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This paper delves into the life and career of Jean-Étienne Despréaux (1748-1820), as read through a catalogue of his library. The catalogue, the earliest known detailed record of books owned by a dancing master, was printed after Despréaux’s death to announce the sale of his library in a 3-day auction. It reveals Despréaux’s wide-ranging reading interests and his desire to build a comprehensive collection of books about dance—a collection that would anticipate the modern notion of a canon of historical dance monuments. The most interesting book in the collection is a copy of the 1589 edition of Thoineau Arbeau’s Orchésographie. This book, which was annotated by Despréaux, tells a fascinating tale of its journey from Despréaux’s library to its current resting place in the library of Nederlands Muziek Instituut in the Hague.


Paper presented at the 21st Annual Oxford Dance Symposium: Reading Dance, New College University of Oxford, April 23, 2019

An Apple Keynote Presentation accompanied this lecture. For a copy, contact the author at



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