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Question a l'Italienne

(Italian torture.)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
Probably by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu (b.c 1784, d.1869)
Date:
1757
Inscription states 1757
Place of Production:
Paris, France
Medium:
ink on paper
Accession number:
675.262
One of a set, see others

Commentary

Brief Description:

The scene takes place in a dungeon or prison cell and against a backdrop of round arches. Scribbles and cross hatching of varying densities suggest shadow and darkness. At the centre of the page a man hangs from a pulley attached to the apex of the central arch. His manacled wrists and ankles bear the weight of his naked body. His head falls backwards; his eyes are wide and his mouth open in an expression of fear and pain. Just to the right of his hanging body is a thick pointed spike, nailed to the floor of the cell.

On the floor and to his left, we can see a corner of the mattress to which, on the opposite page, the figure is shown strapped. Attached to it are two thick metal loops. A third loop is attached to one of the left-hand columns in the background.

Curatorial Commentary

This drawing is one of two relating to the punishment of Robert-François Damiens, who was tortured and then spectacularly executed following his assassination attempt on Louis XV on 5 January 1757. The mattress edging on the left of the image seems to form part of what Damiens was strapped to in the image facing (675.262).

It is unclear whether the form of torture depicted here, a variation on the Italian “veglia”, or ‘Judas cradle,’ was actually inflicted on Damiens, nor on what authority the caption gives this as a planned form of punishment. In the ‘Judas cradle’, which was particularly known in Italy through the work of the Inquisition, victims were suspended by ropes above a stool with a pyramidal seat, whose pointed tip was aligned with the victim's spine or rectum, and onto which they might be lowered during their ordeal. The thick spike bolted to the floor in the drawing is evidently intended for the same use. The picture on the facing page (675.263) offers a more veridical reflection of the way that Damiens was treated in gaol.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Inscriptions:
Question a l'Italienne projet pour Damiens
Inscription
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

en 1757
Inscription
Inscribed, probably by Pierre-Antoine Tardieu, bottom, in ink

62
Pagination
Top right corner in ink; first digit truncated by page's edge

262
Pagination
Top right corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Italian torture. Plan for Damiens
in 1757
Language:
French

History

Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Collection:
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957

Bibliography

Bibliography:

Kim de Beaumont; The Saint-Aubins sketching for fun and profit; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 67-92; pp. 84, 86, fig. 3.8
Julian Swann; Politics and religion; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 117-150; p. 122
Richard Taws; The precariousness of things; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 327-347; p. 332

Related literature

Dale van Kley; The Damiens Affair and the Unravelling of the Ancien Regime, 1750-1770; Princeton; Princeton University Press; 1984
Colin B. Bailey; Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780); The Frick Collection, New York, 30 October 2007-27 January 2008, musée du Louvre, Paris, 28 February-26 May 2008; New York; The Frick Collection; 2007. see exh. cat. no. 19, pp. 144-45

Indexed terms