voy Les Marbres d'Arondel a Oxford.

(See the Arundel marbles at Oxford.)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Attributed to Style A
c 1740-c 1760
1760?-1767 {Inscription or part of inscription}
The Palestrina mosaic was in the news in 1760 through the publication of Jean-Jacques Barthelemy, "Explication de la Mosaique de Palestrine" (1760). The Arundel Marbles had moved to Oxford in 1755, and a French translation appeared in 1767. At least parts of the drawing may predate this.
Place of Production:
Paris, France
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

A fight is shown between two fantastical creatures, which face towards the left. The body of the beast on the right is covered with plates or scales and a red scallop-edged ridge runs down its spine. Its jagged tail stands erect, its tip curling to the left. It has a long snout and has its jaws wide-open, revealing the red insides of its mouth, its tongue and sharp white teeth. It pounces on the back of the second creature, which turns its head back towards the right to face it. The second creature, which is weasel- or monkey-like in appearance, is also snarling, its mouth open, showing sharp teeth and a red tongue. Its thin body is partially covered in a blanket, or possibly a shell, and it has a tail with a curled end and a raised crest on its head.

Both creatures are situated on a pink-edged slab of ground.

Curatorial Commentary

These primeval beasts locked in combat are also being fired at by the curiously-attired archer on the facing page (675.134).

The ‘Arundel Marbles’ was the name given in the eighteenth century to the first major collection of classical antiquities in Britain – the sculpture and inscribed tablets collected in the early seventeenth century by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, for his London house and garden (and today in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which was founded1678-83). Arundel supervised excavations in Rome and sent agents to the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly Istanbul. Some of the marbles – mostly inscribed tablets and reliefs - were donated to Oxford University in 1667 and known through John Selden’s publication, “Marmora Arundeliana” (1628). A version of the text of one of the tablets, composed in the third century BC, which comprised the earliest extant version of Greek chronological tables, covering the period back to the alleged foundation of Athens in 1582 BC, was provided in French as a preface to an edition of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ published in 1767 (vol. i, pp lvii-lxxxv).

In 1755 the Arundel Marbles were the focus of renewed interest when 51 statues, 22 busts and heads and 39 reliefs and other sculptures from the Arundel collection (sometimes known as the ‘Pomfret Marbles’) joined the inscribed tablets and reliefs through a supplementary gift to Oxford University (“Marmora Oxoniensia”, 1763; Haynes, 1975; Vickers, 2006).

The ‘Palestrina’ ‘or Nile mosaic’ was a late Hellenistic mosaic covering over 20 square metres depicting scenes along the river Nile between Ethiopia and the Mediterranean Sea. The mosaic, originally the floor of a semi-natural grotto in ancient Praeneste, was subsequently integrated into the Archbishop’s palace at Palestrina. It first came to general notice in the late sixteenth century, and during the seventeenth divided its time between Rome, where it had been transported piecemeal by Cardinal Francesco Barberini, and Palestrina, where it was reassembled in the hall of the Barberini palace in 1640 (Whitehouse 1976; Meyboom, 1995). It stayed there throughout the eighteenth century, during which time it remained an object of considerable interest to the antiquarian community.

The ‘Palestrina mosaic’ was the subject of an illustrated study written by Jean-Jacques Barthélemy, the “Explication de la Mosaique de Palestrine” (1760). Interestingly, Barthélemy noted that several of the inscriptions on the mosaic were false and indeed designed to be misleading (“plus propres à nous égarer qu’à nous instruire”) (Barthélemy, 1760, p. 34). Very much the same could be said of the “Livre de Caricatures”, so one understands Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s attraction to it.

Although the ‘Palestrina mosaic’ contains the depiction of numerous fierce and fantastical creatures, among them scaly crocodiles and fanged lions, none resembles the animals depicted on 675.135. Similarly, no work from the Arundel collection resembles this page. The closest in subject are a goat head-butting a wild boar, published in Prideaux and Selden (1676, p. 104) and Herakles fighting the Nemean lion (part of the 1755 gift).

The captions suggest an ironic relationship between the distinctly unclassical drawing and revered works of classical antiquity. Visually, the drawing recalls other traditions of art, particularly Northern European visions of bestial violence in, for example, the works of Jacques Callot, who was an influence on Charles-Germain. The open jaws, wide eyes and pointed ears of the scaly creature evoke the fire-breathing dragon that attacks Saint Antony in the middle ground of Callot’s etching, ‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’. The pose, open mouth, prominent tongue and glaring eyes of the creature being attacked also resemble an animal turning its head in reaction to bellows being forced into its anus as seen in the foreground of the same print (example in London, British Museum, Reg. no. 1861, 0713.262).

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
voy Les Marbres d'Arondel a Oxford.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Ou la Mosaïque du pavé de Palestrine.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below first inscription, in ink

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
See the Arundel marbles at Oxford
Or the mosaic paving stones of Palestrina


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



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. 361n, 397n

Related literature

John Selden; Marmora arundelliana, sive Saxa graece incisa... Accedunt inscriptiones aliquot veteris Latii... Publicavit et commentariolos adjecit Joannes Seldenus; London; G. Stanesbeii; 1628
Humphrey Prideaux, John Selden; Marmora oxoniensia ex Arundellianis, Seldenianis aliisque conflata, recensuit... Humphredus Prideaux,... appositis ad eorum ninnulla Seldeni et Lydiati annotationibus; Oxford; Sheldon; 1676
Jean-Jacques Barthélemy; Explication de la mosaïque de Palestrine; Paris; H L Guérin et L F Delatour; 1760
Richard Chandler; Marmora Oxoniensia; London; 1763
Ovid; Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide en latin et en françois, de la traduction de M. l'abbé Banier,... avec des explications historiques...; Paris; Hochereau; 1767. vol. i, pp. lvii-lxxxv
D.E.L. Haynes; The Arundel Marbles; Oxford; 1975
Helen Whitehouse; The Dal Pozzo copies of the Palestrina Mosaic; British Archaeological Reports; 1976
P.G.P. Meyboom; The Nile Mosaic of Palestrina: Early evidence of Egyptian Religion in Italy; Leiden; Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden; 1995
Michael Vickers; The Arundel and Pomfret Marbles in Oxford; Oxford; Ashmolean Museum; 2006

Indexed terms