After cataloguing several rather tame 18th century versions of La Tentation de Saint Antoine by Sedaine (1719-1797) from the J. Patrick Lee Voltaire Collection last week, I came across another edition that had been beautifully rebound with marbled covers and endpapers and shiny gilt top edges. The others had had numerous grotesque engravings populated with devils as well as music to accompany the poems.
When I opened this book, however, I had quite a shock: following the title page but preceding the text, this version had bound in four hand-coloured engravings of a striptease! There was a lecherous rather gnome-like Saint Anthony leering out from under his monk’s hood, with a grinning pig at his side, watching the proceedings.
Front and center was a buxom young lady who was removing first her skirt, then her petticoat, then her sexy black stockings and bloomers, then the whole works. Flitting about above the scenes is a little flying devil and some sort of cute winged dragon with a snake’s tail. When by the third plate, Saint Anthony is starting to look a bit askance, turning toward his books, a halo appears above his head and in the fourth and last plate, he hides his head in his cowl while the devil shakes his fist and the lovely lady, now in her birthday suit, attempts to tickle him with a peacock feather.
I brought this treasure to Megan, intending to ask her advice as to whether “striptease” was an appropriate word for a McGill catalogue record – would J. Patrick Lee turn over in his grave? But before I could ask, she gleefully whisked it off to the digitization section where it has now been digitized and made available in our catalogue for all to enjoy.
You can download the full volume from our catalogue or you can see the original by visiting the Rare Book and Special Collections reading room during opening hours.
Authored by: Penny Aubin