September 2016 | Barbara Basbanes Richter

Catalogue Review: "Catalogue Huit" by Jean-Baptiste de Proyart

French antiquarian bookseller Jean-Baptiste de Proyart recently published Catalogue Huit, a sumptuous compendium of illuminated manuscripts and rare books being offered for sale. This is the eighth catalogue de Proyart has released since setting up his own boutique, currently nestled on rue Fresnel in Paris' tony sixteenth arrondissement, a stone's throw from the Trocadero and the Palais du Chaillot. Prior to "sailing his own ship," as he puts it, de Proyart cut his teeth in Sotheby's London book department and provided expertise during the monumental, 12,000-volume, six-part sale of the collection of legendary bookseller Pierre Berès in 2005 and 2006.


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                                                                                                                                                   Specializing in antiquarian rarities and beauties, de Proyart's catalogues are vast archives of information, testaments to rigorous scholarship of the material at hand. Catalogue Huit, like the rest of de Proyart's catalogues, are not merely filled with pretty pictures and hefty price tags; they are filled with history and provenance details that together provide an intimate examination of the world of antiquarian books while also reconstructing the world of the past as codified on paper. Turning to nearly any page reveals unique books with stellar provenance.

A 1531 Book of Hours illustrated by Geoffory Tory is, as de Proyart writes, a "masterpiece of French Renaissance illumination." Bound in gold-tooled moroccan leather, the item illustrates why Tory's contributions to the world of illuminated manuscripts are so coveted by collectors. This particular copy belonged to Louis Joinville (1773-1849), a bureaucrat during the French Revolution and later deputy to statesman and poet Pierre Daru. (Price available upon request.)

An oversize choir book (or graduel) dating from around 1450 includes songs chanted at daily mass. Finely painted letters in blue, red, green, and gold leaf, accompanied by miniature unicorns, dragons, and stags throughout the manuscript suggest that all the decorations were completed in one workshop. This particular Graduel is believed to have been created south of Cologne and once belonged to the prince of Oettingen-Wallerstein, a collector of European history. Bound in fifteenth-century vellum with illuminated illustration throughout, this Graduel is being offered for 380,000 euros.

Another exciting piece is the first appearance of François Marie Arouet (a.k.a. Voltaire) in print, a seven-page ode written while Voltaire was still a student at Louis le Grand. This early piece demonstrates the future philosopher's brilliance at written discourse, and this Imitation de l'Ode du R. Père du Jay sur Sainte Genevieve is surprising, given Voltaire's future views on religion. (Voltaire later repudiated claims that he was the author of the work. In a letter written in 1766, he quipped that if Saint-Genevieve, the patron and of Paris believed to save the city from Atilla the Hun, ever returned to earth, "she would be quite bitter" towards him.) This rare publication, of which only five copies exist in French institutions and none are known to be in American universities or libraries, is available for 15,000 euros.

For the francophile with deep pockets or big dreams, Catalogue Huit is hard to beat. Though not quite the same as a physical copy, a PDF of the catalogue may be downloaded here.

                                                                                                                                                          Image Courtesy of the bookseller.