miracles de S. Medar

(Miracles of Saint Médard)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Attributed to Style A
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

A man balances on a tight-rope strung between two pairs of trestles pegged in the ground. His body faces forward but his eyes are turned towards the left. He stands on his right foot. His left leg, which is bent at the knee, is lifted clear of the rope. In his hands he holds a long balancing pole which is weighted at both ends and tied with blue and red ribbons.

The man, who has a moustache and goatee, is dressed in a blue long sleeved tunic that flares out at the waist. Its skirt is striped, trimmed in red and has a scalloped edge. Small bells hang from the points of each scallop. He wears breeches with a swallow-tail hemline, red stockings tied at the knee with yellow ribbons, and yellow shoes with blue bows. He wears a red and yellow striped coolie-style hat with scalloped edges from which bells hang. A pink plume unfurls from the left of the hat. A blue bird perches on one leg on top of the hat.

Curatorial Commentary

On the death in 1727 of the pious Jansenist deacon, François de Pâris, his graveside in the cemetery of the church of Saint-Médard in the Faubourg Saint-Marcel in Paris became the site of remarkable miraculous cures, convulsions and prophetic performances. These goings-on became a matter of state, involving the church authorities and the Parlement of Paris, and developed into a spectator event, drawing large crowds. The king closed down the cemetery altogether in 1734. By then, the ‘convulsionaries’ were widely mocked as little more than frauds and fairground performers, a point that Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin evokes here with this figure of a rope-dancer.

The ‘convulsionaries’ remained a repressed presence within Paris over the next decades, and there are other largely humorous depictions and representations of them elsewhere in the “Livre de Caricatures” (e.g. 675.100, 675.326)

This drawing is in Style A, attributed to the principal author of the “Livre de Caricatures”, Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin. Style A displays a childish and naïve aesthetic and sometimes subject matter, and is characterised by crispness of execution, clear outlines and smooth application of colour. It is dominant in the early part of the book, from 675.3 to around 675.160. The opening inscription (675.1a) claims that the book was acquired from booksellers on the Paris quays in 1740 already containing drawings in another hand. The inscription states that ‘my friends put captions [underneath the drawings] and got me to continue this miscellany of follies’ (“mes amis y mirent des légendes et m’engagerent à continuer ce melange de folies”). This may be a tall story, explicable by Charles-Germain’s reluctance to admit authorship of the work. Charles-Germain was a versatile artist, and the possibility that he was responsible for the entire process in these initial drawings cannot be ruled out. In the drawings in the book not in Style A, Charles-Germain first made graphite sketches in much the same way. However it is possible that in the sections of the book dominated by Style A, Charles-Germain confined himself to working up existing graphite drawings, as well as adding details and also, with his friends’ assistance as he describes, the captions.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
miracles de S. Medar
Inscribed, probably by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Miracles of Saint Médard
Pentimenti, around figure, in graphite; small changes in the positioning of the figure, his dress and props are visible.


Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Colin Jones, Emily Richardson; Archaeology and materiality; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 31-53; p. 37, fig.1.1
Julian Swann; Politics and religion; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 117-150; p. 130
Richard Taws; The precariousness of things; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 327-347; p. 330

Related literature

B. Kreiser; Miracles, Convulsions, and Ecclesiastical Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris; Princeton; Princeton University Press; 1978
John McManners; Church and Society in Eighteenth-Century France; Oxford; The Clarendon Press; 1998. vol. ii, pp. 433-455

Indexed terms