Two More Waddesdon Manor Treasures Now Online

Posted in museums, resources by Editor on November 1, 2014

Le Ballet Royal de La Nuit and Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables choisies, two treasures of Waddesdon Manor’s library collected by Ferdinand de Rothschild (1848–1898) are now accessible via the online collection catalogue.

Fables choisies, mises en vers par J. de La Fontaine. A Paris, chez Desaint & Saillant, rue Saint Jean de Beauvais. Durand, rue du Foin, en entrant par la rue S. Jacques (1755-59)

Jean de La Fontaine, Fables choisies, (Paris, 1755–59); Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957; acc. 3681.1-4. Photo by Mike Fear © The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.

Le Ballet Royal de La Nuit at Waddesdon was probably produced as a gift for Louis Hesselin (1602–1662) as a reward for the successful staging of the ballet, first performed at the French court on 23 February 1653. It contains material from three distinct sources: the booklet of the ballet printed by Robert Ballard in 1653, a poem called Le Docteur Muët, and 129 original designs depicting costumes and scenes from the ballet now attributed to Henry Gissey (c. 1621–1673). Reproductions of the bindings; inscriptions by a previous owner, Baron Jérome Pichon (1812–1896); as well as the designs are available online, accompanied by commentaries based on the publication: Michael Burden and Jennifer Thorp (eds), Ballet de la Nuit: Rothschild B1/16/6 (Hillsdale; Pendragon Press; 2009).

Also now online are entries for four volumes of Jean de La Fontaine’s (1621–1695) Fables choisies, published in Paris between 1755 and 1759 by Desaint and Saillant. This edition is considered to be the most magnificent illustrated book made before the advent of modern printing. The binding of the Waddesdon example, by Louis Douceur (d. 1769), is decorated with specially-cut tools also illustrating the fables. The dolphin which occurs on the spine panels of the Waddesdon volumes may indicate that these were bound especially for the Dauphin Louis (1729–1765), son of Louis XV. Details of the location and sizes of the illustrations in all four volumes, along with a transcription of the title and names of the designer and engraver of each print, are included in the online entries.

Both books can also be explored further in the newly published catalogue by the late Giles Barber, The James A. de Rothschild Bequest: Printed Books and Bookbindings (The Rothschild Foundation, 2013). The Waddesdon collection is one of the finest of its kind in the world, and the published catalogue along with the online entries allows for many of these treasures to be revealed to the public for the first time. For more information about the printed catalogue, please visit the website.


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