(Caprées [i.e., Nancy]: Chez Sabellus, 1780, 1784). 256 x 190 mm. (10 x 7 1/2"). Two volumes. FIRST EDITIONS, FIRST PRINTINGS (11 lines on title page and long "s" in text) with these Illustrations.
BEAUTIFUL 19TH CENTURY RED MOROCCO, GILT IN THE ROCOCO STYLE, BY CUZIN (stamp-signed in gilt on front turn-ins), covers with a gilt-ruled border featuring rocaille motifs at the sides and a floral spray at each corner, elaborate inner frame of strapwork interwoven with scrolling acanthus, drawer-handle tools, flower garlands, and several special tools, including satyrs, mountain goats, insects, and large vases of flowers, raised bands, compartments with gilt lettering or a central floral sprig surrounded by a frame of leaves and flowers, turn-ins with intricate gilt lace roll-tooling, all edges gilt. WITH A TOTAL OF 102 EROTIC PLATES by Denon (each volume with a frontispiece and 50 plates), plus an engraved title in volume II. Front pastedowns with ex-libris of Léon Gambetta. Cohen-de Ricci 474-75. ◆Light offsetting from illustrations, paper in both volumes perhaps lightly pressed (but not washed), FIRST VOLUME with the faint stain from a ribbon marker (now gone), one plate slightly toned and with two very small repairs to margin, otherwise IN FINE CONDITION; paper in volume II slightly toned and with occasional small spots and light stains, but still excellent. None of this significant because THE GLORIOUS BINDINGS LUSTROUS AND UNWORN.
Despite their scholarly titles, which promise scenes from the private lives of the 12 Caesars and secrets from an ancient Roman cult, these are among the most famous erotic books of the 18th century. In the first volume, the 12 Roman emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian are depicted engaged in a panoply of intimate acts, beginning with Julius Caesar's liaison with King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, which led his enemies to dub him "Queen of Bithynia." We see what Caesar's heir Augustus was willing to do in order to succeed his great-uncle, and his later sexual excesses as emperor, including incest. Antony and Cleopatra are relatively demure compared to the orgies of Caligula, Nero, and Claudius' wife, Messalina. The "Secret Cult of Roman Women" examined in the companion work is devoted to the fertility god Priapus and his phallic symbols, with guest appearances by assorted satyrs, nymphs, and Bacchantes. The images are white-on-black, to resemble sculptured wall medallions, and claim to be based on ancient carvings; however, Cohen-de Ricci informs us that, while the text is evidence of d'Hancarville's erudition, the illustrations are entirely the result of his (libertine) imagination. Art historian Pierre-François Hugues, Baron d'Hancarville (1719-1805) established himself in the world of antiquarians when he helped William Hamilton acquire the impressive Porcinari collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities that would subsequently be purchased by the British Museum. He then supervised the production of four sumptuous volumes of engravings documenting the collection. He seems to have undertaken the present work for his own amusement. A later issue of the second title facetiously attributed publication to the Imprimerie de Vatican (the Church had, of course, put it on the Index of Prohibited Books). According to Cohen-de Ricci, this is the first and most desirable printing, identifiable by 11 (rather than 10) lines of text on the title page of the first work, and by the use of the f-like "long s" in both volumes. The especially splendid bindings by Francisque Cuzin (1836-90) nod to the Rococo bindings of the 18th century and to the risqué subject matter, with satyrs cavorting about the elegant frame. Cuzin opened his Paris workshop in 1855, and soon made his name among bibliophiles of that city with his exquisite bindings, establishing what was called the "Cuzin style." Devauchelle says that this style was copied by Cuzin's colleagues, but was never equalled. Cuzin was not a gilder, but employed some of the best in the trade to execute his graceful designs, among them Marius Michel père, Wampflug, Maillard, and Cuzin's eventual successor, Émile Mercier. Our copy was once in the library of the distinguished French statesman Léon Gambetta (1838-82), one of the founders of the Third Republic, who served as president of the Chamber of Deputies. (ST17950)