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JUDITH VS. DAVID, LUCRETIA VS. CATO,
TOMYRIS VS. CYRUS:
ARE WOMEN MORE HEROIC THAN MEN?
WITH 16 FULL-PAGE ENGRAVINGS

DU BOSC, JACQUES. La femme heroique, ou les heroines comparées avec les heros en toute sorte de vertus. Paris, Chez Antoine de Sommaville and Augustin Courbé, 1645.

4to [25.3 x 18.7 cm], 2 volumes in one, (9) ff., 386 pp, (6) ff, 387-697 pp., (20) ff.; pagination error (as called for) has p. 69 following p. 48 (the text is complete), 2 full-page engraved frontispieces and 16 full-page engravings/etchings, woodcut headpieces, woodcut initials, and woodcut tailpieces. Bound in contemporary mottled calf, rebacked using elements of original spine: with raised bands, 6 compartments with gold-tooled title and ornaments, boards with double-ruled gold-tooled borders, faded red speckled edges. Minor browning in some gatherings, minor spotting, final preliminary leaf (half title and argument) slightly trimmed at top and bottom with wear to fore-edge, inconsequential marginal repairs at pp. 89, 91, 99 & 103 & 469; reinforcement to p. 93 (blank), minor burn hole on p. 135; overall very good.

$4,850

Large paper copy of the rare 1645 first edition of The Heroic Woman – “one of the most important feminist works of the seventeenth century” (A. Dixon, p. 44) – written by the prolific Franciscan Jacques Du Bosc (d. 1660) and enriched with 18 full-page copperplate engravings/etchings by François Chauveau (1613-76). In La femme heroique, Du Bosc proceeds from the idea that “the virtue of heroism is more elevated and more divine than the other moral virtues [and] that women are as capable of heroism as men” (prelim. fol. 9 v.). After a discussion of heroism as a concept, Du Bosc develops his argument over 8 ‘case studies’ by pairing a heroine from ancient history with her equivalent hero and then carefully enumerating how she surpassed her male peer in virtue. Each of these match-ups is introduced by a pair of Chauveau’s prints arranged on facing pages so that the reader might compare images of male and female heroic deeds side by side. Du Bosc discusses Debora vs. Joshua, Queen Tomyris vs. King Cyrus, Salome Alexandra vs. Abraham, Portia vs. Brutus, Judith vs. David, Tanaquil vs. Tarquinius Priscus, Susanna vs. Joseph, and Lucretia vs. Cato. He dedicates his work to two of the most powerful women in Europe in the mid-17th century, Queen Regent Anne of Austria (1601-66), mother of Louis XIV, and to Queen Consort of Great Britain, Henrietta Maria (1609-69), wife of Charles I.

Du Bosc, a friar minor of the Cordelier observance, wrote widely on the religious interests of his time, especially the Jansenist controversy, and participated in current debates concerning the status of women. La femme heroique and his popular L’honnete femme (1632) were important contributions to the early-modern literary genre known as the ‘Querelle des Femmes’, the principal “vehicle through which most early feminism evolved” (J. Kelly, p. 66). The painter and printmaker François Chauveau is best known for his illustrations to the first edition of La Fontaine’s Fables and first editions of the plays of Molière and Racine.


* Tchemerzine, T. 125; Graesse 1,499; Annette Dixon, ed., Women Who Ruled, (Ann Arbor: Michigan Museum of Art, 2002); Joan Kelly, Women, History and Theory, (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984).

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