LA FONTAINE, Jean de. Contes et nouvelles en vers

Amsterdam (= Paris), (Duchesne), 1762.


8vo, 2 vols., pp. XIV, 268 (2), 16; VIII, 306 (8 leaves plus 2 blanks). Contemporary red morocco, spine with gilt flower and title label, covers with triple-gilt fillet border and a gilt flower in every corner, inside covers gilt. First volume contains one engraved portrait of La Fontaine, plus 39 engraved plates illustrating the fables, second volume contains an engraved portrait of Charles Eisen and 41 engraved plates, designed by him. In total four vignettes and 53 beautifully engraved head and tailpieces within the two volumes. A fine wide-margined copy ruled in red throughout.

Based on Boccaccio, La Fontaine’s fables consist of a number of allegorical stories and popular tales of a moralistic nature. This edition is known as the ‘Fermiers-Generaux’, as the author was commissioned by the farmers-general, or tax-farmers, a large body of men who collected the indirect taxes levied by the French crown. No expense was spared to produce a copy commensurate with the wealth and position of this group. The last five stories are not actually the work of La Fontaine: ‘La Couturière’, ‘Le Gascon’ and ‘La Cruche’ are by Auterau; ‘Promettre est un et tenir est un autre’ by Vergier and ‘Le Rossignol’ is attributed to Lamblin or to De Trousset de Valincourt. The ‘Dissertation sur la Joconde’ at the end of the first volume is by Boileau. The engraved portraits of La Fontaine and Charles Eisen (1720–1778) in the first volume are by the French artist, Hyacinthe Rigaud.

Charles Eisen was one of the acknowledged masters of French book illustration during the rococo period. ‘The robustness and voluptuous sensuality of his plates capture the flavour of the original Boccaccio from whom La Fontaine took these tales, yet the precision and delicacy of their execution saves them from vulgarity.’ (Leslie A. Morris in ‘Vision of a collector’.)

‘Les estampes dessinées par M Eissen expriment sans obscénité les instants les plus piquants des contes: on reconnoit dans plusieurs la touché de Rubens, dans d’autres celie de Teniere . . . dans la plupart celles des Graces’ (Cohen-De Ricci). Most of the illustrations were engraved by a certain M. Ficquet ‘homme unique de ce genre’. (Cohen-De Ricci.)

Cohen-De Ricci. pp. 558–68. Leslie A. Morris in ‘Visions of a collector’ (1991), pp. 277–9. Lewine, pp. 278–80.



OVID. Metamorphoses argumentis brevioribus ex Luctatio grammatico collectis expositae, una cum vivis singularum transformationum iconibus in aes incisis.

Antwerp, Ex officina Plantiniana, Apud viduam, & Joannem Moretum, 1591.


FIRST ILLUSTRATED EDITION. Oblong 8vo, pp. 361 (xxiii), A-Z8, a8, final blank. Italic letter, some Roman, sporadic Greek. Title within elaborate engraved border divided in four sections with figurative scenes from the poem, portrait of the author and 178 full-page plates; plate number 176 (p. 357) bears the signature of the artist Pierre Van der Brocht. Printer’s device on Z5 showing God’s right hand descending from the heavens and holding a compass with motto in cartouche: “labor et constantia”. Clean tear from top towards centre of leaf to Q3, small wormholes to lower margin of final quires, no loss of text. Each leaf of the book is alternated with a blank leaf on which appears a ms. C19th English translation, or paraphrase, of Lactantius’s “argumentum”, or abstract, up to Fable IX, Book 1. In C19th half calf and marbled paper over boards, brass clasp and catch, gilt spine with title and initials “J.B.”

This 16th century Antwerp production weds Ovid’s Metamorphoses with grammatical explanations in order to teach Latin to the young. The text is an anonymous adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which was first attributed to pseudo-Donatus and then to pseudo-Lactance. In the manuscript books of the Middle Ages, it is sometimes drawn close to the Ars Minor, which was written by the grammarian Aelius Donatus. The dedication of the printer addresses two young children, Luis and Martin Perez de Baron.

Adams, O504; Belgica Typographia, 3913; BRETZIGHEIMER, Studien zu Lactantius Placidus und der Verfasser der Narrationes Fabularum Ovidianarum, 1937; Delen II, 92-93; Funck 374-375; F.W.H. HOLLSTEIN, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts Vol. III, 100 nrs. between 200-377; Rooses, p. 263; STC Dutch, p. 164.