LE TEMPLE DE GNIDE. [and bound in, with continuous pagination] CÉPHISE ET L'AMOUR. [and] ARSACE ET ISMÉNIE.
(Paris: Didot jeune, l'An Troisième, [1795?]). 260 x 165 mm. (10 1/4 x 6 1/2"). xii, 153,  pp.
Very attractive contemporary red straight-grain morocco in the style of Bozerian, covers with wide frame of multiple gilt rules, large gilt lozenge at center, flat spine divided into panels by gilt rules and chain roll, panels with patera centerpiece, heavily gilt turn-ins, blue watered silk endleaves, all edges gilt. WITH 12 FINE ENGRAVED PLATES, INCLUDING A FRONTISPIECE AND NINE PLATES BY LE MIRE AFTER EISEN (in the first work) as well as two engravings (in "Arsace") after Le Barbier, one each by Le Mire and Thomas; original tissue guards. A Large Paper Copy. Ray 32; Cohen-de Ricci 728-29. Spine slightly sunned, corners a little rubbed, one page with small, light stain to text, one tiny marginal tear, other trivial imperfections, otherwise A FINE COPY--clean, smooth, and bright internally and in a lustrous period binding with only minor wear.
With illustrations by Eisen, printing by Didot, and a binding in the style of Bozérian, this item brings together three important sources of pleasure for the connoisseur of 18th century French book arts. Regarding the "Gnide" engravings, Furstenberg says that "the delicate sensuality of the women's bodies glorified in these illustrations was never outdone," and he indicates that they represented Le Mire's "lasting claim to fame." Ray ranks this elegant suite behind only Eisen's work on Dorat's "Les Baisers," the La Fontaine of 1762, and the Ovid of 1767-71. He says that, "with regard to suavity and grace, Eisen never surpassed" his "Gnide" engravings, and Cohen-De Ricci says the plates are "ravishing," both in terms of composition and engraving. Bryan says that Charles Eisen (1720-78), Louis XV's Court painter, and drawing master to Madame de Pompadour, had a hand in "almost all the important [illustrated] books published in France in his time." His "exquisite plates [are] engraved with a light point and with striking originality." He "took his inspirations direct from nature, but add[ed] something of the ideal, after the manner of Watteau and Boucher." Noel Le Mire (1724-1801) was a much esteemed engraver who collaborated with Eisen on several books, including the aforementioned La Fontaine and Ovid, as well as with Cochin and Moreau. Attractively printed with enormous margins, the text of the first (and by far the most important) work here is a prose-poem on love (supposedly translated from the Greek) by one of the great political philosophers of the Enlightenment, Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755). Although the rather racy piece was popular in its day, it was not regarded as an important work in Montesquieu's oeuvre; modern scholars, however, are more inclined to see it as a philosophical fable. Our handsome binding is unsigned, but an imprint on the verso of the half-title lists "Chez Bozérian" as one of the two locations selling the work, and it is reasonable to assume they also bound some of the copies they sold. (ST12303)