This marvelous circular engraving was taken out the other day while reorganizing the backlog of French prints. The dealer from whom it was purchased was somewhat puzzled as to what its purpose might have been. Were all the tiny figures designed to be cut out and used in découpage? But surely it would be difficult to do without damaging surrounding figures, even with a very steady hand and a very sharp pair of tiny scissors. And it really doesn’t look like a fancier kind of lottery print, where the images are laid out in a rectangular grid, which simplifies cutting out. So this seemed like a good time to try and find out a little more about this engraving.
The “Cte de Paroy,” who signed his name and the date 1789 (a significant year in French history!) below the bust of the seventeenth-century poet Jean de la Fontaine (1621-1695) at the center of the engraving, was actually the print’s engraver, not the publisher. Paroy’s full name was Jean Philippe Guy le Gentil, Comte de Paroy (1780-1824), and he was celebrated as a miniaturist. He also wrote a memoir of his eventful life, which can be read in the original French on Google Books. The figure of La Fontaine’s illustrious fabulist predecessor, the hunchbacked slave Aesop, appears below La Fontaine on the bust’s column-like plinth.
If Paroy was known for working on a small scale, then this print was probably intended to show off his skills. Dozens of scenes from La Fontaine’s fables are cunningly arranged with surprisingly little space between them. Yet Paroy has laid them out so skillfully that the effect is pleasing rather than overwhelming. It is a tour de force that designers of the modern puzzle picture, like Martin Handford, Jean Marzullo and Walter Wick, or armchair puzzle hunts like Kit Williams, might be intrigued to study.
We were delighted to find an image of the print in the collection section of the web site of the Musée Jean de la Fontaine, but were disappointed that it wasn’t possible to make detailed comparisons between the two copies. It was difficult to choose a handful of details for this posting, but we hope this gives you an idea of how beautifully the variety of subjects are presented.
And some details depicting different fables: