Ovid's Metamorphoses has been called the ‘Who is who’ in mythology. Ever since the fourteenth century adaptations of this enchiridion have been made, with learned moralizing additions, circulating in manuscript and entitled Ovidius moralisatus or Ovide moralisé. Printed editions in Latin were published in the 1470s, in Subiaco, Venice, Milan and also in Louvain. The adaptation by Colard Mansion discussed here is the first edition in French.
Colard Mansion was a man of many talents: he was a translator, adaptor, copyist and later on also a printer. Only two of the 25 editions that he printed between 1476 and 1484 are in Latin, all the rest are in French, and usually they are also the first French editions of texts that had already been published in Latin. From 1470 onwards books in Latin for the Sorbonne were printed in Paris. But before Paris and Lyons monopolized the whole production in France, two faraway cities had played an important role in books published in French: Geneva and Bruges.
Four of Mansion's printed works are of Burgundian size, printed on sheets of paper that were 38 cm high and 54 cm wide for two leaves, which was unusually large by Dutch standards at the time, the usual size being about 31 x 45 cm. Mansion must have tried to emulate the grandeur and splendour of the Burgundian manuscripts with his printed works. The Metamorphoses was Mansion's last publication. It ended in financial disaster and Mansion had to abscond because of his debts.
The page reproduced here shows Mansion's unusual approach in printing this book. It is always argued that the advantage of woodcut over copper engraving is that the woodcut and the actual text can be printed together, because both are in relief printing. In the top left-hand corner of the page shown here we see that the woodcut is printed over the word figure, so that text and illustration can not possibly have been printed simultaneously; the woodcut has been added in a second printing.
The tooled coat of arms on the vellum binding indicates that Prince Maurice acquired the book for his library between 1612 and 1618.
Metamorphoses.In a French adaptation by Colard Mansion. Ovid. Bruges, Colard Mansion, 1484. Royal 2º, 391 leaves. - Provenance: Jacob Visser collection, 1809. - 170 A 18, fol. 28v