La Regle de Policlette.

(The Rule of Polykleitos)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
After François Desprez
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 strangely dressed man with rounded facial features and shoulder-length brown hair walks towards the left. He wears a moss-green cape-like garment trimmed in red and buttoned up the middle so as to enclose most of his body in a bell-shaped shell. The cloak has a wide red collar with yellow edging and is decorated with strips of blue fabric that fly free of the cloak. The long stem of an oriental-style yellow parasol pierces a small hole in the cape, beneath which the man wears a long white robe and red shoes. His hat is worn askew and is angled towards the right side of his face. The red underside of the hat’s broad brim is visible. It has a tall blue crown, whose narrow tip is weighed down by a large red tassel hanging from its end, which dangles in front of the man’s face.

Curatorial Commentary

This curious figure seems to have been adapted from a woodcut in François Desprez’s series, “Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel” (‘The Humorous Dreams of Pantagruel’) (1565). Michel Jeanneret has suggested that Desprez (like Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin) was an embroidery designer, and that the “Songes drolatiques” were intended for use by decorative artists and embroiderers (Jeanneret, 1989). The “Songes drolatiques” are drawn upon elsewhere in the “Livre de Caricatures” (e.g. 675.35, 675.42).

Polykleitos, who flourished in the fifth century BC, was one of the most celebrated sculptors of antiquity, and in his ‘Canon’ devised a set of rules about the ideal proportions of the human body. One of his most famous works was the ‘Spear-carrier’ (“Doryphorus”), and this is being parodied here, with an umbrella taking the place of a spear. The original sculpture had been lost, but a marble copy recovered in excavations at Herculaneum was praised by Joachim Winckelmann for embodying the desirable rule of proportion (Donohue, 1995, p.340). Winckelmann’s work was becoming widely known in French antiquarian circles from the mid 1750s. The male nude in question was central to Polykleitos’ work – in parodic contrast to this dumpy, over-dressed figure. A similar parody, of the revered classical sculptor Praxiteles and the painter Phidias, occurs at 675.197.

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
La Regle. de Policlette.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink.

Top right corner, in ink

Top right corner, in ink; number offset from facing page and in mirror image.
Translation of inscription
The rule of Polikleitos
Pentimenti, around crown of hat, in graphite.


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


Related literature

Jean Porcher; L'auteur des Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel; Mélanges offerts à M. Abel Lefranc,... par ses élèves et ses amis, Paris, Librairie Droz, 1936; 229-32
Jean Porcher; Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel et l'imagerie de France au XVIe siècle; François Rabelais, Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris, L Mazenod, 1959; iii-xxix
Richard Tobin, The canon of Polykleitos, American Journal of Archaeology, lxxix, October 1975, 307-21
François Rabelais; Curious and Fantastic Creatures; New York; Dover Publications; 1995
François Rabelais, Michel Jeanneret; Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel: cent-vingt gravures attribuées à François Rabelais; La Chaux-de-Fonds; Editions (vwa); 1989
J.J. Pollitt; The Canon of Polykleitos and Other Canons; Barbara Hughes Fowler, Warren G. Moon, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995; 19-24
A.A. Donohue; Winckelmann's History of Art and Polyclitus; Barbara Hughes Fowler, Warren G. Moon, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1995; 327-56

Indexed terms