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Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres anciens et modernes

Paris, Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy, 1685





FIRST COLLECTIVE EDITION, called on the title pages Second edition

It is dedicated to Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), Marquis de Seignelay, general controller of finances and especially as far as this book is concerned, “Superintendent & General Organizing Officer of Buildings, Arts & Manufactures of France” since 1664

Elle est dédiée à Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), marquis de Seignelay, contrôleur général des finances et, surtout, pour ce qui regarde ce livre, “Surintendant & Ordonnateur Général des Bâtiments, Arts & Manufactures de France” depuis 1664

The Entretiens were first published separately on five different dates, in five 4to volumes, as they were being written. October 9, 1663, Félibien had taken a privilege for a Traité sur l’origine de la Peinture given for “the space of twenty years”. The first volume of Entretiens was published by Pierre Le Petit in 1666. Dedicated by this same text to the great Colbert, it presents the first two Entretiens. The Seconde partie, offering Entretiens III and IV, was published by Sébastien Mabre-Cramoisy in 1672 again under the privilege of 1663. The Troisième partie saw the day with Jean-Baptiste Coignard in 1679 with Entretiens V and VI. The Quatrième partie was printed by Mabre-Cramoisy dated 1685, although it was printed in October 1684, still with the privilege of 1663. Here we find Entretiens VII and VIII, the sixth giving the famous Vie de Poussin. The Cinquième partie, with Entretiens IX and X, was again published by Mabre-Cramoisy and finished printing on February 17, 1688, once again under the old privilege of 1663. This first collective edition is dated 1685 (for 1686) and 1688. It was made thanks to a new specific privilege that Félibien obtained on September 23, 1686 to “reprint in one or several volumes, a Book entitled Entretiens”. The final print of the first volume is dated November 25, 1686, volume II is dated March 30, 1688, one month after publication of the Cinquième partie. The work obeys a logic of nesting tables

2 4to volumes (250 x 180mm)

Printer’s stamp wood engraved on each of the title pages, numerous headpieces, copper engraved initials and tail pieces,

COLLATION : (vol. 1) : a-e-i-o4, A-Z 2A-Z 3A-Z 4A-Z 5A-E4 ; (vol. 2) : a2 A-Z 2A-Z 3A-Z 4A-V44X2
CONTENTS : a1r half-title, a2r title, a3r dedication to Jean-Baptiste Colbert Marquis de Seignelay, e4r Preface, A1r : “Premier entretien”, K3r : “Second entretien”, 2N1r : “Troisième Entretien”, 3L4r : “Quatrième entretien”, 4G2r : “Cinquième entretien”, A1r : “Sixième entretien”, Q1r : “Septième entretien”, 2Q2r : “Huitième entretien” with the very famous Vie de Nicolas Poussin, 3K2r : “Neuvième entretien”, 4B3r : “Dixième entretien”, 4R1r : “Le Songe de Polymathe”, 4V2r : Table
ILLUSTRATION : 4 copper engravings printed on full page illustrating the light-dark and the theories of light (t. I, p. 633, 637, 644, 647)

CONTEMPORARY BINDING (before 1709). Red morocco, gilt decor, arms in the center of the sides and Du Seuil border, gilt spine with piece of arms, gilt edges
PROVENANCE : Jérôme Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1674-1747), Comte de Pontchartrain and Palluau, Baron de Maurepas, only son of Louis Phélypeaux, Chanceler of France and Marie de Maupeou, received as advisor to the Parliament in 1693, secretary of State to the Navy in 1699, commander of the Orders of the King in 1709 (arms and pieces of arms, Olivier-Hermal-de Rotton, Manuel de l’amateur de livres armoriées, plate 2263, tool 1, and Guigard, Armorial du bibliophile, t. II, p. 396). Phélypeaux being only fourteen at the time of the publication of Félibien, the binding will have necessarily been done later. Tool 2 of plate 2263 bears the necklace of the Holy Spirit obtained in 1709, absent from the tool of our binding, giving this year as terminus ad quem -- Comtesse Martine de Béhague (1870-1939 ; ex-libris) -- Hubert Marquis de Ganay (1888-1974 ; ex-libris)

