(Human antics of butterflies)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
c 1740-c 1775 {nd}
Place of Production:
Paris, France
ink, watercolour and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

A highly anthropomorphic butterfly with long antennae and patterned wings hauls a block of stone on a wooden sled by a rope over its left shoulder. Its body strains to the right. A second similar butterfly, facing forward, stands on top of the block, which is tied with string and inscribed with the words "PAPILLONERIES / HUMAINES. / A. MGNEUR LE DUC D'A...". Its left hand, which is curled under, rests on its waist. In its right hand, the butterfly holds the shaft of a lance. A swallow-tailed pennant with scalloped edges flies from the top of the shaft, beneath its spear-like head.

Curatorial Commentary

Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin produced two series of engravings entitled “Papillonneries humaines” in, or shortly after 1748. His drawings were engraved by Étienne Fessard. (“Gabriel de Saint-Aubin”, 2007, p.21 ; Rosenberg, 2002, pp.110-15 ; Mauriès, 1996). The drawing here is one of three “papillonneries” in the “Livre de Caricatures” (cf. 675.106, 675.163). Several “papillonnerie” drawings are also located in the family album, the “Livre des Saint-Aubin” (Paris, Musée du Louvre, for e.g., “Le malade”, inv. RF 52271, and “Les papillons comédiens”, inv. RF 52272; illustrated and discussed in Rosenberg, 2002, pp.110-15).

'Monseigneur le Duc d'A', whose name is inscribed on the block being transported by the butterflies, is probably Louis-Marie-Augustin, duc d'Aumont. A boyhood friend of Louis XV, d’Aumont served in the army until 1748 and then devoted himself to high administration and collecting books and works of art. His collection included objects made of precious hardstones, porphyry, jasper and rare marbles (Davillier, 1870, p. ii). He frequently acquired blocks of stone which were then crafted into vases, pedestals and other objects, a practice that is probably evoked in this drawing. The sale catalogue compiled by P. F. Julliot & A. J. Paillet, explained that “M. le Duc d’Aumont, jaloux de donner le plus grand caractere à son Cabinet, a fait les plus grandes recherches pour se procurer à Rome et dans toute l’Italie les marbres les plus rares, et pour les faire travailler par les hommes du premier mérite…” (‘Monseigneur le duc d’Aumont, anxious to give the greatest possible character to his cabinet, undertook the most thorough searches in order to procure from Rome and from across the whole of Italy, the rarest marbles, and to have them worked by men of first merit.’: Davillier, 1870, p. 8).

Charles-Germain was doubtless familiar with the duc d'Aumont's activity as a collector. He subsequently attended the auction of his collection, which began on 12 December 1782. Charles-Germain's copy of the accompanying sale catalogue, complete with annotations and marginal drawings, is preserved in the Institut national de histoire de l'art, Paris (inv. VP 1782/14; mf 35 1785 12 12).

Physical description

Inscribed, probably by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, on block, in ink

Inscribed, probably by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, on block, in ink; the 'GNEUR' of "MGNEUR LE DUC" is written in superscript

Top left corner, in bracket, in ink
Translation of inscription
Human antics of butterflies
To Monseigneur the duc d'A...
Pentimenti, about and between butterflies, in graphite; the butterflies have shifted slightly on the page


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. 379n

Related literature

P.F. Julliot; Catalogue des effets précieux qui composent le cabinet de feu M. le duc d'Aumont; 1782; Paris
Aubry; Le Cabinet du duc d'Aumont et les amateurs de son temps [Texte imprimé] : catalogue de sa vente avec les prix, les noms des acquéreurs et 32 planches d'après Gouthière, accompagné de notes et d'une notice sur Pierre Gouthière, sculpteur, ciseleur et doreur du Roi, et sur les principaux ciseleurs du temps de Louis XVI, par le baron Ch. Davillier. Documents inédits; 1870; Paris
Victor Carlson, John Ittmann; Regency to Empire: French Printmaking 1715-1814; The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 10 November 1984 - 6 January 1985; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 6 February 1985 - 31 March 1985; The Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts, Minneapolis, 27 April 1985 - 23 June 1985; Minneapolis; The Minneapolis Institute of Arts; 1984
Patrick Mauriès; Sur les papillonneries humaines; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 1996
Pierre Rosenberg; Le Livre des Saint-Aubin; Paris; Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux; 2002
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

Indexed terms