Voicy le facheux heraclitte

(Here is sorry Heraclitus)

Attributed to:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
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 round-faced man with large features stands to the left of the centre of the page, facing forward. He is dressed simply in a dark tunic, buttoned down the middle, brown breeches, a black round hat with an up-turned brim and clogs. A broad white sash or apron is tied around his waist. He appears distressed, and, with his right hand, holds a large white handkerchief to his nose. The index finger of his left hand is extended and he points to his side, aiming this gesture at the figure on the opposite page.

Behind him and to the left of the page is a truncated column and, to the right, broken fencing around which plants grow.

Curatorial Commentary

Heraclitus (c.535BC-c.475BC), the Greek philosopher who wept at life’s follies is matched by a representation on the opposite page (675.165) of Democritus (460BC-c.370BC), the philosopher who laughed at them. Following the association between the two established by Seneca, Juvenal and others, they were often paired in Western art from the Renaissance onwards (Richardot, 2000).

Verse very similar to the inscription at the top of the page is found in the script of a play, “Le Reveil de Bon-tems”, performed by the Burgundian convivial society, the Infanterie Dijonnaise, during the city's carnival of 1623 (“J’ai vû un fâcheux Heraclite / Qui prend toute chose à l’envers / Et le bon vieillard Démocrite / Qui se moque de l’univers” ; “I saw sorry Heraclitus / Who takes everything the wrong way / And good old Democritus / Who cares nothing for anything’). It is reproduced in du Tilliot (1751, p.169), a work known to Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin. (He also quotes from this play in drawings at 675.5 and 675.378.)

Although it may evoke this comic association, the lower inscription – ‘it’s all a joke’ – is ironic in this context. The drawing opposite satirises the preference of king Louis XV, under the influence of Madame de Pompadour, for private pleasures over public duties, ruining the state (“empire”) during the Seven Years’ War. In the present drawing, the broken down fencing and the relic of a fluted column in the background strengthen the association with war destruction.

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 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 in the sections of the volume 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
C'est pour rire.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Voicy le facheux heraclitte / Qui prend toutte chose a l'envers. / De l'autre coté Democritte / Se mocque de tout l'univers.
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, top of page, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Here is sorry Heraclitus, who takes everything the wrong way. On the other side Democritus makes fun of all the universe.


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. 45n
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. 368, 370, 398, fig. 16.8

Related literature

Jean-Bénigne Lucotte, seigneur du Tilliot; Mémoire pour servir l'histoire de la fête des foux qui se fait autrefois dans plusieurs églises; Lausanne, Geneva; [n. pub.]; 1751
Anne Richardot, Un philosophe au purgatoire des Lumières: Démocrate, Dix-Huitième Siècle, 32, 2000, 197-212
Anne Richardot; Le rire des Lumières; Paris; Honoré Champion; 2002

Indexed terms