“Félibien represents a moment of balance and confidence, this beautiful confidence of the 1660s, whose preface in Entretiens (1666) is a striking manifesto”. (Thuillier, XVIIe siècle, 1983, n° 138, p. 85)

André Félibien was born in 1619, the same year as Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Charles Le Brun. He was the son of an alderman of Chartres and belonged to this compulsory bourgeoisie bordering on nobility, strongly tinged with Jansenism and Protestantism. The family of the famous Jansenist Pierre Nicole was also originally from Chartres and the cousin of Félibien’s cousin. While a student in Paris, he became friend with a painter of Protestant origin, Louis Du Guernier, to whom he pays homage in Entretien X. As he tells it in his preface, Félibien spent two years in Rome (1647-1649) as secretary to the Ambassador of France, Marquis de Fontaine-Mareuil and became one of Poussin’s closest friends. Upon his return to France, and in the early 1650s, his talents as a writer and his Roman experience brought him closer to the world of Preciosity. He frequented Valentin Conrart, the salons of Madeleine de Scudéry and Madame de Rambouillet, and of course, Fouquet. He then wrote and published three letters on Vaux which were admired by the public, happy to hear one of the best representatives of this new language and this new esthetic. At the fall of the glorious Superintendent of Finances in 1661, Colbert would not leave this talent unemployed. He would integrate him into his teams, giving him a place in Historiographe du Roi et de ses Bâtiments, des Arts et Manufactures de France (1666). At Colbert’s death, Louvois, taking charge of the cultural politics of the country, parted from Perrault but replaced Félibien who had died, in the service of the King in 1695.

History of a text

Since the 1666 edition, the Entretiens open onto a dedication to Colbert which replaced the one addressed to Fouquet in the first version of De l’origine de la peinture (1660). Colbert was now praised for his policy and his actions in favor of the arts. Félibien thanked him for the interest in his work and for his appointment of 1666.

If it is to Félibien that we should “go look for the most complete expression of artistic thought of the 18th century” (J. Thuillier), the very organization of the various Entretiens, the idea of which predates 1660, turns out to be complicated to grasp, the project, spread over more than twenty years, having changed axis several times.

Félibien had brought back a copy of Traité de la peinture by Léonard de Vinci from Rome, whose manuscript was kept in the library of the Barberini. He did not want to compete with the translation by Fréart de Chambray published in 1651. Jacques Thuillier remarked that his “success would remain limited”, principally because of the ridged and learned form of the Traité by de Vinci. Fréart de Chambray’s translation would thus only receive a modest echo.

Noting that there was no history of French arts, Félibien chose to privilege the form of the Entretien and the Conversation which had already been adopted before him by Chapelain, Sarasin, Madeleine de Scudéry in Clélie, or especially Galilée with his Dialogo and Honoré d’Urfé in Astrée. The text De l’origine de la peinture, with the sub-title of Dialogues (1660) undoubtedly offers the first printed version of the project. The latter was to revolve around two equal parts consecrated to old masters for one and to modern painters for the other, based on the model of Vite by Vasari. Félibien picked the project up again in 1666 and published the first two Entretiens. He had then “decided to introduce more important developments on the precepts of art : they would take a considerable place in Entretiens III and IV (1672). Furthermore, historical intention was increasing (…) Félibien thought of extending the modern part to six or eight Entretiens, the last having to be devoted to Poussin (…) l’honneur et la gloire de notre nation” (art. cit., p. 88).

This Vie de Poussin by Félibien is the third great biography of the deceased painter, after those of Giovanni Bellori (1672) and Joachim von Sandrart (1675). According to Jacques Thuillier, it is “the first example of a modern monograph uniting biography with a critical catalogue” (En Français dans le texte).

