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Livre de Caricatures tant Bonnes que mauvaises

(Book of caricatures both good and bad)

Not on display

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker

Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)


c 1775 {Composed as book was being completed}

Place of production

  • Paris, France


  • watercolour, ink and graphite on paper

Type of object

  • drawings

Accession number


One of a set, see others ▸

The title of the book, written over five lines, is centred on the page. It is contained in a blank, irregularly shaped space framed at the top by an exploding firework, a red pellet that shoots out arms of fire in all directions. The pellet has the shape of an ecclesiastical skullcap, or "calotte". One arm zigzags down the left side of the page, striking an antler at the bottom. The contours of its jagged line form the left outline of the cartouche containing the title. The antler struck by the bolt is one of a number of objects collected at the bottom of the page, framing the cartouche from below. Central among them is a smiling marotte, shown in right profile. It wears a motley cap and lies across two inflated bladders. A bell hangs beneath it. This bell is in turn framed from below by a chain of small sleigh bells. Flames rise from around the marotte into the reserve containing the title above. To the left of the marotte and bladders, alongside the antler struck by the flaming bolt, there is a broom, a toy windmill on a stick and a wing (possibly a bat's) with an eye-like motif. There is also an unidentified object composed of two zigzagging stems that cross over one another. Rising free of the objects is a pinwheel on a stick, a pennant on a long stem, and a blue-grey curl of smoke. To the right of the marotte and bladders is the plunger end of a piston syringe and a firework on a stick, both of which are partly covered by a second wing. Above the wing is another antler and a flaming torch, from which rises a cloud of smoke, drifting into the white space of the cartouche. A roman candle clustered among the objects shoots out red and yellow flames ending in stars and these define the outer-right edge of the central cartouche.

The whole central group appears to rest on grey clouds. Outside the confines of the cartouche, the page is covered in a thin grey wash.


Curatorial commentary

  • The frontispiece or front cover of Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin’s “Livre de Caricatures” was probably undertaken towards the end of the book’s protracted period of creation at a point when its character and contents had become clear. Much of the first half of the book contains drawings in a distinctively childish and naïve style - in this website, we refer to this as ‘Style A’. The latter part of the volume, however, is dominated by drawings in a more mature and sophisticated style, to which this drawing approximates. Charles-Germain claimed to have begun the volume in 1740, and its last pages proclaim closure in 1775. The word “caricature” in French was rare before the 1750s, making its first appearance in the fourth, 1762 edition of the “Dictionnaire de l’Académie français”.
  • The pictorial components of this drawing, notably the marotte, bells, toy windmills, bladders, antlers and an enema syringe, are leitmotifs that occur throughout the volume. The frontispiece thus helps to set the tone for the reader, hinting at the fizzing, exuberant, often anarchic and always humorous nature of the book’s contents. In addition, the firework at the top of the page bears a striking resemblance to a calotte, or ecclesiastical skull-cap. The humour of the “Livre de Caricatures” draws fitfully on the humorous repertoire of the famous laughter society, the Régiment de la Calotte, which flourished in the first half of the eighteenth century. (De Baecque, 2000)
  • The drawing shares points in common with other covers and/or frontispieces by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin's. Iconographically, it resembles that made for his second series of engraved “Papilloneries” (“Essai de Papilloneries Humaines”, 1748-1756), which includes crackling fireworks, whirlygigs and pennants, strings of bells and marottes, all suspended on a cloud (London, British Museum, Reg. no. 1983, 1105.2; illustrated and discussed in “Regency to Empire”, 1985, p.123; Mauriès, 1996). However, rather than centring around a cartouche, the focal point of that frontispiece is an obelisk, much like the one drawn on the verso of this sheet in the “Livre de Caricatures” (675.2). The drawing here also shares a pictorial vocabulary (bells, marottes, fireworks, zig-zags, clouds) with a “cul de lampe” pasted into the “Livre des Saint-Aubin” (Paris, musée du Louvre, inv. RF 52231).
  • Other frontispieces by Charles-Germain include two created for inclusion in the “Recueil des Plantes” (Oak Spring Garden Library, VA). One of these frames an earlier title given to the work, “Plantes et Fleurs Nature[lles]”, but was removed at some point and replaced by the one currently bound into the “Recueil”. Both display a greater refinement and reserve in their execution, as befits the work of art they serve (see http://oakspring.org./saintaubin.html, image 6; Dufour Denison, 1993, p.137).
  • A curious feature of Charles-Germain’s frontispieces is orthographical error. The “Recueil des plantes” is actually written “Receuil des plantes”, while the “Livre des Saint-Aubin” is entitled “Dessins des St-Aubins” – where Saint-Aubin would be the normal spelling. The mixture of lower and uppercase in the title of the “Livre de caricatures” is of a piece with this quirky inattention (or insouciance).
Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

187 x 132


Livre de / Caricatures / tant / Bonnes que / mauvaises
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, in cartouche, in ink

Top right corner, in ink

Translation of inscription

Book of caricatures both good and bad




Part of

  • Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389


  • Waddesdon (National Trust)
  • Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957


  • Colin Jones, Presidential Address. French Crossings. II. Laughing over Boundaries, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 21, December 2011, 1-38; p. 2
  • Colin Jones, Juliet Carey; Introduction; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 1-27; p. 1, fig. Into.1
  • 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. 36
  • 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; pp. 156, 158
  • 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. 355-6, 358

Related literature

  • Dictionnaire de L'Académie française; Paris; Veuve de B. Brunet; 1762
  • 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
  • Cara Dufour-Denison; Le dessin français: chefs d'œuvre de la Pierpont Morgan library; Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1 June 1993-30 August 1993; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 15 September 1993-2 January 1994; Paris; Réunion des musées nationaux; 1993
  • Patrick Mauriès; Sur les papillonneries humaines; Paris; Éditions Gallimard; 1996
  • Antoine de Baecque; Les éclats du rire: La culture de rieurs au XVIIIe siècle; Paris; Calmann-Lévy; 2000
  • Pierre Rosenberg; Le Livre des Saint-Aubin; Paris; Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux; 2002

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