Book Illustration, Taxes and Propaganda

the Fermiers généraux edition of La Fontaine's Contes et nouvelles en vers of 1762

David Adams

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ISBN: 9780729408851

Publication: November 1, 2006

Series: Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 2006:11

In the USA? Buy the Paperback US edition
La Fontaine's Contes et nouvelles en vers was probably the most famous illustrated book to have appeared in France during the eighteenth century. The celebrated 1762 edition, published by Louis XV's detested tax-gatherers, the Compagnie des Fermiers généraux, held among its claims to supremacy its magnificent copperplate illustrations, designed by Charles Eisen. 

In this highly illustrated book, David Adams first sets out a publishing history of the edition, using historical, bibliographical and cultural evidence, and next provides a detailed study of the plates as a whole. In so doing, he gives his interpretation of the values and attitudes of the Compagnie, the members of which took great care to ensure that the plates reflected their view of contemporary society. Finally, he gives a synoptic view of the illustrations, and situates the work in the wider context of contemporary French illustrated books. 

This pioneering study of the relationship between text and image in eighteenth-century France shows that the illustrations the Fermiers généraux commissioned for this literary classic were intended to promote their own patrician values, and to assert their freedom of action, turning literature into propaganda with consequences they did not foresee.


List of illustrations

1. Introduction: the French illustrated book in the eighteenth century
i. Introduction
ii. The Compagnie des Fermiers généraux
iii. The Fermiers and the authorities
iv. The publication of the Contes et nouvelles en vers
v. The fate of the Contes
vi. Editions of the Contes before 1762
vii. Illustrated editions of the Contes before 1762
viii. The genesis of the illustrations
ix. Questions of interpretation
x. Some historical conclusions

2. The illustrations to La Fontaine’s Contes et nouvelles en vers, volume 1

3. The illustrations to La Fontaine’s Contes et nouvelles en vers, volume 2

4. The lessons of the Eisen illustrations
i. General observations on the interpretation of the illustrations
ii. The presentation of the plates – themes and variations
iii. The Contes as a rococo book
iv. Nudity in French illustrated books of the eighteenth century
v. The place of illustrations in French eighteenth-century books
vi. The audience for the illustrations
vii. La Fontaine and the idea of personal freedom
viii. The theme of freedom as manifested in the Contes
ix. The Fermiers généraux, freedom and conventional values
x. The assertion of the Fermiers’ freedom in the illustrations
xi. Revelations: the role of curtains and clothing
xii. The significance of the 1762 Contes in the history of the eighteenth-century French illustrated book
xiii. Epilogue

List of works cited


The Voltaire Foundation has produced a book of high quality not only in its content but also in its material presentation (with nearly 200 illustrations). This study will productively engage specialists working on La Fontaine, eighteenth-century culture, the history of the book, and the emerging field of text and image; indeed, anyone seriously interested in the relation between the visual and the textual should be familiar with it.
- Eighteenth-century fiction

L’ouvrage est très richement illustré de très nombreuses gravures parfaitement reproduites, en pleine page: le procédé permet de comparer l’art respectif de De Hooghe, Cochin et Eisen. Après une introduction de théorie et de rappels historiques approfondie, les analyses avancées à propos des différentes scènes sont substantielles, fines et suggestives
- Dix-Huitième Siècle

[This] book is both thoughtful and daring. Few authors possess the necessary erudition and methodological ingenuity to situate a work such as the 1762 Contes, so suggestively within old-regime politics and finance. [...] Adams succeeds in producing a book that says as much about the history of book illustration as it does about the larger cultural and political development of eighteenth-century France.
- SHARP News

Format: Paperback

Size: 234 × 156 mm

610 Pages

Copyright: © 2006

ISBN: 9780729408851

Publication: November 1, 2006

Series: Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment 2006:11

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