On the Road to Constantinople in 1784: an Immense and Arresting Work With Memorable Engraved Views of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Cyprus


(Paris: 1799). 670 x 490 mm. (26 1/4 x 19 1/4"). Three volumes bound in two. FIRST EDITION.

Attractive modern green quarter morocco over green patterned paste-paper boards, flat spine panels ruled and decorated in gilt and blind, gilt titling and (incorrect) date "1795." WITH 180 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES after Cassas, 17 of them double-page and 17 scenes with modern coloring (three of the double-page plates being colored). Cohen-de Ricci 204-05; Brunet I, 1616; Blackmer 295. First engraving in volume I somewhat wrinkled, most of the plates with at least a hint of foxing in the (extremely generous) margins, perhaps a third of the plates in volume II with more noticeable blotchy foxing (but still well away from the images), other quite minor defects, but, in all, a very appealing copy of a book almost always disfigured by browning and foxing--the bindings with only the most trivial imperfections, the engravings fresh and bright, and the coloring quite attractive.

At 670 mm. tall, this is an immense and arresting work with memorable engravings that record the author's travels with Comte de Choiseul-Gouffier, French ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, on his mission to Constantinople in 1784. At the ambassador's request, Cassas spent three years in the Levant, visiting and drawing the Archipelago, Syria, and Egypt. Some of the illustrations produced during this tour were used in Choiseul-Gouffier's own "Voyage Pittoresque de la Grèce," but the remarkable views of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Cyprus were reserved for the present work. Here we see everything from ancient monuments like the Pyramids and Sphinx to contemporary cities and their inhabitants. This "Voyage" was originally issued in 30 livraisons, with text (not present here--or in most copies) accompanying only the first seven parts. This is no cause for regret as words would be superfluous to Cassas' vivid pictures, which capture the magic and mystique of the region so well. The number of plates in this work varies from copy to copy; the Blackmer copy had 178 plates, and several copies in auction records had 179. Atabey notes, "the number of plates varies, but around 180 [the number in his copy] is standard."

Cassas (1756-1827) had eclectic artistic training, studying with both Neoclassical and Rococo masters before completing his education in Italy. From there, he toured the Adriatic, producing the landscapes for his breakthrough work, "Voyage pittoresque et historique de l'Istrie et de la Dalmatie" (1802). When he returned from his travels to settle in France in 1792, Cassas became the drawing master and later General Inspector at the famed Gobelins Tapestry Manufactory. He fled the French Revolution to take refuge at the imperial court of Russia, where he served as director of the Academy of Arts and Libraries, then ended his days in France, and was awarded the Legion of Honor by the king in 1821. This work is not common, and it is almost never seen even partly colored, as here. Our copy is also distinguished by its unusual size: at 670 mm., it is nearly 250 mm. taller than the Atabey copy; other copies at auction and in OCLC range from 520-555 mm. in height. The plates here have margins of about 110 mm., a figure that accounts for such a size difference and suggests that the plates here are on sheets that were trimmed very sparingly, if at all. As most mishaps befall the margins of plates, the huge margins have played a key role in keeping the engravings themselves in beautiful condition.

Price: $48,000.00