FAMOUS FRENCH FACES

‘Iconologie ou portraits des grands hommes’.

‘A Rouen, chès le frère l’aisné’, [compiled c. 1811].

8vo (177 x 125 mm), ff. [27 (manuscript)], [2 (blank)], 103 engraved portraits (mostly mounted); title and imprint stencilled in ink within frame with two cut-out woodcut vignettes, manuscript ‘Table par ordre alphabetique de l’iconologie’ neatly written in brown ink in a single hand; a few engravings cropped to fit, a couple rubbed at right edge, split to text block following plate 42; overall very good in contemporary mottled sheep, spine gilt in compartments with red morocco lettering-piece (‘Recueil de portrait’), edges stained red, sewn overcast; rubbed, worm track at foot of upper joint, corners worn; printed booklabel of ‘Doesnel. D. H.’ to upper pastedown and engraved armorial bookplate to lower pastedown.

£1250

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A charming collection of over one hundred eighteenth-century engraved portraits, including three mezzotints, featuring famous faces from French and European history across the arts, sciences, politics, military, clergy, royalty, and nobility, preceded by very interesting short manuscript biographies of many of the subjects.

The compiler was one M. Doesnel of Rouen, whose booklabel appears on the front pastedown, a member of the noble Norman family of that name. His collection of engravings opens with a handsome mezzotint of Jeanne de Valois-Saint-Rémy, Comtesse de la Motte, the notorious adventuress and thief, infamous for her involvement in the ‘affair of the diamond necklace’ with Marie Antoinette. This is followed by a portrait of Charles d’Éon de Beaumont in female dress, the diplomat and spy who lived partly as a woman, with a facing note by Doesnel referring to the post-mortem examination conducted to establish his sex.

The portraits that follow show philosophes such as Rousseau and Voltaire, the musician Lully, the painter Le Brun, and writers including Racine, Corneille, Molière, and La Fontaine; philosophers and scientists such as Pierre Gassendi, Tycho Brahe, Thomas Aquinas, and Pico della Mirandola; and figures from the ancient world including Confucius, Pythagoras, Virgil, Homer, Terence, and Hippocrates. The ensuing sections encompass military commanders, such as Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne (with a manuscript note on his mistresses below); ministers including Colbert, Mazarin and Richelieu; clergymen such as Bossuet and Fénelon; popes including Pius VII (in office 1800-1823); and royalty running backwards from the future Louis XVIII (in a handsome mezzotint by Richard Brookshaw), via Louis XVI and XIV, Henri IV, François I, Saint Louis, and Charlemagne, to the legendary king Pharamond. The final part is devoted to religious reformers with portraits of Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Hus, and Wycliffe, and the volume ends with an image of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of George III. The engravers and publishers represented include Dupin, Huot, Le Beau, Daumont, Crépy, François Bonneville, Desrochers, and Esnauts et Rapilly.

Doesnel prefaces the engravings with fifty pages of manuscript notes comprising potted biographies of many of the figures represented, arranged in alphabetical order. He admires, for example, Charles Le Brun’s masterpieces at Versailles; notes that sixty stones were found in the great naturalist Buffon’s bladder after his death; records that Charlemagne was presented with a clock by the caliph Harun al-Rashid; and writes of the destruction of Galen’s library by fire, and of his fragile health. He discusses Louis IX’s crusades, praises Louis XI for introducing printing (‘invented by Jean Gutthemberg of Mayence’) into France, notes Louis XV’s gentleness and ‘great passion for women’, and briefly describes Louis XVI as a ‘victim’. Students of Pythagoras, he records, were required to keep silent for two years; Richelieu had a penchant for cutting off heads; and Rousseau was arrogant and vain and caused the ‘degeneration of morals’ and an age of misfortune. Doesnel’s notes end with the Princesse de Lamballe, recording her gruesome death in 1792 at the hands of ‘deux feroces antropophages’.

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