Sunday, February 5th 2012
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Un livre unique et exceptionnel de Saint-Aubin : "Le Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises". Banque d'images de Waddesdon Manor (UK).

Présentation by Waddesdon Manor

Un livre unique et exceptionnel de Saint-Aubin : "Le Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises". Banque d'images de Waddesdon Manor (UK).
The Waddeson Saint-Aubin Project has as its core the digital reproduction and web catalogue of the Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises, whose principal author was Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin (1721-86), a Parisian luxury embroiderer with an extensive clientele at the Louis XV’s court at Versailles as well as in the French capital. This almost unique and unclassifiable volume, composed between the 1740s and the mid 1770s, contains nearly four hundred comic and satirical drawings, covering a wide range of Parisian and Versailles social, political and cultural life. It was purchased by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild at the posthumous sale of the effects of his architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur (1822-93), who like him, was also a connoisseur of eighteenth-century French art.

The digitisation and web catalogue of the Livre de caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises was completed in 2012 under the auspices of a Project Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council by a team including Professor Colin Jones (Queen Mary University of London), Dr Juliet Carey and Pippa Shirley (both Waddesdon) and Post-Doctoral Research Assistant Dr Emily Richardson. Besides this website, the Project also organised a Saint-Aubin Exhibition at Waddesdon Manor in 2010. The project also sponsored an interdisciplinary volume of collected essays, edited by Jones, Carey and Richardson, entitled The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: Drawing Satire in Eighteenth-century Paris, to be published in June 2012 by the Voltaire Foundation’s ‘Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century’ series.

The Livre de caricatures was drawn so as to provoke pleasure and laughter, probably from a small group of Charles-Germain’s friends and family (including his better-known brothers, the painter and draughtsman, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin, and the engraver Augustin de Saint-Aubin). Much of the humour is light, whimsical, fantastical and playful, and many jokes take the form of riddles and quizzical questions set out in captions. The drawings evoke the worlds of theatre, music and dance; literary and scientific personalities; religious and political controversy; Parisian street life; and popular celebrities. These coexist with portraits, trophies, chinoiseries and pastorals, cris de Paris, singeries, papillonneries - and plain silly jokes. There was, however, a sharp political edge to some of the humour. A particular target was Louis XV’s official mistress, Madame de Pompadour, whose consistent denigration is surprising in the light of the apparent warmth between her and Charles-Germain.

Partly because of the crudeness of the humour on view, partly because of their political charge (which would have landed its author in the Bastille had the drawings become known at the time), the Livre de Caricatures has been much neglected. The Waddesdon Saint-Aubin Project makes this extraordinary resource freely available and easily consultable by students, scholars and members of the general public.

At present, the Project Team is still working to complete full details of the critical edition, including a critical commentary on each drawing. This will be complete in Spring 2012. Viewers of the images are encouraged to contribute their thoughts on the point of the humour and jokes within the volume. Please contact

Sabine Chaouche

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