Fan Fan grand mangeur depesches Et l'auteur dupéché originel

(Fan Fan, great eater of peaches, and the author of original sin)

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:

An oriental man with a long shoestring moustache stands facing obliquely towards the right. He is dressed in a red and pink striped robe decorated with an abstract pattern and split up the side. A wide red and white striped patterned band encircles his torso and a short brown cloak with a wide collar hangs down behind him, covering his left arm. Beneath the red robe he wears a garment with a long blue skirt spotted with red, and yellow shoes. His hat appears to be composed of two coolies, one yellow, one blue, positioned on top of one another, and has red ear-flaps. The man is posed with his right hand curled under and resting on his hip, and his left hand extended palm-open in front of him. This gesture is directed at a second man, who kneels before him, facing left. The kneeling man, who looks up at the first man, has a goatee and shoestring moustache and is dressed in a robe with wide sleeves, coloured red, yellow and blue. His hat has a scallop-edged brim and striped crown from which a tassel hangs. With both hands he holds a bowl piled with fruits that he offers to the standing man.

The two figures are situated on an irregularly shaped patch of land. A few blades of grass grow from its left side.

Curatorial Commentary

Many drawings in the “Livre de Caricatures” make reference to the East, including Persia, Arabia and Japan, but particularly China. Numerous Chinoiseries imitate or evoke Chinese art in a playful, fanciful and distinctly Western idiom, as here. Other images highlight aspects of Chinese history and culture, including, as here too, debates about Chinese inventiveness (cf. 675.23, 675.45).

The oriental figure is the penultimate image in a clutch of Chinese emperors (675.45- 675.49). Fan Fan is probably an imaginary figure, and is here the pretext for a feeble pun. The great eater of peaches (“pêches”) is allegedly also the originator of original sin (“péché original”). The pun is double-edged. It satirises the Sinophile tendency to attribute all major inventions to the Chinese (cf. de Pauw, 1773, pp. 13, 15) - for Original Sin is a Judeo-Christian concept. The idea that the notion had its origins in China simultaneously pokes fun at the tendency to seek an equation between Judeo-Christian and Chinese early history. The quest for such cultural congruence was especially associated with the Jesuits, who were attacked for their lack of doctrinal purity in the so-called “Chinese Rites” controversy which lasted from the middle of the seventeenth to the early eighteenth centuries (Mungello, 1994).

In addition to making a word-play, Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin may also be alluding to the peach as a symbol of immortality in Chinese culture. The peaches of immortality were grown in the garden of Xi (or Hsi) Wang Mu, the Taoist deity known also as the Mother of the West, on Mount Kunlun. According to Chinese legend, several emperors made unsuccessful attempts to gain access to them (Cahill, 1993).

This is the third of the chinoiserie images in this section of the “Livre de Caricatures” to refer to food: 675.44 alludes to figs, 675.46 to truffles.

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
Fan Fan grand mangeur depesches / Et l'auteur dupéché originel
Inscribed in an unknown hand, below image, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Fan Fan, great eater of peaches, and the author of original sin
Pentimenti, above man's right shoulder, in graphite; an unidentifiable object is faintly 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


Related literature

Corneille de Pauw; Recherches philosophiques sur les Egyptiens et les Chinoises par M. de P***; Berlin; George Jacob Decker; 1773
Suzanne E. Cahill; Transcendence and Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China; California; Stanford University Press; 1993
D. E. Mungello; The Chinese rites controversy: its history and meaning; Nettetal; Steyler Verlang; 1994

Indexed terms