Discours du roi, prononcé le 5 mai 1789, jour où sa Majesté a fait l’ouverture des Etats-Généraux. [Paris]: de l’imprimerie de Didot l’Aîné, [1789].

FRENCH REVOLUTION  (1789)

£10000.00 

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A ROYAL SPEECH ON THE EVE OF REVOLUTION, PRINTED ON SILK BY FRANÇOIS-AMBROISE DIDOT

Single sheet (515 x 380mm). Printed on silk, neatly stitched to board, with nineteenth-century framers’ label pasted on verso, ‘Au Spectre Solaire, 28, Rue Satory, 28, Versailles. Bourdier, Dorure, Papeterie, et Encadrements’ (minor pulling of fabric near stitches, slight discolouration, one stain at lower right border, otherwise in excellent condition.) 

An exceptionally rare survival, in superb condition, this printed silk proclamation reproduces the text of the speech given by King Louis XVI at the opening of the Estates-General on 5 May 1789. The text, in distinctive Didot type, is surrounded by a combination of crisply printed typographic ornament and engraved, delicate floral sprays. At the head are the royal arms of King Louis XVI, and pasted into roundels either side are profile portraits, printed on silk, of Louis and Queen Marie Antoinette. Describing himself as ‘le premier ami’ of his people, the King acknowledges the parlous state of French finances, and the disquiet caused by taxation. Despite ending on a hopeful note about the ongoing happiness and prosperity of the kingdom, the Third Estate broke away to form the National Assembly less than six weeks later, a crucial first step towards Revolution.

Also issued in regular, 8vo paper copies at the royal press, copies of the speech printed in this format on silk are extremely rare. We have identified only four others: two at the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (G.22143; another listed without shelfmark); one at the Getty Library (P980009* (bx.1,f.4)); and one at the John Rylands Library (R207075). Of these only three, including this one, are intact. The John Rylands copy and one at the Musée Carnavalet have been defaced, with variously the physical excision of the royal arms, portraits of the king and queen, and the word ‘Roi’ in the title.  The survival of this copy intact, particularly through the years of deep anti-monarchical sentiment and violent political and social upheaval after 1789, is remarkable.

Just as extraordinary as its survival are the circumstances of its creation. French essayist Jean-Pierre-Louis de Luchet (1740-1792) describes copies of the speech ‘superbly printed on silk, and adorned with portraits of the King and Queen’ commissioned by decorated general Charles Henri Hector, Comte d’Estaing (1729-94) to be presented to each of the 144 members of the Assemblée Generale de la Commune de Paris. Unfortunately for d’Estaing, the Commune of Paris, initially in favour of a constitutional monarchy, became one of the most radical of the revolutionary bodies. D’Estaing would be put on trial for his loyalty to the crown and executed by guillotine in 1794.

It is an impressive example of the innovation that characterised the Didot press under François-Ambroise Didot (1730-1804). ‘The size of the sheet and crispness of the impression indicate that the printing was executed on the new ‘one shot’ press of François-Ambroise’s invention’ (Jammes, p.18, no.38), with one of the new type designs of Didot’s punchcutter, Pierre-Louis Vafflard.  Printing on silk was fittingly opulent for the purpose, though, practically, difficult to do; contemporary printing guides emphasised the complexities of printing on sheer, slippery fabrics like silk, that must be pulled straight and taught, to avoid printing unevenly or on folds (see Bosse, Cochin; Gaskell, p.231).

The border floral ornament was engraved and cast separately and then assembled on the press (Jammes, p.18); the royal portraits, unsigned but elsewhere attributed to Augustin Saint-Aubin (1736-1807), were separately printed on silk and then pasted into the oval frames with accompanying mottos (see Bocher, nos 146 & 169). The whole appears to have been composed under the direction of ‘Bevalet’, on the ‘rue des Cinq Diamants’, perhaps little-known painter François Noël Bevallet, active in Paris at the time.

The Didot dynasty dextrously navigated the precarious revolutionary climate; just one year after printing this ostensibly pro-monarchical proclamation, they were printing assignats, paper currency, for the revolutionary government.

A. Bosse & C.N. Cochin, De la Manière de graver à l’eau forte e au burin (Paris: 1758).  R. Gaskell, ‘Printing House and Engraving Shop: A Mysterious Collaboration’, The Book Collector, 53 (2004), 213-54. A. Jammes, Les Didot: Trois Siècles de typographie & de bibliophilie 1698-1998 (Paris: Bibliothèque historique de la ville de Paris, 1998)p.18, no.38.  Jean-Pierre-Louis de Luchet, Memoirs pour servir a l’histoire de l’annee 1789, Vol. III (Paris: Chez Brunet, 1791).

Stock Code: 241545

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