Wegener_sur_talonsTimes have changed and so have women, but not their innate ability to charm. Women possess the power to please or attract with their personality or beauty. Imagine living in another time, and, if it were to be the twentieth century, you would perhaps choose the hay-day of the 1920’s. It was a time for women to release femininity from trappings such as the corset and long, elaborately arranged hair, often kept under cover. Bobbed hair stood for an intriguing concept: feminine freedom whose participants became thrill-seeking adventurers, who, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “have a talent for living.” It was the Jazz Age mixed in with the imagination of Dadaism, Surrealism and Art Deco. Skinny was in, and many young women took to extreme dieting for leaner bodies in racy chemises. It was a time when the world shifted to a more overtly feminine direction.

It was also the time when Gerda Wegener became famous. Beginning with projects to produce illustrations for La Vie Parisienne, Le Rire and La Baïonnette, she drew figures of young ladies using pastel color-palettes to evoke girlish charm in her subjects and give them a glow of femininity. Gerda’s sensual images of eroticism left little to the imagination. Her playful nudes, including graphic illustrations in the memoirs of Casanova, were celebrated throughout liberal society for their groundbreaking ploy of depicting female sexual pleasure. But even her most shocking nudes – explicit, almost pornographic, were well received at the time, because they preserved a cherub-like innocence that kept them from vulgarity. It came as no surprise, when at the most important art exhibition of the era, the World’s fair in Paris in 1925, she won two gold medals and one bronze for her work.

Her works published in book form are quite scarce but still relatively undervalued.  “L’Anneau ou La Jeune Fille Imprudente” by Louis de Robert and “Amour Etrusque” by J.-H. Rosny aîné are two of the undated early works, published when she was less known. The latter contains 30 black illustrations in text and a color illustration on the cover. In 1918, she illustrated “L’Abdication de Ris-Orangis” by Léo Larguier for Édition Française Illustrée. It contains six full page drawings in black. The following year, the same publisher published “Contes de mon Père le Jars” by Eric Allatini, which contains twelve colorful illustrations set in delicate printed frames. The edition is limited to 650 copies, 100 of which are printed on hollande verge tiente and another 60 on japon. Her collaboration with Eric Allatini and G. Briffault produced “Sur Talons Rouges,” in 1929. The book has a frontispiece engraved in colors and 12 etchings in color. These works are quite scarce.

 

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Sur Talons Rouges

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Fortunio

Gerda’s most appreciated work which was produced in the middle of her career, is also the most sensually explicit. One of these most spectacular artworks came from the commission made in 1925 by the French polygraph, Louis Perceau: twelve watercolors of high erotic and lesbian content, illustrated the 350 copies of his book: “Les Délassements d’Eros.”  These paintings made her one of the most recognized erotic illustrators of all time. Her next work in 1927, was “Une Aventure d’Amour à Venise” by Giacomo Casanova, published in Paris for Le Livre du Bibliophile by Georges Briffaut. Gerda’s original watercolors were wood-engraved by G. Aubert and embellished in color by master engraver André Lambert. The edition was limited to 500 copies, of which 25 included 2 illustrations in black and yellow preparatory states, bringing the total to 10 illustrations instead of just the 8 aquatint printed plates. The following year, Georges Briffault published 2 volumes which included her work, titled “Les Contes,” and again in 1934, Briffaut published “Fortunio” written by Théophile Gautier. The book has 16 erotic colored etchings by Gerda, compiled in an edition of 392 copies printed on velin rives. The same book published by the same publisher in larger volume was illustrated by Paul-Emile Bécat. Collectors, however, have shown a preference for Gerda’s “Fortunio” illustrations which are now extremely scarce.

Gerda knew that to be a ‘real woman’ one must be beautiful and act in a feminine way. She was also quite aware that ‘femininity’ is performed, polished with makeup, mascara eyes, feminine lashes; exhibited with hairless legs, or in a uniform such as a prom dress, or a wedding gown. While, she herself, a woman of elusive power swathed in femininity, lived in Paris with her lover and model, Lili Elbe, who was previously her husband Einar. While technically married, Gerda and Lili lived as a lesbian couple after Einar’s sex reassignment surgery. Their story is portrayed in the film The Danish Girl. At a time when transgender issues are increasingly part of the wider culture, it’s vital to acknowledge the impact that Gerda’s art had in forging a path towards tolerance and acceptance.

 

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The Jewels of Passover

by Admin on April 17, 2019

Lombard Haggadah

At the start of this year’s Holy Week a terrible blaze engulfed Notre-Dame. As I watched the spire of the cathedral fall, I wondered how destructive smoke and flames have often been to books throughout history. Vulnerable older editions from the 16th, 15th and even 13th centuries must have survived the misfortunes brought about by poor conditions and destructions such as those caused by fires. How many old, unique manuscripts has humanity lost through the centuries because of natural or man-made disasters? The destruction of an original manuscript created before the invention of the printing press is truly an invaluable loss to humanity’s evolution.

Arguably, the most richly illuminated Hebrew manuscript from Renaissance Italy is the Rothschild Miscellany, which is housed in Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. Commissioned by Moses ben Jekuthiel ha-Kohen, the Miscellany, consists of approximately 950 beautifully ornamented and illustrated pages, embellished with three different types of gold – burnished gold, flat gold and powdered gold. It contains a collection of more than 70 books and treatises, ranging from the Biblical books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job, Halahic and Aggadic compilations, to philosophical, historical, homiletical books of the Middle Ages, and Isaac Solomon Abi Sahula’s Meshal ha-Kadmoni.

