Our Notes & References
The Tsarina’s copy of an uncommon illustrated edition of Aesop’s fables, in red morocco with Maria Feodorovna’s gilt arms.
A lovely edition, attractively illustrated with 60 engraved plates, compiled by the “abbé de Bellegarde” and containing various texts, mostly by Aesop, Philelphus, Gabrias, and Avienus, first published in Amsterdam in 1708.
Jean-Baptiste Morvan de Bellegarde (1648-1734), a Jesuit writer and translator, enlivened his version of the Aesopian texts by adding a four-line rhyming verse at the end of each fable in italics. He also accompanied each fable with an extensive commentary and added extra Aesopian texts to give his collection of fables a comprehensive quality. He added 18 fables of the Latin poet Philelphus and 37 fables attributed to Aesop by the Roman authors Gabrias and Avienus. Thereafter follow five “Tales” of Aesop, taken from Plato’s dialogue “Protagoras,” six “Poetic fables,” with Olympian Gods as protagonists, two more “Tales,” taken from Herodotus, and one fable by a German humanist Gerbellius (c. 1485 – 1560). The edition opens with a detailed biography of Aesop by the Byzantine Greek monk and scholar Maximus Planudes (c. 1260 – c. 1305).
With Russian imperial provenance: Maria Feodorovna, née Sofia-Dorothea-Augusta-Louise, Princess of Württemberg, was the second wife of Tsar Paul I (1759-1828). She was an avid book collector (among other cultural activities) and founded the first literary salon in Russia. Her main library, housed in the Pavlovsk Palace, started with 33 books gifted to Paul I by his mother Catherine the Great. Subsequently, Paul I and his wife enhanced the library on their own and with the help of agents; Maria Fedorovna also developed libraries in other palaces, such as Gatchina. Being the Dowager Empress, she continued to fill the library with both books and periodicals by subscription. By the time of her death in 1828, the total number of books in the Pavlovsk library alone reached 20,895.
This copy comes from a refined and extensive library collected by Alexander Weddell (1876-1948) and his wife Virginia (1874-1948). Alexander Weddell served as US Ambassador to Argentina (1933-39) and Spain (1939-42). His collection was recently deaccessioned by the Virginia House Museum in Richmond, Virginia.
Maria Feodorovna (arms to covers); Alexander Weddell, Richmond, Virginia (booklabel to upper pastedown).