Design for a book illustration: the effect of bombs falling on a town

Cochin fils, Charles-Nicolas (b.1715, d.1790)
dated by publication
Place of production:
graphite on vellum; framing lines in black ink
Type of object:
preparatory drawings
Accession number:
Cat No:


This drawing in graphite on vellum is a design for the headpiece to the section about bombs in Joseph Dulacq’s "Théorie nouvelle sur le mécanisme de l’artillerie", published in 1741. The book was essential reading for soldiers who handled artillery. Cochin’s vignettes for it evoke the spectacle and horrors of war. They were made at the beginning of the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48).

Although Cochin’s designs are unlike any other images of war produced by him or his contemporaries, the scale, format and interest in the physical and psychological realities of war recall Jacques Callot’s celebrated prints "Grandes misères de la guerre" (1633). Ironically, they also demonstrate the lessons Cochin learned from drawing and engraving the spectacular effects of gunpowder harnessed for fêtes and royal fireworks displays.

This drawing startles the viewer with the force of an exploding mortar shell, expressed by a luminously blank circle at the centre of the composition, from which segments of black and rays of white radiate outwards. When he came to etch the plate for the printed book, Cochin made changes that emphasised the urban, civilian nature of the target and the fear the attack engendered. He added more archways and more fleeing figures scrambling over and under them.

There are three drawings at Waddesdon for designs for this book (see also acc. no. 1014). The three vignettes at Waddesdon served as headpieces to the individual sections: on gunpowder, missiles and bombs (see Michel, 1987, cat. no. 18). Two of the engravings were reused as illustrations to Surirey de St-Remy, "Mémoires d’artillerie", 3rd ed., 3 vols., Paris, 1745.

Juliet Carey, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
102 x 172
Signature & date:
not signed or dated
3 [in a circle]
verso, top middle, in red crayon [?]


Owned by Vicomte Charles Gilbert Morel de Vindé (b.1759, d.1842) before 1890; acquired by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (b.1845, d.1934) through Henri Lacroix in October 1890 for 500 francs as by Cochin; by descent to his son James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) by The Treasury Solicitor in lieu of taxes on the Estate of James de Rothschild in 1963.
Exhibition history:
Theatres of Life: Drawings from the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Wallace Collection, London 8 November 2007 - 27 January 2008; Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham 12 April - 1 June 2008.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Waddesdon Manor, 1963



Christian Michel; Charles-Nicolas Cochin et le livre illustré au XVIIIe siècle : avec un catalogue raisonné des livres illustrés par Cochin, 1735-1790; Geneva; Librairie Droz; 1987; pp. 186-187.
Juliet Carey, Theatres of life: drawings from the Rothschild Collection, World of Antiques & Art, 73, 2007, 148-50; pp. 138-140.
Juliet Carey; Theatres of Life: Drawings from the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; The Wallace Collection, London, 8 November 2007 - 27 January 2008, The Djanogly Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham, 12 April 2008 - 1 June 2008, Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, 2009.; London; Paul Holberton Publishing, The Alice Trust; 2007; pp. 94-98, cat. no. 34, ill.

Indexed terms