Avez vous Jamais vü le Celebre Rameau

(Have you ever seen the famous Rameau?)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
After Louis de Carmontelle (b.1717, d.1806)
Additional handwriting by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu (b.c 1784, d.1869)
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 tall thin man shown in right profile stands in the centre of the page on a loosely scattered pile of books, inscribed with the titles "hipolitte / aricie","'basse / fondamentalle", "vacarmini", "PLATÉE" and "castor / pollux".

His right foot is placed in front of his left. Beams of light radiate from his body, which is slightly stooped. The rays extend to the upper, left and right edges of the page. The man has a large, aquiline nose and red lips. He wears a grey powdered wig and is dressed in a brown collarless coat trimmed with gold, with deep cuffs and a red lining. His hands are tucked into the folds of his coat. He wears brown breeches, white stockings and black shoes. The corner of a three-cornered hat peeps out from beneath his left arm.

Two hooks on a cord hang from the top left edge of the page. A sword hangs from the left-hand hook.

Curatorial Commentary

Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s hostility to the celebrated composer Jean-Philippe Rameau is well-attested throughout the “Livre de Caricatures”, and indeed on the previous page (675.239). In this drawing, Rameau stands on a pile of musical scores and published treatises, bearing the titles of his compositions (“Hyppolite et Aricie” (1733), “Platée” (1745), “Castor et Pollux” (1737) and his theoretical writing on the ‘fundamental bass’ (“basse fondamentale”).

The figure’s feet rest on a volume entitled ‘Vacarmini’. This was the name of a celebrated Italian virtuouso violinist who had toured Paris in 1733, and also played in the city in 1740. On the latter occasion, an anecdote had a wit who questioned his playing style by asking, ‘Vacarmini, ou Tapagimini’? (“Tapage” means din or commotion) (Johnson, 2012). The pun is all the more effective in that the word “vacarme” signifies a racket or din. The suggestion thus is that Rameau too, with his compositional innovations, was glitzy and loud, but ultimately insubstantial and unmelodic (Johnson, 2012). Vacarmini is also cited in the image at 675.239.

Rameau appears to have lent himself to caricatural treatment, and not only on account of his distinctive physique, but also because of his notoriously awkward character and his compositional innovations. In this particular drawing, the figure Rameau is based on a caricatural engraving by Carmontelle, depicting the composer walking in the gardens of the Palais Royal. The original has been lost, but the image was the basis of numerous copies throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. An example survives in Dijon (Bibliothèque municipale, Rés 2500).

Rameau’s physique appears to have attracted a good deal of attention, making him an easy target for caricature. The Enlightenment diarist Friedrich-Melchior Grimm noted that Rameau was ‘as notable for his figure as he was famous for his work’ and ‘much taller than Monsieur de Voltaire, and as gaunt and thin’ (“Il etait aussi remarquable par sa figure que célèbre par ses ouvrages. Beaucoup plus grand que M. de Voltaire, il etait aussi hâve et sec que lui. »: Grimm, 1878, vi, p.89). Although Grimm stated that Carmontelle’s ‘humorous little engraving’ presented ‘a good resemblance’, Rameau himself was apparently annoyed by the sketch. In Diderot’s comic novel, ‘Rameau’s Nephew’ (“Le Neveu de Rameau”), it was observed that Rameau sought to dispel the impression left by Carmontelle's caricature: he “se promène au Palais-Royale, d’un air libre et dégagé, […] depuis que M. Carmontel l’a dessiné, comme il s’y promenait autrefois […] touté courbé, tout rechigné, les mains sous les paremens de sa houppelande” (Diderot, 1821, p.45: [he] ‘walked in the Palais Royal with a free and easy air […] ever since Monsieur Carmontel [sic] sketched him walking as in former times, bent double and sour-faced, his hands tucked beneath the shirts of his jacket’.

The inscription on this drawing is taken from an anti-Rameau epigram, that taxed the composer for a penchant for artifice which prevented him achieving true beauty: « Contre la moderne musique / Voici ma dernière réplique / Si le difficile est le beau / C’est un grand homme que Rameau / Mais si le beau, par avanture / N’était que le simple Nature, / Dont l’art doit être le tableau, / Ah ! le sot homme que Rameau !’ » (‘Against modern music / Here is my final reply, / If the difficult is beautiful / Rameau is a great man. / But if, perchance, the beautiful / is nothing but simple nature / which art must reflect, / Ah ! what a foolish man is Rameau !’ ) (Masson, 1911, p.203).

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
hipolitte / aricie
Inscribed, on book, in ink

basse / fondamentalle
Inscribed, on book, in ink

Inscribed, on book, in ink

Inscribed, on book, in ink

castor / pollux
Inscribed, on book, in ink

Avez vous Jamais vü le Celebre R
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin below image, in ink

Inscribed by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu, below image, in ink; runs on from the concluding 'R' of the last inscription, completing the name of the composer.

Si le dificile est le beau
Inscribed, probably by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, bottom, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Hippolyte and Aricie
Fundamental bass
Mr Racket
Castor and Pollux
Have you ever seen the famous Rameau
If what is difficult is beautiful
Underdrawing, left of centre, in graphite; the page was occupied by a very different figure, now indistinct and partially overdrawn.


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



James H. Johnson; Musical culture; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 215-232; pp. 216-7, 219
Valerie Mainz; Gloire, subversively; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 151-177; p. 155, fig. 6.3
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. 361n

Related literature

Denis Diderot; Le neveu de Rameau, dialogue; Paris; Delaunay; 1821
Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm, Maurice Tourneux; Correspondance littéraire, philosophique et critique par Grimm, Diderot, Raynal, Meister, etc; Paris; Garnier Frères; 1877-1882. vol. vi, p. 89
Paul-Marie Masson, Lullistes et Ramistes, 1733-1752, L'Année Musicale, 1, 1911, 187-211
Vladimir Fédorov, Yvette Fédorov; Jean-Philippe Rameau, 1683-1764; Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, 15 décembre 1964 - 14 février 1965; Paris; Impr. Tournon; 1964. exh. cat. 462 and 479, pp. 92, 94
Daniel Paquette; Jean-Philippe Rameau, musicien bourguignon; Saint-Seine-l'Abbaye; Éditions de Saint-Seine-l'Abbaye; 1984. p. 88
Graham Sadler, Patrons and Pasquinades: Rameau in the 1730s, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, cxiii, 1988, 314-37
James H. Johnson; Listening in Paris: A Cultural History; Los Angeles; University of California Press; 1995
James H. Johnson; Musical culture; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 215-232

Indexed terms