Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), the Italian Renaissance poet and writer, became world-famous by his collection of novelle, Il Decamerone, written in Italian. Although translations into German, French, and Spanish appeared as early as the fifteenth century, it was not until 1564 that the first - incomplete - Dutch translation was published. It was made by Coornhert and called 50 lustige historien.
Around 1362 Boccaccio wrote his De claris mulieribus, 104 brief biographies of famous women, in Latin. It has come down to us in many manuscripts, and was first printed in Ulm, by Johan Zainer in 1473, followed by another edition in Strassbourg and a 1487 Louvain edition by Aegidius van der Heerstraten.
The latter is an elaborately illustrated work with 76 woodcuts, all except the one representing Eve freely copied from Zainer. The famous women have many queens in their midst, like Semiramis, Queen of Assyria, Penthesileia, Queen of the Amazons, and Hecuba, Queen of Troy. Included are also the even more famous Helen of Troy, Penelope, Odysseus' wife, Sappho the poetess of Lesbos and the female pope, Joan. The illustration on the opposite page shows Cleopatra. Mark Antony has already killed himself by his sword after the fall of Alexandria in the year 30, and Cleopatra is depicted holding the poisonous snakes that are to take her life.
Boccaccio's book on famous men was only published in the Netherlands in the fifteenth century in a French translation, printed by Mansion in Bruges. Dutch translations of both books had to wait till the sixteenth century: the famous women appeared in 1525, the famous men in 1526, both published in Antwerp by Claes de Grave.
De claris mulieribus. Giovanni Boccaccio. Louvain, Aegidius van der Heerstraten, 1487. 2º, 70 leaves. - Provenance: Jacob Visser collection, 1809. - 169 E 37 fol. H6v.