Retour de la terre Sainte

(Return from the Holy Land in 1250)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
After Hieronymus Bosch (b.c 1450, d.1516)
After Hieronymus Cock (b.c 1510, d.c 1570)
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 stands on his right leg, supported by crutches. He is depicted in left profile. A wooden stump is strapped to his left leg, which is bent at the knee, with the foot folded up behind him. The man has thin, upwardly-curving moustache, full lips and and large nose. He wears a curious hat which is pierced by the stems of two clay pipes, from which small clouds of grey smoke rise. A second hat with a wide brim hangs on his back. He is dressed in a mustard-coloured tunic and trousers over which he wears an expanse of white fabric marked with a cross. A bucket-shaped begging-bowl hangs around his neck.

Curatorial Commentary

The figure is presumed to be Louis IX (‘Saint Louis’), who was taken captive while crusading in North Africa in 1250, and subsequently ransomed. Louis is here depicted as a down-at-heel crusader, who may resemble a character from one of the processions subsequently organised by the Mercedarians and other religious orders who made collections for the redemption of captives of the Barbary states. These orders were active in France down to the 1789 Revolution. (Weiss, 2011) The figure feigns a disability, folding up his lower leg behind him to give the impression of leg-loss. This is one of several drawings in the “Livre de Caricatures” in which disabilities are faked in order to secure some personal advantage (cf. 675.93, 675.108), and one of many anti-clerical taunts.

The figure is derived from an untitled engraving depicting 31 cripples, fools, musicians and beggars, which was published by the Flemish printer and printmaker, Hieronymus Cock (c.1510-70), after a drawing by the Dutch painter and draughtsman, Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). An example of the engraving, dated 1570-1600, can be found in London, British Museum, Reg. no. 1875,0710.1520. The print is also used as a source for the drawings on 675.25, 675.105 and 675.111. As with the other two examples, Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin has adapted the figure on 675.109, isolating it from the other drolleries on the engraved sheet, and altering some of its features. For example, in Bosch’s engraving, the figure’s left leg is genuinely truncated at the knee. Here too, the figure depicted has a prominent nose and moustache, clay pipes tucked into his hat and a bucket around his neck, all features absent from the engraving after Bosch. The presence of the bucket (‘seau’) puns on its homophone ‘sot’ (‘fool’).

Bosch was relatively neglected by writers on art in eighteenth-century France, but when he was discussed, the emphasis was on the fantastic, absurd and grotesque qualities of his work. Pierre-Jean Mariette included only one sentence about him in his “Abecedario”. Jean-Baptiste Descamps’s biography of Bosch noted, however, that Bosch’s works were sought after by collectors and reached high prices, but regretted that he did not treat ‘cheerful subjects’ (“sujets riants”) as well as the monstrous and the terrible. (Descamps, 1753-63, i, p.21). Responses to Bosch in the “Livre de Caricatures” encompass both the monstrous and the comic.

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
Retour de la terre Sainte. en 1250 / il lui en couta 800000 bezans pour son Rachapt.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Return from the Holy Land in 1250. It cost him 800000 bezants for his ransom
Underdrawing, behind figure, in graphite; a straight line runs vertically behind the figure, ending below the inscription. Two triangles are drawn over it.


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-Baptiste Descamps; La Vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois; Paris; [n. pub.]; 1753-1763. i (Paris 1753), pp. 19-21
Pierre-Jean Mariette, Anatole de Montaiglon, Philippe de Chennevieres(-Pointel); Abecedario de P.J. Mariette, et autres notes inédites de cet amateur sur les arts et les artistes; Paris; J.-B. Dumoulin; 1851-1860. i (Paris 1753), pp. 19-21
Erwin Pokorny, Bosch's Cripples and Drawings by his Imitators, Master Drawings, xli, 2003, 293-304. i, p. 158
Tom Nichols; The Vagabond Image: Depictions of False Beggars in Northern Art of the Sixteenth Century; Tom Nichols, Others and Outcasts in Early Modern Europe: Picturing the Social Margins, Aldershot, Ashgate Publishing, 2007; 37-60. i, p. 158
Gillian Weiss; Captives and Corsairs. France and Slavery in the Early Modern Mediterranean; California; Stanford University Press; 2011

Indexed terms