‘A Council of Birds for Chusing more Kings’, and ‘A Woman That Would Needs Die for Her Husband’

‘A Council of Birds for Chusing more Kings’, and ‘A Woman That Would Needs Die for Her Husband’

Jeremiah Cliff, owner of the book in about 1711
‘A Council of Birds for Chusing more Kings’, and ‘A Woman That Would Needs Die for Her Husband’
Hand-drawn illustrations
In a copy of Fables of Aesop and other eminent mythologists by Roger L’Estrange, 1708
Printed for R. Sare in London
National Art Library Pressmark: Safe 6.A.10

What makes this early 18th century English edition of Aesop’s Fables 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 recently 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.