Posted by: plbh88 | 06/04/2011


I can’t believe that it’s already APRIL.

Lots of things to mention:

Firstly, I’ve condensed my research on monsters to more fully flesh out one fantastic creature in particular already discussed on the blog: the harpy of 1784.  Inspiring and subsequently shaped by visual culture such as engravings and etchings, artists, craftsmen, fashion merchants, playwrights, naturalists, and social critics alike appropriated and exploited the metaphorical power of the harpy.  From its appearance in popular broadsides and pamphlets in 1784 and into the Revolution, the harpy spoke to numerous concerns and issues as a symbolic monster in the eighteenth-century French imaginary.  As the concept of the monster was and remains anything but static, monstrosity could take varied forms and its effects varied according to audience.  Inspiring fears and sensations of disorder and sterility to those of fascination and humor, monsters such as the harpy manifested themselves across multiple spheres of French society in the decade that would explode in revolution.

Although most works on revolutionary-era caricatures include at least one harpy print, my research has uncovered a wide variety of different images of this monster that are as fantastic as the descriptions that accompany many of them.  One of my favorite parts of this project was searching out obscure and even unpublished harpy prints, some of which are completely ridiculous but go to show how “unreasonable” the Age of Reason could be.

In addition to further developing these ideas on my own and with my professors, I was able to share them with my friends and others at the annual Charles Center Honors Colloquium earlier in the semester.  This was a great way to condense my thoughts and ideas.

Posted by: plbh88 | 17/12/2010

December Updates

I can’t believe that I haven’t updated this blog since September! This was a busy semester which included a lot of work on this project. In October I was invited by the French section of the Department Modern Languages and Literatures to give a presentation at the first annual French Research Department. I presented elements of my research thus far and it was great to hear faculty and student questions and feedback on my project.

I am now back in Paris for Christmas and still working on writing. I’m also taking the opportunity to visit different sites that I did not have time to see, as well as current exhibitions including one at Versailles on science and curiosities at court that promises to be really great. I was just at Versailles yesterday, where I had a private tour of the petits appartements with M. Olivier de Rohan, the former president of the Société des Amis de Versailles with whom I worked this summer as liaison for the American Friends of Versailles. The tour was fantastic, and I took the opportunity to take a lot of great pictures, many of which will be part of the appendix of my thesis.

I am currently working on a chapter devoted to what I am calling the “marketing” of the monstrous in early-modern France.  The hybrid and diverse nature of fantastic creatures including dragons, chimeras, and human-animal combinations made up an important repertoire of marketable “products” and attractions that continued to be produced, exhibited, and sold for a profit through the Ancien régime and into the nineteenth century.  Examples including mass-produced “basilisks” and “chimeras”, sideshow attractions, and decorative art speak to the ways in which monstrous images were molded and made marketable at the same time that such metaphors were coming to play significant roles in contemporary intellectual, scientific, and political discourse.  The very variety of monstrous forms that existed and that continued to be created in this period allowed the monster to be perfectly integrated in the different domains of consumerism.  These chimeras, dragons, harpies, and sphinxes speak to the ways in which monstrous images and metaphors were molded and made marketable at the same time that such metaphors were coming to play significant roles in contemporary intellectual, scientific, and political discourse.

For an example of what I am talking about:

In his Nouveau voyage d’Italie, published in 1722, François-Maximilien Misson describes his voyage to Italy in the 1680s.  The narrative is unique in that gives a record of how “monstrous” hoaxes could be created.  A 1687 letter published in this text gives step by step instruction on how one could create a basilisk, a mythological reptile that could kill with a glance and whose venom was just as deadly.  The basilisk was subsequently incorporated into Christian lore as well, and both Saints George and Michael are credited with its destruction.  Misson describes how Veronese charlatans would take “nothing more than a small ray”.  Rays and skates were cut and shaped by hand through a process of soaking and drying. The fins were then pushed up to make wings and the tail split to make legs.  With the addition an arrow-shaped tongue, claws could be pinned into side fins.  Filling in for eye sockets, the nostrils were filled with glass eyes, thus completing the basilisk.  The details contained in Misson’s letter echo earlier treatises such as Renaissance anatomist-naturalist Pierre Belon’s Histoire Naturelle des Estranges Poissons Marins, published in Paris in 1551.  Belon also notes the use of stingrays “disguised in the manner of a flying serpent.”

