The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières

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The print work of French artist Érik Desmazières has featured here on several occasions, and I’ve also had reason to mention more than once his aquatints and etchings which illustrate Jorge Luis Borges’ celebrated short story The Library of Babel (1941). The prints were produced in 1997 with a small book edition being published in 2000. Copies of that volume now sell for upwards of $100, and at a mere 36 pages this somewhat exceeds my acquisitiveness threshold. Hence this post which gathers some of the better online reproductions, one or two of which have only come to light in the past couple of years.

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Borges’ description of the architecture of the universe-size Library is sketchy so Desmazières opens out some of the spaces to give a Piranesian sense of space to what would otherwise be little more than views of the same small rooms and corridors, endlessly repeating. MC Escher could have made something of those infinite perspectives—the hexagonal chambers are the closest to the story descriptions—but the larger rooms convey without words an impression of colossal spaces filled with nothing but people and an infinitude of books. The volumes in Borges’ Library don’t contain illustrations but one of them at least would describe this very book. Another would describe this book with a minor variation in one of the plates; another would describe MC Escher’s depictions of the Library, and Piranesi’s, and Salvador Dalí’s, and on and on…

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Continue reading “The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières”

Leonardo’s warrior

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Bust of a warrior in profile (c. 1475–80) by Leonardo da Vinci.

A recent interview question reminded me of this splendid Leonardo piece when I was discussing early artistic influences. One crucial influence for me was the example of my mother who’d been an art student during the 1950s specialising in ceramics and textile design. From an early age I was fascinated by her student sketchbooks, and by one drawing in particular, a very careful copy of this work by the young Leonardo. The British Museum has the original, about which they tell us:

The drawing shows Leonardo studying the art of his teacher, Andrea Verrocchio. Giorgio Vasari’s biography of Verrocchio in his Lives of the Artists (1550 and 1568) mentions two metal reliefs with profile portraits of Alexander the Great, leader of the Greeks, and Darius, the Persian king. They were sent by Lorenzo ‘il Magnifico’ (‘the Magnificent’) de’ Medici, ruler of Florence (1469–92), as gifts to the king of Hungary. This drawing is probably based on one of these lost works by Verrocchio.

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Casque d’apparat (1981) by Erik Desmazières.

Memories of the Leonardo drawing always follow the exaggerated logic of childhood and inflate its splendour and detail; I’d never seen anything like it and for years used to hope that Leonardo had produced many similar works. He hadn’t, of course, so it’s to other artists we have to turn for more of the same. French artist Erik Desmazières has produced a number of etchings depicting elaborately helmeted figures which are perhaps inspired by Leonardo’s warrior. Of the three in Imaginary Places, a 2007 collection of his work, the one above is my favourite. I have a feeling I’ve seen derivations by other artists but nothing is coming to mind. As usual, if anyone knows of further examples, please leave a comment. Elsewhere there’s Leonardo’s Diary (1972), a short film by Jan Svankmajer in which the haughty figure is subject to some typical Svankmajerian distortions.

• See also: Erik Desmazières at the Fitch-Febvrel Gallery.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Les lieux imaginaires d’Erik Desmazières
Jan Svankmajer: The Complete Short Films
The art of Erik Desmazières

The art of Pierre Clayette, 1930–2005

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The Library of Babel (no date).

Another French artist who specialised in fantastic architecture, Pierre Clayette’s work came to my attention via the picture above which illustrates a Borges story. This leads me to wonder once again what it is about French and Belgian artists which attracts them more than others to this type of imagery.

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Whatever the reason, there isn’t a great deal of Clayette’s work online and biographical details are few. This page (the source of the untitled picture above) reveals that he worked as an illustrator for Planète magazine, the journal of “fantastic realism” founded by Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels in the early Sixties. Some readers may know that pair as the authors of a { feuilleton } cult volume, The Morning of the Magicians (1960), whose vertiginous blend of speculative and weird fiction, occultism and futurology Planète was intended to continue.

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Clayette also worked as a theatre designer and book illustrator. Le Chateau (above) is an illustration from Songes de Pierres, a 1984 portfolio depicting scenes from Pierres by Roger Caillois. That writer has his own significant Borges connection, being responsible for introducing Borges’ work to France via his editorship of the UNESCO journal, Diogenes. (Pauwels and Bergier later published Borges in Planète.)

Finally, there’s a less extravagant Flickr collection of some Clayette covers for Penguin Shakespeare editions. All of which only scratches the surface of what was evidently a prolific career; I’ll look forward to more examples of his work coming to light.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Michiko Hoshino
The art of Erik Desmazières
The art of Gérard Trignac
The Absolute Elsewhere

The fantastic art archive

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Previous posts about fantastic, surreal or visionary artists.

