Eighteenth century French book illustrations: an exhibition of material from the Monash University Library Rare Book Room. First floor, Main Library, 16th July - 21st September 1992


Title

Eighteenth century French book illustrations: an exhibition of material from the Monash University Library Rare Book Room. First floor, Main Library, 16th July - 21st September 1992

Date

Description

The exhibition was held in the Rare Books Exhibition space, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Monash University from 16 July - 21 September 1992. Any institution that has serious teaching and research programmes devoted to the eighteenth century in France is likely to acquire for its library original editions illustrated by some of the masters of that time. The reason for this departure from the austerity of plain texts is simple. Taking advantage of the European pre-eminence of Paris in the luxury trades, and not least in engraving, booksellers produced in the decades after 1750 splendid and abundantly decorated sets of standard authors and of reference works. When the Monash University Library was building up its basic collections in the 1960s and 1970s, it naturally purchased - on more favourable terms than are available now - a respectable number of these foundation volumes. Thus, beyond information useful to scholars concerned with the history of Enlightenment literature and thought, we have a corpus of working copies that demonstrate nonetheless the attractions of book production in a period attached to elegance and aesthetic quality. The present exhibition is designed to reveal to the Library's users and visitors a substantial and · mostly unsuspected resource for the study of eighteenth-century taste. As art historians know, engravings of the kind shown were, along with copies, the only way many drawings and paintings were made accessible to the contemporary public and indeed to that of more than one following generation. However, one does not have to be a student of late Baroque, Rococo or pre-Romantic art to enjoy the variety of images on display. It should be emphasized that the function of engraved illustrations in eighteenth-century books was far from merely decorative. Even headpieces, tailpieces and initials could be related to the subject matter of the text in hand. Copperplate engraving, which was the dominant medium in Enlightenment Paris despite a revival of wood-engraving, was particularly suitable and much used for technical, scientific and medical works. This aspect is not neglected in the various display cases. Overall the strength of the Paris engraving trade was a tremendous advantage to bookseller-publishers competing with pirates and reprinters in the French provinces and beyond the frontiers of the kingdom. The technical skills at the command of artists, engravers, printers and distributors meant that Paris could take on a role as the principal purveyor before 1789 of fine books. High-quality paper, richly tooled calf or morocco bindings, meticulous typography using new founts designed by innovators like Fournier, Didot and Baskerville and elaborate illustrations; these were competitive advantages that could hardly be matched elsewhere. The Parisians found their market niche, and their work lives on prized by bibliophiles and admired by casual viewers.

Some items kindly loaned by private collectors

Language

English

Type

Medium

Extent

10p.

Rights

Text - Monash University Library CC-BY 4.0. Images - Copyright Not Evaluated

Download File(s)

https://repository.erc.monash.edu/files/upload/Rare-Books/Exhibition-Catalogues/rb_exhibition_catalogues_1992_001.pdf

Citation

Overell, Richard and Overell, Richard (curator), “Eighteenth century French book illustrations: an exhibition of material from the Monash University Library Rare Book Room. First floor, Main Library, 16th July - 21st September 1992,” Monash Collections Online, accessed July 10, 2020, http://repository.erc.monash.edu/items/show/13206

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