and Bologne and was perhaps several years in Italy. When he eventually returned to France his passionate objective was to teach Greek in the University of Paris and to make books in the Greek language accessible to students, previously these books were rare and or expensive.

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Above, I have reproduced a page from a 1923 publication entitled A View of the Early Parisian Greek press... by William Henry Parr Greswell. Here the author touches upon a very important statement by Tissard, one that would have provoked some heated debate amongst the French nobility. He claimed that the French were seen as uncultured barbarians by the Italians. Although this was probably a well known fact, here Tissard was proposing a remedy.
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Fortunately, Tissard somehow convinced Gilles Gourmont to print his books, it would have been a difficult and risky venture for Gourmont who had only been in the publishing business a year, if that, when he began trying to print the troublesome Greek text. Tissard's dreams were coming true, the books were being printed and he was teaching in the University of Paris as well as giving private and public lessons, "The merits of Tissard were speedily recognized at the French Court." In short he was a big success. Then mysteriously in 1508 he dissappears from the records, there is nothing to say that he died, he just vanishes. Today in unofficial biographies such as found in the Oxford Reference we find he is listed as dead in 1508. However if he had of died any kind of normal death or even an abnormal death it would have been public knowledge, he had highly placed friends, including the future King, and would have recieved a proper burial as even his family was well off. in 1508 he may have been nearly 30 or probably not much more. his death would not have been expected nor gone unnoticed.

Enter the Evil Genius, Hieronymus Aleander

ALEANDRO, GIROLAMO (HIERONYMUS ALEANDER) (1480- 1542), Was born at Motta, near Venice, on the 13th of February 1480. He studied at Venice, where he became acquainted with Erasmus and Aldus Manutius, and at an early age was reputed one of the most learned men of the time. At the age of 24 he was honored by Aldus Manutius the leading publisher and printer of the Venetian High Renaissance who penned an exceptional dedication to him in his 1504 publication of Homer's Illiad, praising Aleander's astonishing abilities in language, as a master of Greek, Hebrew and Latin. Aldus spoke of his "devine" mind. and broad knowledge. Erasmus who he knew briefly while staying in Venise recommended that he go to France which would be a land of opportunity for anyone with his talents, and supplied him with letters of recomendation. He arrived in Paris on the 4th of June 1508 by his own means, he was not paid a vast sum of money to come to teach in France by Louis XII as is often stated, even in the most recent wikipedia biography. We know this from a letter he wrote to Aldus, where he asks him to send him some books to sell to help cover his costs, complaining that teachers were paid with pennies not real money. In this same letter written on July 23 1508 just 6 weeks after his arrival, he speaks of Tissard and his projects to have books printed in Greek. Aleander boldly states that he thinks his arrival in Paris has upset the plans of Tissard and that now he no longer teaches. Here I am already suspicious, would Tissard have abandoned his dreams so quickly? Considering the fact that Tissard was the one person in Paris doing what Aleander also dreamed of doing, i.e. teaching in the Paris University and giving well paid private lessons in Greek and Hebrew to nobility, as well as editing and producing books printed in the Greek language. We can guess that Aleander was very envious knowing full well that he could do the job better than Tissard ever could.

In his 1955 book entitled The First Cambridge Press in Its European Setting E. P. Goldschmidt, summarized this situation while speaking of Gourmont:

Our first question might be whether Tissard was even alive in 1509. Aleander had good reasons to get Tissard out of the way. While the idea might sound shocking we now know that Aleander was the kind of "humanist" that had people burned at the stake for having ideas he didn't care for. Luther described him in a not so Christian way thus:

Even Erasmus who wrote letters of recommendation for Aleander in 1508 wound up detesting this arrivist monster who was ready to do whatever it takes to get to the top of the pile. I suspect that he arranged the disappearance of Tissard sometime in the later part of 1508 and perhaps even wrote the "curious" 1509 Tissard preface that Goldschmidt speaks of, as a way of covering up his disappearance. Now with all this in mind we must return to the our inventory item No. 39 a binding from the atelier of Louis XII, inside it is found PLUTARCHUS Opuscula, printed by Gilles Gourmont in the characters of the Greek language after being edited by Jerome Aleander in April of 1509, it has Tissard's name engraved into the gilt edges, suggesting that the book belonged to him, a fact which some have used to suggest that Tissard was still alive in 1509. However we must ask if Tissard would really do this, pay a lot of money to have such a binding on a book edited by someone who took is job, upset his plans, and dreams, as Aleander himself proudly proclaimed. I wonder if this is not another piece of cover up evidence to make it look like Tissard was still alive? Perhaps further research will reveal who paid who to have this binding made.

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(No. 39) Virtual Binding - facsimile only

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