(Paris: Pissot (volumes I, II, IV) and Delalain (volume III), 1767-71). 255 x 190 mm. (10 1/8 x 7 1/2"). Four volumes. Translated by Abbé Banier. First Edition with these Illustrations.
Attractive 19th century brown morocco, covers with frame of one thick black rule and two gilt fillets, fleuron cornerpieces, raised bands flanked by similar rules, panels with central fleuron, gilt titling, turn-ins with multiple plain and decorative gilt rules, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Large engraved vignette headpieces and decorative tailpieces, engraved vignette on each title page, Volume I with added engraved title page and engraved dedication leaf, and 139 VERY FINE ENGRAVED PLATES after Eisen, Monnet, J. M. Moreau, Boucher, Gravelot, Le Prince, Parizeau, and St. Gois, engraved by Lemire, Leveau, Massard, and others, and with vignette "Fin" plate listing names of artists (the first plate as well as dedication, vignettes, and head- and tailpieces engraved by Choffard). A few original tissue guards. Front pastedowns with the bookplate of James Hale Bates (1845-1901), the American travel writer. Ray, 62; Cohen-de Ricci 769-72 ("superbe ouvrage"); Brunet IV, 285-86; Graesse V, 89-90. Occasional very mild overall browning to the first two volumes, isolated small rust spots, but an extremely appealing set, the decorative bindings lustrous and scarcely worn, and clean and fresh internally, with fine impressions of the engravings.
This is a beautifully preserved and attractively bound copy of what Ray says flatly "is the supreme anthology of French Rococo book illustrations." The plates were first intended for printing as a separate suite designed by "the best French painters" and engraved by the best engravers, but before they could be published separately, they were incorporated in this edition of Ovid. The result, says Ray, "is a high point among illustrated books of the 18th century." It is difficult to exaggerate the pleasure the illustrations give. They are executed with great delicacy; the effects of light and shadow are especially impressive; and the sharpness and detail of even background figures are unusually fine. The preliminary pictures were done by a number of different artists. "The veteran Boucher appears beside the young Moreau, with Eisen, Choffard, Monnet, and Gravelot also playing substantial roles," says Ray. He singles out for special praise the illustrations of Eisen and finds his four depictions of the seasons supreme, from Spring, a graceful maiden fingering flower garlands flown in by cupids, to old man Winter hovering over a fire at which the fat cupids also warm themselves. Ray also is enthusiastic about the headpieces of Choffard, calling them "images which baffle the mind while they set it dreaming." With such a number of plates, one could expect to find an occasional engraving that is noticeably inferior, but in this work, the illustrations maintain a remarkably consistent high level of excellence. The present copy is from the first issue with these plates, an issue Cohen-de Ricci describes as much superior to the second (which is identified as having volume IV dated 1770). (ST13181)
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PJP Catalog: 72.083