The trade in such miniature “monsters” was well-established in Venice, from where they were sold to private collectors for curiosity cabinets in addition to sideshow artists who would display them at fairs and festivals.  A 1622 engraving by Benedetto Ceruti and Andrea Chiocco illustrates the preserved remains of such a beast from the collection of Veronese naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi.  This is the kind of creation described by Belon and Misson. About the size of a human hand, these monstrous “fakes” could easily be transported and sold across Europe, fueling the fashion for the natural sciences- Paula Findlen offers that the “knowledge of nature could not increase without the commerce in nature” – and popular curiosity for the monstrous.

Here is an actual specimen in the collection of the Musée d’ethnographie of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.  Swiss naturalist and friend of Rousseau Abraham Gagnebin possessed such a creature in his cabinet of curiosities as late as 1765.

I see a link between the fabrication and trafficking of fake, portable monsters in late-seventeenth-century Italy and the creation of a mid-eighteenth-century French “dragon” teapot in the collection of the  Cité Nationale de la Céramique at Sèvres.  This faïence teapot was produced at the Manufacture de Sceaux, in the Ile-de-France near Paris, in the 1760s. Much like the “basilisks” created in Venice and Verona, such an object would have been produced in significant quantities for a market that was being more and more accustomed to novelty and consumer goods.  In addition, its small size lent it to be easily transported, allowing the power of the monstrous metaphor to take a new form and enter different spheres and social circles.

Unlike ceramic vessels of the Empire and Restoration periods, which often feature spouts or handles composed of stylized (to the point of simplified) chimera-like heads, this tea pot is a whole dragon in miniature.  With its long, twisting tail forming the handle, one of the Sceaux dragon pot’s humps creates a lid.  From its thick mane of hair or fur, a reptilian head emerges, providing a spout from which the tea can be poured.  The different parts of the beast’s body are captured in various tones, from the tousled, reddish blond mane to its scaly back, speckled wings, and bird-like lower appendages. Obviously, the dragon was a fascinating enough beast for the craftsmen at Sceaux to create a teapot that took its complete form in miniature.

Posted by: plbh88 | 20/09/2010

A Revolutionary Bestiary

To give an example of the kinds of “monsters” and materials that I am exploring in this project, I’d like to present one of the more interesting ones in this post: the harpy. Harpies figure in both Ancien régime and revolutionary political discourse. These partially-human monsters (they are always winged but their other features, including horns, donkey-like ears, and serpentine tails, can vary) have their origins in ancient Greek mythology, where they represented famine and desolation, devastating fertile fields and consuming whole animals and stealing food directly off of tables (or, as depicted by British caricaturist James Gillray in 1799, vomiting on or “defiling” a feast). Representing gluttony and ruin, in light of these myths it is no surprise that underground pamphleteers quickly came to associate reports of exorbitant royal spending, notably that of the queen and of her protégé, the minister of finance, the vicomte de Calonne, with harpies.

Before becoming a metaphor for royal depletion of the treasury or later the futility of the National Assembly, harpies and harpy-like creatures existed both as intellectual curiosities and as sociable objects. A late-eighteenth broadside described an “extraordinary monster” sighted in the Ardennes Forest as follows: “Long serpents formed its hideous hair…rage gleams in its eyes, never did bizarre nature make an animal so hideous”. Accompanied by a song sung to the tune of the Stormy Soirée, the illustration depicts a winged monster flying over the countryside. Gripping a child in its claws and constricting a sheep in its tail, the creature is a fantastic monster. With the wings of a bat, the tail of a dragon, a donkey’s ears, and the legs of a bird, the extraordinary monster’s torso, arms and face are human. Sagging breasts and long hair, albeit composed of writhing snakes, give the beast a feminine air.

A similar creature was “discovered” in Lake Fagua (also spelled Fagu and Fagna). In his memoirs, Louis XVIII took credit for printing the first engraving and account of the beast in 1784. In the pamphlet, entitled “Historical Description of a symbolic monster”, one Francisco Xaveiro de Meunrios is credited with its capture. Before his accession, Louis XVIII was known as Monsieur as the king’s eldest younger brother, and Meunrios is the exact anagram of this title.

