ESSEX, Sarah, Countess of (d.1838, illustrator and compilor). -- Lucy AIKIN (1781-1864). Memoirs of the the Court of Queen Elizabeth.. second edition. London: A. Strahan for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1818. [but 1825]
2 volumes in 4, 8° expanded to small 2° (8° text: 180 x 105mm., expanded to 367 x 258mm). Two letterpress titles, letterpress text mounted to size within ruled and grey wash borders. EXTRA-ILLUSTRATED with four calligraphic ink manuscript title-pages (dated 1825) on paper, each within a polychrome strapwork border, heightened with gilt, incorporating coats-of-arms, and 125 other illustrated leaves (38 vellum or with vellum inserts, 87 paper) INCLUDING 117 SHEETS OF ORIGINAL WATERCOLOUR AND BODYCOLOUR PORTRAITS, BY SARAH, COUNTESS OF ESSEX, the majority within elaborate borders, heightened with gilt and generally incorporating the subjects arms and their name or monogram, also including a 2pp. manuscript facsimile of a letter from Elizabeth, followed by a single page manuscript transcription; a monochrome view of the Penshurst Oak with manuscript text beneath; a brown ink and wash view of the interior of Theobalds (the home of Lord Burleigh); 2pp. of manuscript facsimile signatures (rectos only of two leaves) of 48 Elizabthan worthies; a sheet of four pencil and wash views of Queen Elizabeth's breakfast knife; a folding polychrome plan of Hatfield House. Contemporary red velvet with fine open fret-cut gilt metal mounts: the covers set with the centrally-placed arms of Elizabeth I, cornerpieces with strapwork, a rose and the crowned initials 'E.R.', each volume with a pair of clasps with fleur-de-lys finials, the arabesque decoration incorporating the 'SX' monogram of the Countess of Essex, each clasp with a single jewel in a gilt-metal setting, ivory watered-silk liners edged in gilt, gilt edges (five of the clasps lacking their jewels), three volumes within individual contemporary purple straight-grained morocco drop-sided boxes, ruled in gilt, the spines with the title in gilt beneath the glt stamped arms of the Dukes of Sutherland, blue velvet-lined interior (some scuffing, box to vol.I part 1 lacking).
Provenance: Sarah Capell Coningsby, Countess of Essex (died 16 January 1838, wife of George Capell Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex, bequeathed to:); George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland (1786-1861, inserted ANS by the Duke, noting the receipt of the bequest on 20th March 1838).
AN EXTRAORDINARY TOUR-DE-FORCE, EMPLOYING ONLY THE MOST EXPENSIVE MATERIALS, RESULTING IN A HIGHLY PLEASING AND SUMPTOUS OVERALL PRODUCTION that amply encapsulates the art of a gifted noblewoman of the early 19th century. The work was presumably compiled between 1818 (the date of the printed titles) and 1825 (the date of the manuscript titles). The portraits, many on vellum, are all re-interpretations of earlier models with the addition of highly decorative borders which employ both Elizabethan and early-19th century motifs. The subjects are wide-ranging and include images of most of the major figures from the history of Elizabeth's reign, as well as some of her forbears. The Countess has clearly paid particular attention to the faces which display a highly professional grasp of the miniaturist techniques needed to reproduce the original portraits. In addition to the portraits, the work also includes a finely worked depiction of the four facets of the handle of the knife apparently used by Elizabeth to eat breakfast, as well as accurate manuscript facsimiles, an interesting plan of Hatfield House and a view of the interior of Theobalds. (4)