The illustrations portray biblical scenes, numerous religious practices and customs regarding prayer and life cycle events in the Jewish tradition, likely to have been the product of craftsmen trained by some of the great artists of the Italian Renaissance. The manuscript carries the name of Rothschild, because it had been in the possession of the Rothschild family from generation to generation. During World War II, it was stolen, to be later returned to the owners by Dr. Alexander Marx, librarian of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The Rothschild family donated the manuscript to the Bezalel National Art Museum in Jerusalem in 1957. In 1964, Bezalel was incorporated into the new Israel Museum, where the Miscellany has been housed and exhibited ever since.

Rothschild Miscellany

Rothschild Miscellany life cycle events in the Jewish tradition

The London publisher, “Facsimile Editions,” in cooperation with the Israel Museum, produced a facsimile of the Rothschild Miscellany in a limited edition of 550 copies. Every copy is bound in wooden boards, covered in Morocco goatskin with the three different types of gold, and faithfully copied by hand. The copies were quickly picked up by collectors and institutions leaving only single leaves available for sale at prices over $100 each.

Among the Grande Roue de Paris Ferris wheel, Russian nesting dolls, diesel engines, talking films, escalators, and the telegraphone, another remarkable medieval manuscript, the Lombard Haggadah, was on display at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, better known in English as the 1900 Paris Exposition. That was the last time that the manuscript was on public display, observable to the 50 million or so visitors of the expo. 119 years later, the manuscript is on private display at the Les Enluminures Gallery in New York, (RSVP required).

Lombard Haggadah

Lombard Haggadah serving bunch of maror (bitter herbs)

The Haggadah, with seventy-five watercolor paintings created in the circle of the famous artist Giovannino de’ Grassi (d. 1398), in Milan, in the late fourteenth century, commemorates the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, and their transition from slavery to freedom. It survives as the earliest stand-alone Italian Haggadah. The manuscript was owned by a French family who exhibited at the Exposition Universelle and later, in 1927, sold it in London to Zalman Schocken, a noted collector of Hebrew manuscripts. One of only three illustrated manuscripts, Haggadot remains in private hands, and is also for sale — for an undisclosed ‘mid to upper seven-figure sum’.

The main ritual of Passover is the Seder, the ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday and occurs on the first night of the holiday. The festive meal is accompanied with the re-telling of the Exodus through stories and song and the consumption of ritual foods, such as matzah and maror (bitter herbs). The Seder’s rituals and other readings are outlined in the Haggadah. Les Enluminures and its founder Dr. Sandra Hindman have organized several events to accompany the exhibition of this Haggadah, which will remain on view until 20 April. The events include a gallery talk and a conference on the subject of Haggadot in the Middle Ages. Please visit the press release for more information.

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AMBIVALENT CENSORSHIP OF MEDIEVAL “SCIENCE” IN 17th CENTURY SPAIN: THE EXAMPLE OF THE HORTUS SANITATIS (MAINZ, 1491)

February 27, 2019
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Issued in the aftermath of the Council of Trent (1545-63), the Index of Forbidden Books maintained by the Inquisition became an obstacle to the circulation of books and ideas in Europe and its colonies well into the 20th century – it is only in 1966 that the Catholic Church formally abolished it. Among the famous […]

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Messy Interconnections of Innovation

February 23, 2019

  In 1986, the co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AI laboratory’s, cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, (1927-2016), published The Society of Mind.  The book describes a theory which attempts to explain how what we call intelligence, could be a product of the interaction of non-intelligent parts. He proposed that each mind is made of […]

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Sex: the single girl’s perspective

January 31, 2019
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Two titles written a decade apart:  the first, in the early sixties, at the onset of the sexual revolution, which brought us increased acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual, monogamous relationships; and, the other, in the early seventies, during the post-pill and pre-AIDS period. These authors’ writings on the topic of sex in the single girl’s […]

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Fast Forward 50 Years

December 31, 2018
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Another year is upon us with the usual hoopla about the abnormalities of current times. As 2019 makes its debut, many of the values and beliefs we hold dear are being questioned throughout the world. Truthful facts, science, humanity, diversity and equality are a few on the top of the list. In the US, denying […]

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The Importance of Language in Rare Books

October 13, 2018
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How fortunate native English-speaking booksellers are to have English as their mother tongue! English is the lingua franca of global business. Not surprisingly, the official language of ILAB, (The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers), is English. However, the organization maintains that this stature is shared equally with French; hence the old ILAB motto “Amor librorum […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – Auctions

August 21, 2018
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When an auction generates astonishing excitement in view of both the quality and quantity of books being offered, the excitement is also reflected in the prices realized. Even if the prices are often unrealistic, for many buyers, the auction remains a remarkable event that is worth the extra expense. High emotions are exactly the ingredients […]

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The Seven Pillars of a Rare Book: The case of John William’s “Stoner”

July 1, 2018
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Factor #1: Scarcity in supply. The year was 1965; the war in Vietnam was escalating, the space race was in full swing, and the Rolling Stones were on a world tour. America’s counter-culture movements were embracing drug use, liberal sexuality and obscenity in their writings and works. It was during this year that a novelist […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – Modern Firsts

May 16, 2018
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  In 1977-78 Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., held 3 auction events with the titles Important Modern First Editions and Fine Modern First Editions.  They included the rare book collection of Jonathan Goodwin, one of the greatest collectors of the 20th century. The 865 lot sale was broken in Part One Sale, (March 29, 1977), Part […]

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