The Libertine

The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France

By Michel Delon

Release Date
Format Hardcover 496 pages 9.63 x 12.25 inches Approximately 400 full-color illustrations
ISBN-13 978-0-78921-147-7 SKU 1042536

A lavishly presented tasting menu of excerpts from eighteenth-century libertine literature, expertly paired with delectable period artworks.

“That which both sexes then called ‘love’ was a kind of commerce that they entered into, often without inclination, where convenience was always preferred to sympathy, interest to pleasure, and vice to feeling.” Thus did one novelist describe the spirit that pervaded the twilight years of the Ancien Régime, the heyday of the libertine. Today this word typically evokes the excesses of a Sade or the cruel manipulations of Dangerous Liaisons, but the game of love, as the jaded French aristocracy played it, was most often characterized by a refinement of speech and manner, a taste for nuance over forthright assertion that finds its counterpart in the paintings of Fragonard and the operas of Mozart. The amours of the libertine also colored the intellectual life of the time, figuring into the great debates about natural instinct versus social institutions, and the proper limits of personal freedom.

This sumptuous volume re-creates the milieu of the libertine in all its lively decadence, bringing together more than eighty brief selections from eighteenth-century French literature, grouped into eight broad themes—including tales of seduction, fantasies of exotic lands, and the discoveries of youth—and introduced by an eminent French scholar. These pieces, which encompass fiction, drama, verse, essays, and letters, are the work of nearly sixty writers, some familiar to Anglophone readers—such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, and yes, the Marquis de Sade—and some much less so; indeed, many of the selections are hitherto untranslated. Each excerpt is accompanied by splendid reproductions of period artworks, many rarely seen, by Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, and numerous others, that echo and heighten the mood of the texts.

Racy, thought-provoking, and a treat for the eyes, The Libertine is the perfect gift for litterateurs, art lovers, roués, and coquettes.


2013 Holiday Gift Guide — Newsday



Delon’s anthology... display[s] the dazzling breadth and depth of the 18th-century obsession with pleasures of the flesh. Certainly The Libertine is as lavish—with its sumptuous illustrations of luscious Rococo nudes and other toothsome lovelies—as an 18th-century bal masqué. But Delon’s analogy understates the dizzying diversity of the ball’s invitees. Priapic peasants, depraved duchesses, masked miscreants, sexy sylphs, coy mistresses, foot fetishists, human sofas (!) and a surprising abundance of naughty nuns: These raunchy revelers engage in one decadent mating dance after another, tirelessly chasing “it,” and gamely explaining why it matters.  The New York Times

The Libertine is the most seductive book published this year.  Playboy

Highly recommended for sophisticated readers, art historians, and Francophiles. — Library Journal

Prepare to be seduced by The Libertine, a swoon-worthy tome that celebrates the French practice of amour. A parade of frolicking lovers gorgeously reproduced. — Newsday

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