New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1931. First American edition. Folio (13 1/2 inches tall), original brown gilt cloth boards, paper portfolio with 28 loose prints, separate text perfect bound in stiff paper wrappers. Cloth boards, paper portfolio and prints, wrappered text, all complete, clean and about-fine. Item #666
"ST. FRANCIS HAS BEEN FOR AGES A POPULAR SAINT; IN OUR OWN AGE HE HAS FOR THE FIRST TIME BEEN IN SOME DANGER OF BEING A FASHIONABLE SAINT" First American edition of these color prints after the frescoes depicting the life and legends of Saint Francis of Assisi. The famed medieval cycle of frescoes, painted in the Upper Church of San Francesco between 1296 and 1304, were attributed, for centuries, to Giotto. However, recent scholarship by Christopher Smart confronts a "problem of attribution" and upends the 1568 Vasarian attributions, asserting that the cycle is actually the work of several artists. The portfolio is complete as issued with all 28 color-printed folio plates. The separate text booklet collects G.K. Chesterton's Foreword, a Note on the Illustrations by the editor, and the "descriptive notes" taken from St. Bonaventure's hagiographical Legenda Maior. Bonaventure's biography, like the legends of the Fioretti, contains little or no historical truth "yet is unmistakably authentic. The truth it conveys is to be found, not in the events of its narrative, obviously legendary, but in the vivid and convincing impression it gives in its totality of the most Christ-like of saints" (Magill, Masterpieces of Christian Literature). In a lengthy essay, Chesterton ruminates on the idea of legend and asserts the meaning of St. Francis—the most medieval of saints—in today's world. Chesterton describes the relationship between the value of folklore and legend in the medieval tradition with the transitory and self-regarding fads of modern popular culture. Chesterton sees the Middle Ages as "a sort of immortal moment of morning...we are so accustomed, in modern times, to think in terms of what we call progress, that we seldom admit, except in a poetical parenthesis, that there is such a thing as a perfect moment which is better than what comes after, as well as better than what went before." With Edith Cowles's brief Note on the Illustrations, containing a poetic description of the faded glory of the frescoes: "Time has touched them with a reverend hand. They still glow with beauty of colour. Where forms have faded into shadows, they seem spiritualised, as though about to take flight, to leave the walls naked and bare." Published in Great Britain in the same year by J. M. Dent and Sons.