Paris : Librairie de Firmin Didot Frères, Fils et Cie, 1869–1873. Two volumes. Folio. [vi], viii, 60,  pp. followed by 100 leaves of plates, each followed by a leaf of explanatory text; [iv] pp. followed by 120. FIRST EDITION IN BOOK FORM. Half-title and title in red and black. With a total of 220 chromolithograph plates highlighted in gold and silver. Contemporary calf-backed red cloth, spine labels, bound by Paul Belard-Relieur; other than 1 loose leaf in the first volume, interior excellent. Item #17800
First edition in book form of a monumental history of ornament. The first series (1869-1873) included one hundred chromolithograph plates in ten installments; it proved so popular that a second series (1885-1887) was issued which contained one hundred twenty plates. The imagery presented is drawn from a wide array of various mediums, including woodwork, metalwork, architecture, textiles, painting, and pottery, and from cultures all over the world. The elaborate and vibrant chromolithographs took a team of engravers to execute that included Durin, Pralon, Painlevè, Sanier, Picard, Daumont, Dufour, Launay, and Bauer. The text from Racinet accompanying each plate provides a brief history, cultural context, and description. In the first volume there is a general introduction that provides a chronological and geographical overview of the plates with additional figures in black and white. Although based on past masterpieces of design, the fantastic reproductions here can be considered works of art in their own right. Indeed, for Racinet, the purpose of compiling past design excellence was not only to celebrate the masters but also to inspire an improvement of decorative arts in his own day and age. This 1888 edition was issued as two, bound volumes and represents the culmination of his life’s work.
Racinet (1825–1893), himself an accomplished artist, is best known for publishing two major pictorial works on the history of design, this and Le costume historique (1888), while engraver and artistic director at the Parisian publisher Firmin Didot et Cie.