One of the Most Famous and Charming Illustrated Books of the 18th Century, In Exceptionally Fine Contemporary Morocco


(Londra [i.e., Paris]: [Ranieri & Giovanni Antonio de' Calzabigi and François Gerbault], 1757). 214 x 130 mm. (8 3/8 x 5 1/8"). Five volumes. Edited by Filippo di Matteo Villani. First Edition with these Illustrations.

EXCELLENT CONTEMPORARY FRENCH RED STRAIGHT-GRAIN MOROCCO, covers with gilt French fillet border, smooth spines gilt in Neoclassical style, with six panels divided by pentaglyph-and-metope roll, one with gilt titling, one with inlaid green morocco volume label, four with wheat sheaf, calligraphic flourish, sunburst, or elaborate urn ornament at center, turn-ins with two gilt decorative rolls, marbled endpapers, all edges gilt. Volumes housed in two fine modern blue buckram drop-back boxes lined with felt, red morocco labels on backs. Engraved title in each volume, many engraved vignette head- and tailpieces, and 111 VERY FINE ENGRAVED PLATES (including frontispiece portrait in first volume), primarily AFTER DRAWINGS BY GRAVELOT, but also after EISEN, BOUCHER, and COCHIN. Front pastedown of first volume with letterpress label of contemporary Lyon bookseller Maire; final page of fifth volume with a flourished "M" written in ink by a contemporary hand. Cohen-de Ricci 158 ("un des livres illustrés de plus réussis de tout le XVIIIe siècle"); Ray 15; Brunet I, 1003. Tiny wormhole to one joint, faint smudge to one board, trivial rubbing to extremities, faint foxing to first and last leaves of each volume, but A SPLENDID SET, the interior near-pristine, with generous margins and crisp impressions of the engravings, the bindings lustrous, with minimal wear.

This is a lovely copy in stylish period morocco of one of the most famous and charming illustrated books of the 18th century, and it may be the supreme example of refined libertine illustration of the period. Owen Holloway calls it one of the four masterpieces of book illustration at the end of the Rococo period. And Ray is expansive in his praise, calling the work simply "one of the masterpieces of the illustrated book." Although he had as collaborators on this work some of the outstanding French artists of the 18th century, Gravelot (born Hubert-François-Bourguignon, 1699-1773) was chiefly responsible for its production, designing 89 of its 111 plates and all 97 of its immensely delightful tailpieces. In this, the most ambitious undertaking of his career, Gravelot gave Boccaccio's narrative the settings and costumes of 18th century France, and this transposition "made it possible for him to exercise his special talent for depicting the social world around him. For the most part, his figures are young, the women graceful and pretty, the men lithe and handsome . . . . All levels of life are presented, from the peasant in his hovel to the king in his palace. Every variety of interior is there, from boudoirs and bedrooms to dining rooms and salons. Animated street scenes alternate with glimpses of gardens and farms, forests and river banks. The human condition has rarely been so attractively displayed. Yet this is only the beginning . . . . Gravelot's tailpieces complete what his plates have begun. They are peopled by amusing children, who . . . usually play their parts in interpreting Boccaccio's text." (Ray) Ours is the preferred printing of this edition: although the same publishers issued a French translation the same year, Ray declares, "the earlier Italian text has better impressions of the illustrations."