An Exceptionally Fine Copy, with Proofs before Letters, of one of The World's Most Prodigious and Arresting Topographical Books


(Paris: P. Didot l'aine, 1819). 667 x 540 mm. (26 1/4 x 21 1/4"). Each plate with 1-3 leaves of descriptive text. Two volumes.

Pleasing contemporary russia over thick wooden boards, covers framed by multiple gilt rules, raised bands, expertly rebacked preserving original backstrips, spine compartments framed by multiple gilt rules, gilt lettering, all edges gilt (restorations to corners and edges). Engraved portrait frontispiece of Sultan Selim III, two engraved titles (that in volume II cut down and mounted), tughra on letterpress title page heightened with gold, three double-page engraved maps and plans, and 48 DOUBLE-PAGE PLATES, ALL IN PROOF STATE before letters (and many before numbers), by Duparc, Schroeder, Née, Dupréel, Dessaulx, Marillier, and others after Melling.
Atabey 798; Blackmer 1105; Koç, "Constantinople" I, 214; Lipperheide 1431; Brunet III, 1591 ("magnifique ouvrage"). ◆A little wear to extremities, light water(?) stain to foot of boards, the leather not quite as bright as it could be, but the expertly restored bindings solid and appealing on the shelf. Four plates in volume II with nearly invisible repairs to fore margin (well away from the images), letterpress title and one text leaf slightly foxed, occasional faint smudges, but A GLORIOUS SET with vast margins, THE TEXT AND PLATES EXCEPTIONALLY CLEAN, FRESH, AND BRIGHT.

This is a strikingly well-preserved copy of Melling's massive and superbly illustrated work devoted to 18th century Constantinople, a book that provided the earliest interior views and plans of the harems and palaces of Sultan Selim III. Brunet declares it "a magnificent work," and collector Ömer Koç, who has amassed an outstanding library of books on Istanbul and the Ottoman Empire, considers it "one of the finest topographical illustrated books ever produced." In 1795 architect and painter Antoine Ignace Melling (1763-1831) arrived in Constantinople and, after an introduction by the Danish Ambassador, was appointed imperial architect by Selim III. In the course of his duties, he designed and landscaped a seaside palace for Selim's sister, Princess Hatice, and produced these striking panoramic views of the city and its environs. After completing a number of building projects for Selim, including Princess Hatice's palace, he returned to Paris and in 1804 issued a prospectus for this work. He established an engraving studio in 1809 to reproduce these drawings and began publishing the completed prints as a series of fascicles that were sent to subscribers. The last one appeared in 1819. The outstanding success of an exhibition of the paintings on which the "Voyage Pittoresque" was based earned Melling the rank of painter to the Empress Josephine. One can see why the empress was impressed: the detail and subtlety of the engravings are remarkable, and the scenes are relatable: the architecture, costumes, or landscape may be exotic, but the activities—keeping house, socializing with friends in a parlor or at hillside picnics, going hunting—strike a familiar chord. The freshness of the early impressions of the engravings in our copy can scarcely be overstated. Brunet tells us that copies with proofs before letters, like the present one, originally sold for 50% more than the regular copies, but the added expense was an excellent investment.

Price: $80,000.00