Justin Empereur et dernier Consul en 1320

(Justin, emperor and last consul in 1320)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
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 in classicised ceremonial dress rides on horseback. His brown horse, which faces right, raises its forelegs off the ground in a levade. It wears a deep red caparison with an engrailed edge, trimmed with a golden fringe and tassels. White plumes rise from an ornament placed behind its ears. The mounted figure turns to face the picture plane. With his raised right hand he brings a straight-sided trumpet to his lips. A red standard bearing the initials, S.P.Q.R., and a sketch of a rat or mouse hangs from the trumpet's stem.

The man is dressed in a mauve tunic decorated with the image of a stylised face, or possibly a flower motif. Small medallions hang from a scalloped-edged band around its collar and it has pleated detail at the end of its short sleeves, from beneath which the long sleeves of an undergarment emerge. The skirt of the tunic is composed of mauve-coloured vertical flaps radiating out from the waist and, beneath that, a yellow skirt trimmed in white. He wears breeches, stockings and shoes decorated with a rosette. His hat has an upturned crown with crenellated edges. Small spikes rise from behind the brim, and the hat is surmounted by bushy white and pink plumes.

Curatorial Commentary

Although the costume of this character evokes Roman Antiquity, which is also indicated by the device ‘SPQR’, the year 1320 was nearly a millenium after the Roman Empire had been divided between a western and a Byzantine branch. However, in a characteristically teasing way, Charles-Germain is probably calling on the erudition and ingenuity of the viewers of this drawing. For the foundation of the Roman Calendar was alleged to be 753 BC, so 1320 would equate to 567AD, when there was indeed an emperor Justin on the throne.

The Justinian dynasty had been founded by Justin I (ruled 518-27) and the dynasty ruled the Byzantine Empire down to 602. The dynasty’s most famous member was Justinian (ruled 527-65), and he was succeeded by Justin II (ruled 565-78), who was in power in the year 567/1320. Justin was an aggressive militarist who sought to reconquer lands lost to surrounding peoples, so the military pose appears justified.

The slightly elliptical phrasing may relate to the late days of Justin’s life when he became insane. Counting numbers (‘dire deux’) was a habitual legal means IN Ancien Régime France of establishing whether an individual was in his right mind. The 1835 version of the Académie française’s dictionary states that ‘manger comme quatre’ signified to eat excessively. In fact, the sixth-century historian John of Ephesus (c. 507-c.586) states that in his bouts of insanity Justin was known to bite his attendants and rumour had it that he had eaten two of his chamberlains, which does seem excessive.

This individual’s costume probably owes more to the theatre than to ancient history, and contrasts with the bombastically dramatic character on the facing page (675.142). There is also an implicit reference to the extravagantly dressed cavaliers and their magnificently caparisoned horses designed by Jean Bérain for the equestrian games (“carrousels”) held at the court of Louis XIV (de la Gorce, pp.116-21) (Cf. 675.112-675.113).

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Inscribed on standard, in ink

Justin Empereur et dernier Consul en 1320. il ne / savoit pas dire deux et mangeoit come quatre.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Justin, emperor and last consul in 1320. He did not know how to say two and ate like four.
Pentimenti, around figure, in graphite; marks are particularly evident around hat, which once had several long thin plumes radiating out from 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



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. 374

Related literature

Jérôme de la Gorce; Berain: Dessinateur du Roi Soleil; Paris; Herscher; 1986
John of Ephesus; Ecclesiastical History, Part 3, Book 3.

Indexed terms