Even if you have never heard about this book, you have probably seen the illustrations from it. Dictionnaire Infernal, which is French for “Infernal Dictionary” was written by Jacques Auguste Simon Collin de Plancy and first published in 1818. This book has so much of a history and oddities associated with it that you could almost write a book about it. I will try to cram as much of it as possible into one blog post.
The first oddity of this book is a rather unique value system of its editions. Amateurs and aficionados alike know that first edition of any book is the most valued one. Subsequent editions decline in value.
Dictionnaire Infernal is the only book that I can think of which doesn’t follow this rule.
Sixth edition, printed by Henry Plon in 1863 is the most coveted edition of Dictionnaire Infernal because it is the only edition that contains the famous illustrations.
This causes a situation that is very weird in the book world. Earlier editions (particulary the ones from 1844/ 1845) show up on ebay and other auctions for hundred -something Euros and they go unsold. Sixth edition in damaged condition, with some pages detached and badly in need of restauration sells for over 200 Euros.
It’s not a secret – it’s all about those illustrations.
When de Plancy wrote this book and published it in 1818 he was an atheist. He believed that church uses drawings of demons and similar monsters to scare people into their faith.
Less than 15 years later he had turned. He became a Catholic and hired an artist Luis Breton who prepared 550 (yes, five hundred and fifty) illustrations for the 6th edition of the book. The title page clearly states it:
“…et illustrée de 550 gravures, parmi
lesquelles les portraits de 72 démons,…”
“…and illustrated with 550 engravings, among which portraits of 72 demons,…”
Many places on the web claim that L. Breton made 69 illustrations and M. Jarrault engraved them. This is a good example of someone making a benign mistake which then gets copied by more people all over the web.
In fact, when you look at the illustrations in the PDF in some detail you will see that indeed some (not all) demon illustrations are signed with initials L.B. (Louis Breton) and then on the opposite side of the illustration “Jarrault”. Never “M. Jarrault” as the myth would have it.
Illustrations of Abigor and Abraxas are signed with ” A.J. “. Portrait of Demon Agnan is signed “CH. Jacque”, while depiction of Aliorumnas is signed “Didiot” (which is a rather common French last name).
Although the book mentions only L. Breton as the illustrator and doesn’t mention anything about “Jarrault” and the others found in the signatures, the likelihood is that these A.J., CH. Jacque, Didiot and Jarrault are people who simply worked in the studio of M. L. Breton who was a renowned artist of his time. If you just think logically about it after looking at these 550 illustrations – there is no way that one man would have done them all in any reasonable time. Mr Breton was a good artist, but not a superman. It was always a standard practice that an artist has assistants and apprentices working for him. I believe this is a story behind the different signatures on the illustrations in this book.
In 1999 Trident Books published their famous book ” Demonographia ” containing 69 of these demon illustrations. This brought about some obvious confusion because all over the web there are links with a text like “Demonographia (Dictionnaire Infernal)” offering a download of a rather poor scan of the Trident’s Demonographia mistakingly implying that Demonographia and Dictionnaire Infernal are the same book.
Not even close. Full Dictionnaire Infernal has 550 illustrations and was not (until now) available in PDF for free download.
This all changed very recently when Bibliothèque nationale de France (French national Library) scanned this book and made it available for download.
A bit about the scan quality
A picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at the detail comparison below, you will see that the scan is not a top-of-the-line production.
Still, this PFD is definitely a must for all aficionados of occult or illustrations. You will see some illustrations that you probably haven’t seen before because they were not among the 69 illustrations that made it into the “Demonographia” of Trident Books.
Here is one nice example of what you have been missing:
In case you are wondering why aren’t there more large format scans of these illustrations (and still in good quality) all you have to do is look at the picture below where I placed a quarter next to one of the illustrations in the book.
Yes, these engravings of demons made by L. Breton are all under 2 inches in size. Now you know why you don’t see 1600 pixel wallpapers of these. Even the (nearly) full-page sizes presented in Demonographia are a tribute to graphic editing skills of the guys at Trident Books. Taking a 2 inch picture and making it look good when it is magnified 2 – 3 times is an achievement but this is as far as it can be reasonably stretched.
I hope all of the above has opened your appetite for enjoying one of the finest pieces of occult related art available to-date.
Here it is in it’s full glory (in PDF download from the server of French National Library):
Please note that you can also get a text version of the book at the same URL above.
With the help of the Google automatic translation you can actually see what it says for each entry in the book and thus partially compensate for the fact that this edition never had an English translation.