Curiosités chinoises

(Chinese curiosities)

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)
After Pieter Brueghel (b.c 1525, d.1569)
Attributed to Style A
c 1775
Inscription refers to Cubières-Palmeseaux, who broke into Parisian literary world in the mid 1770s
Place of Production:
Paris, France
ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

Ten drawings of grotesque figures are arranged across the page in four rows. At the left of the top row, facing right, there is a man on his knees with his lower legs strapped to boards. He holds a staff in his right hand and is dressed in a hooded tunic and a hat with an upturned brim. A begging bowl hangs at his right side. On the right of the top row is a grotesque creature that is part vessel, part human, having arms and legs. It faces left. Its head is hidden by a large cap or vase, which it tries to remove with its left hand. A dagger is tucked into its waistband. The lower half of its bulbous body tapers away, forming the mouth of a vessel, from which liquid spills.

On the left of the second row of drawings is a pair of disembodied legs that walk towards the right. They are dressed in breeches, stockings and shoes. A human face wearing a hat is located in the crotch. A tail grows from the stump of its neck, passing beneath the legs. At the centre of the second row is another man on his knees, his lower legs strapped to boards, his hands resting on a pair of raised wooden supports. The back of the man, who faces right, is covered by a cloth that emerges from beneath his hat. The hat has a soft peaked brim that bends towards the rear and a bobble hanging from its end. On the right of the second row facing left, is a creature with a human face, which turns to look towards the picture plane. It wears a hat with a tall crown that parts at the top to form two lobes. It has a short stumpy body and in place of legs, hook-like limbs or rockers. Its hand (or paw) rests on one of these.

At the left of the third row of drawings is a reclining man with a long pointed nose and chin. He wears a hat with a tall crown that tapers to a point. The man, whose body faces obliquely towards the right, turns to look over his shoulder towards the left. He is seated on the ground and rests on his right arm. His knees are bent and his legs drawn up towards his body. In his left hand he holds a beggar's bowl between his legs. To the right is a four-footed creature with a rounded back. It has a thin snout and long thin ears or horns. It faces left.

On the left of the bottom row is a creature with the naked body of a man and the head of a rabbit- or bat-like animal. Its mouth is open wide revealing teeth. The creature, which faces forward, is depicted with its arms extended upwards. Its legs are bent at the knees, which also point outwards. It wears a strip of cloth around its groin. At the centre of the bottom row is a creature, facing left, with the head of a bird. It stands on its hind legs and stretches its arms out in front of it. To the right is a frog-like creature with two large feet, which is viewed from the rear.

Curatorial Commentary

The identity of “Mr le Chevalier de Palmeseaux”, named in the inscription, is unclear. The Chevalier Cubières and Cubières-Palmézeaux were among the names assumed by the poet and dramatist Michel de Cubières. Cubières broke into the literary world in Paris in the mid 1770s, having plays produced for the royal court and writing copiously in a number of genres, as well as contributing to the gazette and literary journal, the “Mercure de France”. Though his status as a collector is unknown, the images are set out on the page in a way resembling a set of specimens from a cabinet of curiosities.

The drawings derive from at least three and possibly four sources. First, three figures (the first man in the first row, second in the second, and first in the third row) are taken from an untitled engraving depicting 31 cripples, fools, musicians and beggars 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). Second, the figure on rockers in the second row is derived from another untitled engraving, again published by Cock after Bosch, depicting 24 fantastic creatures and dated 1570-1600. That print is also the source for drawings at 675.61 and 675.101. A third source may have been used for the part-human, part-vessel figure in the uppermost row, which seems to owe much to a figure by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69) in a drawing of 'The Temptation of St Anthony' (1556), which was engraved by Pieter van der Heyden (c.1530-84), and published by Cock. (Examples of these three engravings can all be found in London British Museum, Reg. nos. 1875, 0710.1520, reg. no.1866, 0407.833 and reg. no. 1866, 0407.10). However, this last image also closely resembles an image from a woodcut in François Desprez’s “Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel” (1565). Michel Jeanneret has suggested that Desprez (like Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin) was an embroidery designer, and that the “Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel” (or ‘comic dreams of Pantagruel’) were intended for use by decorative artists and embroiderers (Jeanneret, 1989). Charles-Germain also drew on the “Songes drolatiques” at e.g. 675.34, 675.39 and 675.39.42.

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 fuller 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.

Despite the inscription, there is nothing ‘Chinese’ in these drawings, and little even (apart from their otherness) that brings them close to what passed as chinoiserie in the eighteenth century.

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
Curiosités chinoises
Inscribed in an unknown hand, top, in ink

les originaux sont dans le cabinet de / Mr le Chevalier de Palmeseaux
Inscribed in an unknown hand, below first inscription, in ink; note that the 'r' of 'Mr' is written in superscript.

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Chinese curiosities
The originals are in the cabinet of Monsieur the chevalier de Palmeseaux.
Pentimenti, around figures, in graphite; the middle figure in the second row wore a lute on his back and the hat of the first figure on the third row was once decorated at the front with ribbons or small ornaments.


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



Charlotte Guichard; Connoisseurship: art and antiquities; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 283-300; p. 294, fig. 13.5
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; p. 398n

Related literature

Jean-Baptiste Descamps; La Vie des peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois; Paris; [n. pub.]; 1753-1763. i (1753, pp. 101-4
Antoine-Joseph Pernety; Dictionnaire portatif de Peinture, Sculpture et Gravure; Paris; Bauche; 1757. pp. 222, 226
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, pp. 158, 188-98
François Rabelais, Michel Jeanneret; Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel: cent-vingt gravures attribuées à François Rabelais; La Chaux-de-Fonds; Editions (vwa); 1989
Erwin Pokorny, Bosch's Cripples and Drawings by his Imitators, Master Drawings, xli, 2003, 293-304

Indexed terms