At that time, Félibien discovered the necessity of opening his project to all of European art, of going beyond the strict French framework to also deal with paintings from the North and from Italy. At the same time, the crowning moment of the work was no longer just the Vie de Poussin but rather the artists of the painter’s entourage and his French heirs. It would be the Entretiens IX and X published in 1688 at the end of which Félibien “adds in a somewhat artificial way this poetic pediment which constitutes the Songe de Polymathe” (J. Thuillier). These changes of position would bring Félibien to think of a new presentation of his work, under a complete form, compact and definitive. It would be for this first collective edition in two volumes that he would take a privilege on September 23, 1686, that of 1663 having expired.

Importance of the text

To underscore it, nothing replaces the notice of Jacques Thuillier published in En Français dans le texte :

“Few books, more than the Entretiens by Félibien, are the result of a timely encounter between the demands of an era and the personality of an author. The French 16th century was passionate about the arts (…) When the drama of the civil wars was erased, in the entourage of Marie de Médicis, then Richelieu, patronage and the taste for collecting resumed even stronger, amateurs and people of the world still did not have any French works to enlighten them on the arts and their history. They had to fall back on Italian or Northern works, limited to local production. The genius of Félibien was to respond to this demand (…) by offering for the first time, a book of universal value which made its right place in the art of each country, in a clear language, without falling into recent techniques nor pedantic gloss. He was the only one who could write it.”

Finally, the author’s style was always recognized by his peers, by the high administration and by the Court, as one of the best of his time. His recently republished Vie de Poussin reads like a delight of classicism.


This pull-out (nesting table) structure made the appearance of choice copies of this fundamental text extremely rare. Today we know of no copies in contemporary uniformly bound morocco of the five parts published separately over twenty-two years ; none on the auction market, for public sale (Berès listing), or in public collections. Of the first collective edition in two volumes, this copy is the only one known today in morocco with the arms of a leading figure, both a minister and a patron (sources : RBH, Gazette de Drouot, ABPC, Berès listing, Vialibri).

This copy was luxuriously bound for Jérôme Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain (1674-1747). He held the position of both the Secretary of State of the Navy and of the House of the King. He was the son of Louis Phélypeaux, Chancellor and Gardes des Sceaux. Jérôme Phélypeaux belonged to one of the most prestigious lines of the French administrative monarchy which, from 1610 to 1781, would include eleven ministers. After the deaths of Colbert in 1683 and Louvois in 1691, the Phélypeaux clan would occupy the center stage in the Court system and hold the reins of the administration until 1715. The men of power, or haunting the alleys of power, were in fact, “less individualities then members of families, lineages, bound by ties of clientele and loyalty” (Denis Richet, La France moderne : l’esprit des institutions, Paris, 1973, p. 80).

Saint-Simon, always as partial and delicious, had used the vinegary expression “the happiness of being called Phélypeaux” about Jérôme de Pontchartrain, so vilified in his Mémoires. “This ex-bacha, so rough and so superb” (Saint-Simon) was unceremoniously disgraced by the Regent and the aristocratic reaction of 1715.

It was therefore only natural that he should own a luxurious copy of the Entretiens by André Félibien. Phélypeaux was also an important amateur of art and his collection was sold at his death by Mariette : Catalogue des tableaux, des bustes et autres ouvrages de sculpture en marbre, et des bronzes du cabinet de M. le Comte de Pontchartrain dont la vente se fera au plus offrant et dernier enchérisseur à l'Hôtel de Pontchartrain, rue Neuve des Petits-Champs (Paris, 1747).

REFERENCES : En Français dans le texte, Bnf, 1990, n° 104, remarquable notice de Jacques Thuillier -- en partie issue de son article célèbre, “Pour André Félibien”, XVIIe siècle, n° 138, 1983, pp. 67-95 -- Colbert (1919-1683), Paris, 1983, cat. n° 514 -- C. Frostrin, Les Pontchartrain. Ministres de Louis XIV, Rennes, 2006