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 with a large bulbous nose and jutting chin walks towards the right, but looks back over his shoulder towards the left. He has a beard and long, ratty white hair and is open-mouthed. The inside of his mouth is coloured bright red. His body is slightly crouched: both his legs are bent at the knee and his back inclined forward. A hurdy-gurdy rests beneath his right arm and he turns its handle with his left hand.

The man is dressed in a yellow jacket with deep cuffs. Two bands hang from his collar. He wears breeches, stockings, black shoes and a long brown cape that is patched in several places. A piece of fabric hangs from his crotch and dangles between his legs. The wide brim of his brown hat is pinned-up at the front. The hat is decorated with a white bow and two red feathers which unfurl to the left of its crown. Clumps of grass grow from the patch of land on which he is standing.

Curatorial Commentary

There is little that seems Homeric about this shifty individual who holds a hurdy-gurdy rather than the lyre of the Greek poets of Antiquity. In the seventeenth century, this ancient instrument had become associated with the lowest social classes. Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s drawing indeed has echoes of Jacques Callot’s etching “Le Joueur de vielle” (reproduced in “Jacques Callot” 1993, no. 318), notably the feathered hat, cloak, beard and pose. Like the musette and other rustic instruments, however, the hurdy-gurdy enjoyed a revival as a result of the appropriation of elements of peasant culture by the social elite. Publication of Antoine de Terrasson’s “Dissertation historique sur la vielle” (1741, republished 1768) helped in this rehabilitation and by tracing the hurdy-gurdy’s origins back to the bards of Antiquity gave it a “titre de noblesse” (Green, 1995) – on which Charles-Germain’s drawing casts mockingly humorous doubt.

The uppermost inscription links the page with the drawing on 675.133, where a carnivalesque figure is depicted playing a grill with a pair of fire-tongs, in the manner that one would a violin (Cf. du Tilliot, 1751, p. 88). That drawing is the third in a sequence of seven cross-referenced drawings (675.2, 675.81, 675.133, 675.3, 675.274, 675.42, 675.193). The link between the seven drawings is unclear, and Charles-Germain may have intended to lead the reader on a wild goose chase about the book.

This use of cross-reference (“renvoi”) in this drawing is characteristic of the “Livre de Caricatures”, as indeed of Diderot’s “Encyclopédie”. In both cases, the entries thus brought into association often require the reader to make creative associations between the linked pages, reading between the lines in order to extract hidden meanings.

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 especially 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 on 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
Inscribed, possibly by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

ou tu n'areteras que pour aprendre a aler a la page 133.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, top, in ink

Bottom right corner, in graphite; the numbering is very faint

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Where you will stop only to discover you have to go to page 133


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. 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. 355n, 361n, 372n

Related literature

Antoine de Terrasson; Dissertation historique sur la vielle ; où l'on éxamine l'origine et les progrès de cet instrument. Avec... une digression sur l'histoire de la musique ancienne et moderne. Par M.***.; Paris; Lamesle; 1741
Daniel Ternois; Jacques Callot (1592-1635). Actes du colloque organisé par le Service culturel du museé du Louvre et la ville de Nancy, à Paris et à Nancy les 25, 26 et 27 juin 1992; Paris; Klincksieck; 1993
Robert Green; The Hurdy Gurdy in Eighteenth-Century France; Bloomington; Indiana University Press; 1995

Indexed terms