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The Execution of the Testament of the Marquis de Sade by Jean Benoît

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Ernst Fuchs, 1977

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Ernst Fuchs, 1930–2015

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The art of Aleksandr Kosteckij

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The art of Fabrizio Clerici, 1913–1993

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The art of Victor Linford, 1940–2002

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Heimkiller and High

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The Man Who Paints Monsters In The Night

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Hans by Sibylle

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The art of Jean-Michel Mathieux-Marie

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Gilles Rimbault redux

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Albert Goodwin’s fantasies

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The art of Roland Cat

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The art of James Gleeson, 1915–2008

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Sidney Sime paintings

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The art of Joanna Chrobak

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Giger’s Tarot

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Giger’s Necronomicon

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The art of Thomas Cole, 1801–1848

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Raymond Bertrand paintings

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Raymond Bertrand’s science fiction covers

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Visionaries: The Art of the Fantastic

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Starowieyski in Switzerland

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The art of Luis Toledo

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Jacques Brissot’s Hay Wain

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The art of Jindrich Styrsky, 1899–1942

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The art of Robert Venosa, 1936–2011

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Initiations in the Abyss: A Surrealist Apocalypse

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The fantastic and apocalyptic art of Bruce Pennington

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The art of Leonidas Kryvosej

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The art of Aloys Zötl, 1803–1887

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Sibylle Ruppert revisited

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Sibylle Ruppert, 1942–2011

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Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult

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The art of Gilles Rimbault

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The art of Christian rex Van Minnen

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The art of Oleg Denysenko

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The art of François Schuiten

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The art of Sibylle Ruppert

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Franciszek Starowieyski, 1930–2009

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The art of Pierre Clayette, 1930–2005

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A Midsummer Night’s Dadd

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The art of Michel Henricot

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The art of Heidi Taillefer

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The art of Andrew Severynko

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The art of Julie Heffernan

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The art of Harold Hitchcock

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The art of Agostino Arrivabene

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The art of Takato Yamamoto

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The art of Andrey Avinoff, 1884–1949

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The art of Jean Benoît

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The art of Bertrand

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Pierre Matter’s cyborg sculpture

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The art of José Hernández

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Czanara’s Hermaphrodite Angel

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The art of Sergei Aparin

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The art of Nicola Verlato

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The art of Stephen Aldrich

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The art of Rudolf Hausner, 1914–1995

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The art of Erik Desmazières

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The Codex Seraphinianus

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Leonora Carrington

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Two American paintings

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The art of Arnau Alemany

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The art of Jean Louis Ricaud

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The art of Gérard Trignac

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The art of Ernst Fuchs

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The art of Jean-Marie Poumeyrol

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Las Pozas and Edward James

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The art of Jean-Pierre Ugarte

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The art of Ljuba Popovic

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The art of Stanislav Szukalski, 1893–1987

More archive pages:
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The etching and engraving archive

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Previous posts about etchings and engravings.

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Bruegel’s sins

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The World of Wonders

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LVCIFER

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Gérard Trignac’s Invisible Cities

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La Ronde du Sabbat

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Meyer’s Todtengessängen

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Jacques Houplain’s Maldoror

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Athanasius Kircher’s Pan

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Robert Fludd’s Temples of Music

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Musaeum Hermeticum

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Rodler’s Fine, Useful Booklet

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Rules and Examples of Perspective Proper, 1693

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Grand capitals

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Rentz’s Todentanz

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A Scholar in his Study

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Old New Orleans

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Les Terres du Ciel

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Transformations

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Doorways

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Eustace details

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The Library of Babel by Érik Desmazières

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The labyrinth of Versailles

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Atalanta Fugiens

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Athanasius Kircher’s pyramids

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The Royal Natural History by Richard Lydekker

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Animating Piranesi

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Sea and Land: An Illustrated History

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Fonthill Abbey

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The Turgot Map of Paris

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Athanasius Kircher’s Tower of Babel

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Alfred Rethel’s Totentanz

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Paulini’s mythological alphabet

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Six Suites of Engravings

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The art of Jindrich Pilecek, 1944–2002

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Further oddities

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Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae

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Carceri, thermae and candelabra

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Yuri Yakovenko bookplates

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Wenceslaus Hollar’s peacocks

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Liceti’s monsters

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Albrecht Dürer’s Triumphal Arch

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Frans De Geetere’s illustrated Maldoror

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Schott’s Physica Curiosa

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Grandville’s Un Autre Monde

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The Triumph of the Phallus

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The art of Oleg Denysenko

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Nicoletto Giganti’s naked duellists

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Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales

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Jan Saenredam’s whale

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Digital alchemy

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Oeuvres D’Architecture by Jean Le Pautre

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Gramato-graphices

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Edward William Lane’s Arabian Nights Entertainments

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John Bickham’s Fables and other short poems

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Battle of the Naked Men

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The art of François Houtin

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Maldoror illustrated

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Reynard the Fox

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Czanara: The Art & Photographs of Raymond Carrance

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Empusa

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Hadrian and Greek love

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The art of Stella Langdale, 1880–1976

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The art of Michael Goro

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The art of Michiko Hoshino

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The art of Toni Pecoraro

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Piranesi as designer

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Giorgio Ghisi’s Allegory of Life

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Les lieux imaginaires d’Erik Desmazières

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Gods’ Man by Lynd Ward

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Weel done, Cutty-sark!

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Prince Iskandar’s horoscope

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Architectural renderings by HW Brewer

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Happy Solstice

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The art of Félicien Rops, 1833–1898

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The art of José Hernández

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Vedute di Roma

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Frans Masereel’s city

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Charles Le Brun’s physiognomies

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The art of Erik Desmazières

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The art of André Beuchat

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The art of Yves Doaré

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The art of Philippe Mohlitz

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Angels 4: Fallen angels

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Abelardo Morell

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Aldous Huxley on Piranesi’s Prisons

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The art of Jean Coulon

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The art of Gérard Trignac

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Russian Utopia

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The Essex Street Water Gate, London WC2

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The Ranelagh Rotunda

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The art of Peter Milton

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Saint-Aubin’s Butterfly People

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Filippo Morghen’s Voyage to the Moon

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Charles Méryon’s Paris

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The Atlas Coelestis of Johann Gabriel Doppelmayr

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