One of the Most Beautiful Color Plate Books of Italian Scenes Ever Printed

VOYAGE PITTORESQUE EN SICILE.

(Paris: P. Didot, l'ainé [second volume Jules Didot l'ainé], 1822-26). 641 x 495 mm. (25 1/4 x 19 1/2"). Lacking the dedication leaf and subscriber list present in the Abbey copy. Two volumes. Edited by Jean Frédéric d'Ostervald. FIRST EDITION.

Contemporary red straight-grain morocco, textured paper boards, gilt titling on spine, edges untrimmed. One map (as called for, though the Abbey copy has two), and 92 ACCOMPLISHED AND BEAUTIFULLY HAND-COLORED AQUATINT PLATES OF SICILIAN VIEWS. Abbey, "Travel" 262; Graesse VI, 400; Brunet V, 1379. Moderate rubbing to joints and elsewhere, covers with some scars, other minor problems externally, but the original bindings entirely solid--and surprisingly so for such an immense book with so many fabulous pictures to look at. Preliminary leaves and text lightly to substantially foxed, a half dozen plates with faint overall browning, one tissue guard missing, the margins of perhaps half the engravings with foxing (usually light, though noticeable in three or four cases in the second volume), but still a very pleasing copy of a beautifully illustrated book, the marginal foxing seldom distracting, and the engraved images themselves clear and clean, afflicted by neither foxing nor the dreaded offsetting from the text.

This is an extraordinarily rare copy of one of the most beautiful color plate travel books having to do with Italy. The large and luminous views of Sicily in our two volumes capture the magic of the island as experienced by the traveller of the early 19th century. Sicily's well-preserved Greek temples are, of course, featured, but port scenes, Medieval churches, picturesque villages, and the interior of Etna's crater are also depicted, all in exquisite color. The engravings, each accompanied by letter press explanations, are of great interest and beauty, and all but one of them are full-blooded tableaux, rather than plans or assemblages of small images. The size of the engraved surface varies on the page, as does the distance of the subject from the viewer: we are treated to everything from wide panoramic views to confining inner spaces. While the colors cannot be called pastel, they are far from garish, with lovely grays typically giving a softness to a scene that often employs subtle shades of yellow, blue, and green. The plates are memorable for their use of light and shadow to give a convincing feeling of three-dimensionality amidst luminous skies, darkened interiors, and a number of other variably lit settings. The book was originally published in 24 parts, and includes an historical précis by Gigault de La Salle giving an overview of events from antiquity to his own time. Abbey calls the work "the most ambitious of the coloured aquatint books edited by J. F. d'Ostervald," who produced a number of works on the picturesque, including two famous oversized editions focusing on regions in France. The book has always commanded a premium price: the unbound sheets were sold at the time of publication for the whopping sum of £34. In his note to the reader, Ostervald tells of his search among the portfolios of the artists of Switzerland, Germany, and England for the perfect materials for this collection. The plates cite the names of the artist and engraver, and Abbey notes that "English artists or engravers were responsible for nearly half" of the plates. Among these was Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28), the tragically short-lived painter whose romantic works were greatly admired by Delacroix. Abbey estimates that about 500 copies of the book were produced, and comments that the book is "certainly rare, in this country at all events, only three copies being reported at auction in the last fifty years." The rarity of the book has, not surprisingly, increased since Abbey's remark: complete copies with colored plates are still hard to find.
(CJW0802)

Keywords: Didot