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Le Philosophe Gnathon qui crachoit dans la fricassée pour avoir meilleure part.

(The philosopher Guaton who spat in the fricassee to have a better share)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Date:
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
Medium:
watercolour and ink on paper
Accession number:
675.3
One of a set, see others

Commentary

Brief Description:

A man stands at the centre of the page. His body faces towards the right, but his head is turned back towards the picture plane. His left leg is bent at the knee while his right stretches out in front of him. His right foot is in the mouth of a monstrous red-eyed grey and green coloured snake which lies on the ground behind him. He seems unaware of its presence and instead looks at the skull he holds in his right hand. In his raised left hand, he holds a half-filled wine glass between his thumb and forefinger.

The man’s face is partially hidden by a black domino mask and he wears a plumed headdress, beneath which his hair is visible. He is dressed in yellow breeches with blue trimmings and a matching coat, which flares out at the waist. The coat is unbuttoned, revealing a white shirt beneath. He wears a red ruff around his neck. Red ribbons fly out from his right shoulder and are also tied about his knees. He wears red stockings and yellow shoes with blue pompoms.

Curatorial Commentary

Gnathon was an imaginary figure described in La Bruyère’s “Les Caractères” (1688: chapter ‘De l’Homme’), who represents all forms of selfishness and egocentricity. ‘Gnathon’ means ‘jaws’ in Greek, and La Bruyère highlights the character’s appallingly messy table-manners, such as using his hands to serve himself in a way that ‘if his guests wish to eat, they eat what he leaves over’. ‘He spares no form of disgusting behaviour’, we are told, so that spitting into the pot in order to claim more food appears a characteristic gesture. Furthermore, ‘to spit in the soup’ (“cracher dans la soupe”) normally means to show contempt for something of which one is taking advantage, or to bite the hand that feeds one. Biting the hand that feeds one is not an inappropriate comment on Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s contemptuous treatment in the “Livre de Caricatures” of his patron, Madame de Pompadour.

The drawing does not appear apposite as a depiction of La Bruyère’s Gnathon, and it is conceivable that Charles-Germain may also have in mind the gluttonous and lubricious character of the same name in the romance of Daphnis and Chloé by the second-century AD writer Longus. The work was translated into French in 1559 by Jacques Amyot as “Les Amours pastorales de Daphnis et Chloé”. It had a strong influence on the emergence of the pastoral genre, and was frequently republished throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Moreover, one of the meanings of “fricassée” is a wild popular dance and this might apply to the pose of the central figure (Guest, 1996, p.39). A small painting by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s brother Augustin entitled “La fricassée” depicts a country dance (example at Waddesdon Manor, accession no. 6875).

The wine and the skull held by the masked figure may be intended to suggest a choice between vice and virtue, or else Hercules’s choice between the paths of pleasure or duty. The skull and the snake, into whose mouth the figure blithely places his foot, are stylistically distinct from the rest of the drawing and may have been executed some time after the figure was drawn, possibly at the same time as 675.1 and 675.2. The figure’s pose and appearance strongly resemble that of an underdrawn figure visible in 675.177.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Inscriptions:
Le Philosophe Gnathon qui crachoit dans la / fricassée pour avoir meilleure part.
Inscription
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Dessein a la jolie melle B. qui me le dona a condition / que je luy ferois des vers gaillards, Le Lendemain jela / trouvay Seulle dans notre jardin, et jela mis comme on / verra a la page 274.
Inscription
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, top, in ink. The 'elle' of melle is written in superscript.

3
Pagination
Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
The philosopher Gnathon who spat in the fricassee to have a better share.
Drawing for the pretty Miss B... who gave it to me on condition that I made her some merry verses. The next day I found her alone in our garden, and I placed her as you will see on page 274.
Language:
French

History

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

Bibliography

Bibliography:

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; pp. 42-3, 46n
Valerie Mainz; Gloire, subversively; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 151-177; p. 159
Katie Scott; Saint-Aubin's jokes and their relation to...; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 349-403; pp. 361, 372n

Related literature

Longus; Les amours pastorales de Daphnis et de Chloé, escriptes premièrement en grec par Longus, & puis traduictes en françois; Paris; 1559
Jean de La Bruyère; Les Caractères de Théophraste, traduits du grec, avec les Caractères ou moeurs de ce siècle; Lyon; T. Amaulry; 1688
Ivor Guest; The Ballet of the Enlightenment: The Establishment of the Ballet d'Action in France, 1770-1793; London; Dance Books; 1996
Michael Zimmer, Renvois of the past, present and future: hyperlinks and the structuring of knowledge from the Encyclopédie to web 2.0, New Media and Society, February 2009, 95-113

Indexed terms