Hugo Donellus: “Commentarii absolutissimi”

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Commentarii absolutissimi, ad II. III. IV. VI. et VIII. libros codicis Justiniani, & lib (rum) dig (estorum) XLV. de verb (orum) mandatory (ionibus). 2 parts in one volume Frankfurt, Palthenius, 1599.

6 sheets (last white), 790 pages, 1, 4 pages, 416 pages, 14 pages blind stamped, contemporary leather binding, wood cover with 2 clasps (rubbed, lid cover with missing parts, back and clasps restored). (163) – First edition. – VD 16 D 2338. – “Alongside Cujas, he [Hugues Doneau, Latinized Hugo Donellus; 1527-1591] is the most important phenomenon of the 16th century” (ADB V, 332).

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Description: Commentarii absolutissimi, ad II. III. IV. VI. et VIII. libros codicis Justiniani, & lib (rum) dig (estorum) XLV. de verb (orum) mandatory (ionibus). 2 parts in one volume Frankfurt, Palthenius, 1599.

6 sheets (last white), 790 pages, 1, 4 pages, 416 pages, 14 pages blind stamped, contemporary leather binding, wood cover with 2 clasps (rubbed, lid cover with missing parts, back and clasps restored). (163) – First edition. – VD 16 D 2338. – “Alongside Cujas, he [Hugues Doneau, Latinized Hugo Donellus; 1527-1591] is the most important phenomenon of the 16th century” (ADB V, 332).

The man behind the book

Hugo Donellus was a French law professor and one of the leading representatives of French legal humanism. He was born into a well-respected family, studied law in Toulouse and Bourges. Bourges was then a center of legal humanism and François Douaren, one of the most famous members of this movement was among Doneau’s teachers at Bourges.

In 1551 he received a doctorate from the University of Bourges and began teaching there. However, because of his Calvinist confession, Doneau had to escape to Geneva after the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. Doneau accepted a call from the Reformed Elector Palatine Frederick III to a professorship at Heidelberg and assumed the post in early 1573. Doneau, however, would have to relocate again in 1579 because Heidelberg and the surrounding Electoral Palatinate were converted to the Lutheran confession by Frederick’s successor Louis VI, and the elector required subscription to the Formula of Concord.

Doneau then moved to the newly founded Leiden, but in 1587, the political circumstances forced him into exile for the third time: Doneau had to leave Leide, because of his sympathies for Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Doneau returned to Germany and became professor of law at the Altdorf Academy. He was one of the French jurists who followed the example of Andrea Alciato and applied the methods of Renaissance humanism to law. However, while many of the followers of this so-called mos Gallicus focused on a critical evaluation of the texts in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, Doneau was more interested in the construction of a coherent system of law.

His best known work Commentarii de iure civili is one of the first attempts to organise the subject matter of Roman law in a logical order. Doneau also made major contributions to various specialised areas of law such as the doctrine of possession and acquisition of ownership.