'The Tenterden Aesop' thumbnail 1
'The Tenterden Aesop' thumbnail 2
+5
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the National Art Library

'The Tenterden Aesop'

Book
1708 (published), 1708-1710 (illustrated)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This is an early 18th-century English edition of Aesop's Fables, a collection of stories that has been a 'best-seller', among both adults and children, for more than two thousand years. What makes this particular copy special is the complete series of illustrations painted on the margins throughout by its first owner, Jeremiah Cliff, within a few years of the publication date.

Jeremiah Cliff has been identified as an apothecary living in the town of Tenterden, in Kent. Apothecaries performed the functions of modern-day pharmacists, but also traded in other goods including artists' pigments, which might suggest why Cliff took up painting as a hobby. Though amateur in style, his images are full of detail and humour, as well as observations of daily life. He has a feel for page design, and the placement of his figures within the tiny spaces available is careful and often witty. He also uses compositional motifs found in published fable illustrations, and his marginal notes cross-refer to another edition of the Fables: clearly he was a cultivated person, perhaps with a large library of his own.

But there is more to it. On several pages, Cliff has depicted a priest figure, labelled with the name of 'Dr Sacheverell'. Henry Sacheverell was a Tory cleric put on trial in London in 1710 for publishing inflammatory sermons preached against the Whig government and especially its toleration of Dissenters (religious Nonconformists). The trial was a widely-reported sensation. Jeremiah Cliff's locality was strongly associated with Dissent, and his scathingly satirical depictions and captions suggest his own viewpoint. From this we can also reconstruct the fact that Jeremiah Cliff owned and illustrated this book within a year or two of its publication.

This book invites comparison not only with other fable books and images, but with the long traditions of manuscript illumination and watercolour painting, as well as printed street literature such as illustrated broadside ballads, and - as these pages clearly show - with the later development of comics and the graphic narrative arts. In addition, it offers an unusual example of an early-modern reader's intense engagement with one of his books.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Brief Description
Book, Fables of Æsop and other eminent mythologists with morals and reflexions, known as 'The Tenterden Aesop', by Sir Roger L'Estrange (1616 - 1704), London: printed for R. Sare, A. & J. Churchil, D. Brown, T. Goodwin, M. Wotton, J. Nicholson, G. Sawbridge, B. Tooke & G. Strahan, 1708 (5th ed.), with added illustrations by Jeremiah Cliff.
Physical Description
[12], 29 [i.e 33], [11], 550, [2] pages, 2 unnumbered leaves of plates : illustrations, portrait.

Pp. 21-33 of ’The life of Æsop’ misnumbered pp. 17-29.

With a final leaf of advertisements.

ESTC: T84996

This copy is known as the "Tenterden Aesop", after the marginal illustrations by its first owner Jeremiah Cliff of Tenterden, Kent.
Dimensions
  • Height: 20cm
Production typeUnique
Object history
Jeremiah Cliff of Tenterden, Kent was the first owner of this book and added numerous illustrations in its margins. Acquired by the Museum in 2005.
Production
Made unique by Jeremiah Cliff's added marginal illustrations.
Summary
This is an early 18th-century English edition of Aesop's Fables, a collection of stories that has been a 'best-seller', among both adults and children, for more than two thousand years. What makes this particular copy special is the complete series of illustrations painted on the margins throughout by its first owner, Jeremiah Cliff, within a few years of the publication date.



Jeremiah Cliff has been identified as an apothecary living in the town of Tenterden, in Kent. Apothecaries performed the functions of modern-day pharmacists, but also traded in other goods including artists' pigments, which might suggest why Cliff took up painting as a hobby. Though amateur in style, his images are full of detail and humour, as well as observations of daily life. He has a feel for page design, and the placement of his figures within the tiny spaces available is careful and often witty. He also uses compositional motifs found in published fable illustrations, and his marginal notes cross-refer to another edition of the Fables: clearly he was a cultivated person, perhaps with a large library of his own.



But there is more to it. On several pages, Cliff has depicted a priest figure, labelled with the name of 'Dr Sacheverell'. Henry Sacheverell was a Tory cleric put on trial in London in 1710 for publishing inflammatory sermons preached against the Whig government and especially its toleration of Dissenters (religious Nonconformists). The trial was a widely-reported sensation. Jeremiah Cliff's locality was strongly associated with Dissent, and his scathingly satirical depictions and captions suggest his own viewpoint. From this we can also reconstruct the fact that Jeremiah Cliff owned and illustrated this book within a year or two of its publication.



This book invites comparison not only with other fable books and images, but with the long traditions of manuscript illumination and watercolour painting, as well as printed street literature such as illustrated broadside ballads, and - as these pages clearly show - with the later development of comics and the graphic narrative arts. In addition, it offers an unusual example of an early-modern reader's intense engagement with one of his books.
Other Number
Safe 6.A.10 - NAL Pressmark
Collection
Library Number
38041005200829

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdMay 19, 2022
Record URL