• Amsterdam (Paris): 1762
  • Two volumes, small in-8º; printed on paper; binding in contemporary red-morocco
  • Inv. LA74A/B

‘Contes et Nouvelles en Vers’

Illustrations by Charles Eisen (1720–1770) and Pierre-Philippe Choffard (1730–1809)

La Fontaine’s Contes et Nouvelles en Vers, which were inspired by the works of Boccacio and Ariosto, were published in the late 17th century, between 1664 and 1682, and immediately attracted the attention of illustrators. The light, sensual contents of the narratives were a source of inspiration, containing images that were graceful enough to please the public of the time.

The two volumes now being considered belong to the 1762 edition, which was paid by the powerful Fermiers Géneraux [tax-farmers general]. The illustrations are largely the work of Charles Eisen, who, in eighty full-page compositions, gave himself over entirely to the licentious spirit of the text, allowing himself greater liberty in his interpretation of the themes.

The four head-pieces and fifty-four beautiful tail-pieces which decorate the two volumes are the work of Pierre-Philippe Choffard.  All of the decorative and illustrative compositions of the text were engraved using the etching technique by ten of the most skilled engravers of the era.

The rococo spirit and grammar seen in the illustrations are also reflected in the bindings of the two volumes. Made in red-morocco, the covers are decorated in gold with compartments made up of straight and curved fillets, leafy volutes, trophies, quivers containing arrows, torches and garlands. The spaces between the raised bands on the spine are decorated alternately with a series of trophies and a pair of turtledoves kissing each other inside a garland of flowers.

Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian, through Giraud Badin, Paris, 12 June 1925 (lot 19).

H. 18.2 cm; W. 12.5 cm

Gruel 1887–1905

Léon Gruel, Manuel Historique et Bibliographique de l’Amateur de Reliures. Paris, 1887–1905, vol. I, p. 107.

Cohen and Ricci 1912

Henri Cohen and Seymour de Ricci, Guide de l’Amateur de Livres à Gravures du XVIIIe siècle. Paris: 1912, cols. 558–71.

Harthan 1981

John Harthan, The History of the Illustrated Book. The Western Tradition. London: 1981, p. 143.

Paris 1993

Fragonard et le dessin français du XVIIIe siècle dans les collections du Petit Palais, exhibition catalogue. Paris: Musée du Petit Palais, 1993, pp. 119–28, 191–200.

Fontaine 1999

Jean-Paul Fontaine, Du manuscrit médiéval à nos jours. L’Aventure du Livre. Paris: 1999, p. 88.

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