ABOUT THIS BOOK
In Enchanted Islands, renowned art historian Mary D. Sheriff explores the legendary, fictional, and real islands that filled the French imagination during the ancien regime as they appeared in royal ballets and festivals, epic literature, paintings, engravings, book illustrations, and other objects. Some of the islands were mythical and found in the most popular literary texts of the day—islands featured prominently, for instance, in Ariosto’s Orlando furioso,Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, and Fénelon’s, Telemachus. Other islands—real ones, such as Tahiti and St. Domingue—the French learned about from the writings of travelers and colonists. All of them were imagined to be the home of enchantresses who used magic to conquer heroes by promising sensual and sexual pleasure. As Sheriff shows, the theme of the enchanted island was put to many uses. Kings deployed enchanted-island mythology to strengthen monarchical authority, as Louis XIV did in his famous Versailles festival Les Plaisirs de l’île enchantée. Writers such as Fénelon used it to tell morality tales that taught virtue, duty, and the need for male strength to triumph over female weakness and seduction. Yet at the same time, artists like Boucher painted enchanted islands to portray art’s purpose as the giving of pleasure. In all these ways and more, Sheriff demonstrates for the first time the centrality of enchanted islands to ancient regime culture in a book that will enchant all readers interested in the art, literature, and history of the time.