Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2013 Issue

The Curiosity Sale: Drouot, December 19, 2012

Thpic 3

pic.3* - fit for a (almost) King.

A Masterpiece

Mr. Chamonal called Mr Forgeot : “ Let’s show him the Missale Romanum...” A few seconds later, the expert dropped a heavy and luxurious book case on the table, taking a huge in-folio volume from it. Bound in full blue morocco, this 1781 missal is one of a kind (pic 3). “ Please, notice the sharpness of the gildings on the back, said Mr. Forgeot, and the fleur-de-lis, directly embroidered on the leather of the boards, which is quite unusual !” A sleeping iron sheep, laid on a cross and surrounded by golden rays also graces the first board - the result might appear somehow overloaded. “ Well, it was bound during the Restoration, said Mr. Chamonal, which is not known as the best period for French Arts. Nevertheless, this book is definitely a masterpiece of this period. Take a look inside...” This religious book is special, it was done for the Duke of Bordeaux, later known as Henri V. He was from the Bourbon family and could have been King of France had not history decided otherwise. An extraordinary man (or considered as such by some), deserved an extraordinary book. The regular black and white engravings of the original edition have been here covered by very special ones. “Look at the shimmering play of light on the plates, they have been printed on silk, then partly painted with oil painting. These incredible colors on the characters ? They come from the fact that these engravings are... embroidered !” Both men looked at each other in a maze, as if hardly believing it.

“There is another book of the same period that features exactly the same kind of engravings. It was made for the Duchess of Berry, the mother of the Duke of Bordeaux”, says Mr. Forgeot. Mr. Chamonal shook his head in front of the glittering pages : “ Sometimes, not too often, you come across one embroidered plate in a book. But I had never seen such a thing before. This is the most expensive book of the sale, of course – but beyond that, this really is the book of the sale.” The author of this incredibly delicate work has remained unknown, though credited in the copy of the Duchess as one Miss Pierre. The catalogue of the Duchess’ library reads : “ The embroiderings render the grace and the naive expression of the drawings as successfully as the most expert brush.” Benoît Forgeot wanted to attract my attention to a particular plate, showing the “ King ” putting down his crown at the foot of the Cross. “This is the Duke of Bordeaux, he said. Of course, he was just a child at the time, so this is the projection of him as a King. This book is a book of dedication, to God of course, as it is a missal, but also to the Duke.” Mr. Chamonal was impressed : “The amount of work this book required is incredible. Overloaded ? Well, a true masterpiece of the period, no matter what.” It went for 60,000 euros, the lower appraisal.

Rare Book Monthly

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