Fagel Fine Bindings (3): Dedications

In most cases there is an apparent reason why one book has an exquisite binding and others are bound in simpel vellum. As we have seen in two earlier blog posts, a book in a fine binding might be a piece of family history that has been passed down through generations, or a gift to commemorate a special occasion. Other fine bindings in the collection are the result of a classical artist-patron relationship. The Fagels were high-placed government officials and had the name to be generous. Consequently, the collection contains dozens of copies that were presented and dedicated to the Fagels.

De Grote Schouwburg

The history of Arnold Houbraken’s De groote schouburgh der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen, published between 1718 en 1721, is illustrative for the supposed generosity of the Fagels. Houbraken’s three volume encyclopedia of artist biographies became a posthumous success, but as an independent artist he had trouble financing the project. He needed to cash in on the dedication, regardless of how many copies he would sell. In a short biography that was written by his ‘successor’ Johan van Gool in De nieuwe Schouburg thirty years later, we read that Houbraken had initially asked greffier François Fagel if he could dedicate the work to him. Fagel politely declined, and Houbraken turned to Johan van Schuilenburg, keeper of the domains of the late William III, instead.

After the first volume was published in 1718, Houbraken had a copy bound ‘in the finest morocco’ and presented it together with one of his cabinet paintings to Van Schuilenburg. His response was appalling by any standard. As a patron he failed to reward the author properly and, moreover, he made it very clear that he was not interested in the painting.

The disillusioned Houbraken dedicated the second volume to Pieter de la Court van der Voort, who did reward him for that volume. In a desperate attempt to get something from the first volume as well, Houbraken presented a nicely bound copy to François Fagel. Even though the greffier had no moral obligation to reward Houbraken – after all, he had declined to accept the dedication in advance – Fagel generously accepted the book and rewarded Houbraken with 10 ducats. When the widow of Houbraken presented the third volume of the Schouwburg to Fagel in 1721, she was rewarded another 10 ducats by ‘the unsurpassed Fagel, protector of artists, orphans and widows’.

Mind you, these overly flattering words came from Johan van Gool, the successor of Houbraken, who arguably could use the support of a mecenas.

Printed dedications

The most extensive printed dedication to one of the Fagels is found in Kerkelyke geographie der Vereenigde Nederlanden by Willem Albert Bachiene (1712-1783). Bachiene started his career as a minister before he became a respected geographer and cartographer later on in life. In Kerkelyke geographie (‘Ecclesiastical geography of the Dutch Republic’) these two specializations coincide. The book contains several engraved maps and was published in four volumes between 1768 and 1773.

The dedication to Hendrik Fagel the Elder is generally bound in volume four, which is understandable when you consider that it is signed and dated 4 November 1772. Fagel arguably waited until he had seen the text of all four volumes before he would accept the dedication. The presentation copy of Kerkelyke geographie that is now in the Fagel collection at Trinity College Library, is one of the few examples where the dedication is bound in the first volume. The headpiece is nicely coloured and the books are bound in gold-tooled red morocco.

Dedication to Hendrik Fagel in Bachienne's Kerkelyke Geographie
Dedication to Hendrik Fagel in Bachiene’s Kerkelyke Geographie. Dublin, Trinity College Library, Fag.B.7.14-15.

What is particularly interesting about the dedication, is that Bachiene gives an overview of the succession of Fagels as greffiers. He not only mentions the three predecessors of Hendrik Fagel, but also his son, deputy-greffier and destined successor François Fagel. Tragically, François would pass away only months after Bachiene had published the work, but we know that there would be another Fagel to follow up on Hendrik the Elder, that is, Hendrik the Younger. ‘It is’, Bachiene stated in the dedication, ‘as if the heredity of the office is entangled with the family name’. This sounds an awful lot like nepotism to us, but Bachiene obviously meant that the merits that make the Fagels suitable for the job are simply in their DNA. Or even more likely in the 18th century: in their character.

Written dedications

Apart from the presentation copies there are many more gifts in the Fagel collection that lack a special binding or printed dedication. In fact, some of these copies are inscribed in such a sloppy manner that the name of the donor is barely legible. Clearly the author of these books was not looking for any kind of financial reward, but the copies do show that there must have been a relation between the donor and one of the Fagels.

In the first blog post about fine bindings I mentioned the name Jacques Basnage De Beauval (1653-1723). There are at least a dozen volumes that he donated to François Fagel over the years. Basnage was a celebrated French Protestant divine, preacher, linguist and author. Among other things, he wrote a history of the Reformed Churches and a history of Jewish Antiquities. Following the revocation of the edict of Nantes in 1685, he left France and settled in Rotterdam. Later, grand pensionary Anthonie Heinsius (1641–1720) secured his election as one of the pastors of the Walloon church at The Hague, with the intention to employ him in civil affairs.

The books by Basnage in the Fagel collection with written dedications should be understood in this context. Once his position in The Hague was secured, Basnage quickly became the right-hand man of Heinsius in religious affairs and proved to be useful in connections with the French Huguenot in the Dutch Republic. Moreover, Basnage was fluent in Spanish and had regular conversations with the Spanish ambassador. He kept high officials in the Dutch Republic informed about these meetings, and Fagel was certainly involved in this circle.

The written dedications give a rare insight in the connections between some high-placed government officials and civil servants. Together with other largely unexplored Huguenot literature in the collection, it might provide some very interesting perspectives on politics, international networks and information in the early 18th century. Fine bindings are just one piece of the puzzle, just as dedications, but it might set us on the right track to uncover a much larger history.

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