(Paris: H. Floury, 1903). 265 x 198 mm. (10 1/2 x 7 3/4"). 55,  (blank) pp. Translated from the Italian by Anthoine Le Maçon. No. 7 OF 12 COPIES printed on Imperial Japan vellum with an extra suite of illustrations in black and white on China paper, and AN ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR BY LÉON LEBÈGUE, not reproduced in the book.
HANDSOME HONEY-BROWN CRUSHED MOROCCO BY CHAMBOLLE-DURU (stamp-signed on front turn-in), covers with gilt fillet border, central panel framed by onlaid and modelled panels in dark brown and caramel-colored morocco, blind-stamped with heraldic animals (lion, griffin, dragon, stag, boar) and cresting floral roll, raised bands, spine compartments with gilt fillet frame, blind-stamped fleuron centerpiece, gilt lettering, turn-ins with gilt cresting floral roll, marbled endpapers, top edge gilt. Original pictorial wrappers bound in. Preserved in the original matching morocco-trimmed chamois-lined marbled board slipcase. Text within decorative borders, 41 decorative initials, 23 VIGNETTES IN THE TEXT, AND SEVEN FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY LÉON LEBÈGUE, ALL COLORED BY HAND. With an extra suite of all illustrations printed in black & white on chine and WITH AN ORIGINAL WATERCOLOR SIGNED BY LEBÈGUE. Ray, pp. 375-76. Spine evenly darkened to medium brown, but AN ESPECIALLY PLEASING COPY, the text clean and fresh, the hand coloring delicate, and the binding lustrous and unworn.
This strictly limited, beautifully illustrated, and elegantly bound version of a scandalous tale from Boccaccio's "Decameron" is a fine--and affordable--example of the books from the Belle Epoque, which Ray deems "one of the supreme periods of French book illustration." According to Ray, "there is warrant for calling the quarter of a century before the [Great] War the golden age of bibliophiles," resulting in "the creation, in unprecedented abundance, of sumptuous copies of luxurious books." The rivalry among collectors to possess a unique copy of one of these spurred some enthusiasts to commission the illustrator to embellish their books in some way, perhaps by adding an original watercolor, as here. This improved copy would then be sent to one of the leading Parisian workshops to be bound. Ray considers that "the most tangible evidence of the fervor with which collectors of the period regarded their books was their willingness to commission fine bindings for them." In the present case, the bibliophile chose a firm renowned for its classical bindings. A rough contemporary of, and certainly the equal in technique to, binders like Trautz, Marius Michel père, Lortic, and Cuzin, the elder Chambolle served his apprenticeship under Hippolyte Duru and later formed a partnership with him. Chambolle's son continued the business when his father retired in 1898, and in "Modern Bookbindings," Sarah Prideaux says of her contemporary, "Chambolle most worthily continues the traditions associated with the name of his father. As an interpreter of the past, he has a place apart and almost untouched by the main revolutionary movement that has penetrated nearly every atelier in Paris, and modified, if not overturned, its inherited traditions. To him are confided the classics of former times, which he clothes in the styles appropriate to them, keeping to a simplicity of ornamentation which reveals great taste and feeling for composition."
As was the case with a number of luxury Belle Epoque productions, the tale here has an exotic setting that allows the illustrator an opportunity to incorporate intricate "Oriental" designs and a broad palette of colors. "The Fiancée of the King of Algarve" is Alatiel, a sultan's daughter whose journey to meet her future husband is interrupted by erotic adventures with nine men; finally, she makes her way back to her father and sets off again in the guise of a virgin bride to be united with her intended. The charming color plates by Art Nouveau illustrator and poster artist Léon Lebègue (1863-1944) are notable for their lovely colors, ornate patterns, and fairy-tale quality--though decidedly a fairy tale for adults. For the decorative frames that enclose the text, Lebègue has drawn inspiration from the border decorations in Medieval Books of Hours, combining ornate flora and fauna with monsters and hybrid creatures. This motif is echoed in the frames Chambolle-Duru created on the covers of the book, with floral vines, Medieval creatures, and gilt embellishment. (ST16996)