Multiple Parisian publishers began printing similar images and descriptions of this “unique monster” from the “province of Chili in Peru”. Although the illustrations vary, the lettres, or text accompanying the prints, are very similar. According to one, the harpy “emerged during the night to devour the swine, bulls and cows of the area. Its length is eleven feet; its face is roughly that of a man; its mouth is as wide as its face. It has the horns of a bull and teeth two inches long. Its hair reaches to the ground. It has the ears of an ass, bat-like wings and two tails, one flexible enough to seize prey, the other ending in a dart which helps it kill. Its entire body is covered with scales”.

Soon, prints appeared depicting its mate, whose loose, flowing hair and breasts would have resonated with the public given the appeal of sexual scandal in fashionable literature and the booming trade in pornographic texts and engravings. Coincidentally, the queen herself was often the main the character in these illicit publications, whose titles range from “The Private, Libertine, and Scandalous Life of Marie-Antoinette of Austria” to “The Austrian Woman On the Loose, or the Royal Orgy”.

The South American harpy is generally depicted against a bleak, empty landscape, echoing contemporary scientific debate and discourse on cross-breeding and the sterility of hybrids and other monstrous entities. The effect was such that the other pseudo-scientific obsession of the day, animal Mesmerism, was all but forgotten by Parisians in favor of the Lake Fagua monster according to the editors of the thirty-ninth issue of Gazette de la santé in 1784. One of the engravings mentions that the beast, presented to the viceroy of Peru, was to be brought back to Spain for the court of Carlos V. “It is hoped”, one explains, “that a female will be taken in order to perpetuate the race in Europe”. Reflecting on the uproar caused by the harpy’s “discovery”, Louis XVIII noted that the monster “became a reality”, with members of the Academy preparing dissertations and savants proposing to travel to Cadiz to see it for themselves. He was obviously pleased at the result of his trick.

At the same time, harpies played another role, figuring in at least one popular fashion. Around 1784, Parisian marchandes de modes began offering creations embellished à la harpie. Fashionable ladies, including Marie-Antoinette, immediately took to adorning dresses and hats with block-printed ribbons decorated with triangles evoking the horns, fangs, and claws of the Peruvian monster. Although difficult to discern in the image below, the crowns of both ladies’ hats are trimmed with this “harpy” design.

In the wake of the “Marlborough” (the title of a popular song that took its name from the Duke of Marlborough) and the “Figaro” (after the play by Beaumarchais), playwright François-Benoît Hoffmann noted the rise of the harpy style in a poem published in December of 1784 entitled Les modes: “Ribbons, lévites (a type of loose-fitting gown inspired by Near-Eastern dress), and bonnets, all will be made à la harpie . Ladies, your taste shines: you abandon your baubles for a dress of character”.

Harpies made on-stage appearances as well. The Théâtre-Italien of Paris (coincidentally under the protection of the comte de Provence) showcased Les Trois Folies, a parody of Figaro “in one act and with vaudevilles” by Charles-Simon Favart, in January of 1786.  The folies are the same three evoked by Hoffmann.  Figaro and Suzanne are shipwrecked on an exotic island; Suzanne is taken captive by a hostile native chief.  The audience is then informed that a dreaded harpy also inhabits the island.   Marlborough (or Marl-bourouk, as he is identified in the January issue of the Journal de Paris) appears to Figaro, presenting him with a pair of pistols that he uses to combat the harpy that lays waste to the island.  Suzanne escapes her captor, and the other natives rush to proclaim Figaro their new king.  He makes his way off-stage carried on a sort of litter or dais upon which is mounted the harpy’s head. The Journal notes that the play was applauded, “the public wanting to recall the heyday of the three folies”.

In effect, these cultural developments refashioned the harpy, reducing its claws, horns, and fangs to a geometric embellishment for a hat or its fierce nature to a comic effect in a play. This fashion for harpies was not without its critics, however. In response to Hoffmann’s epigram, an anonymous contributor warned readers that “the harpy is a bad choice, let us forget this thoughtless caprice”. Despite capturing public curiosity and integrating itself into fashionable dress and popular culture, the harpy’s negative qualities soon made it the perfect metaphor for the corruption of the Ancien régime; the opening of Les trois folies was delayed for several months on the grounds that it made allusions to Calonne, and a 1787 print of a chapeau à la Calonne from the Galerie des modes incorporates the harpy triangles. Subsequent revolutionary institutions were also likened to the beast. The similarity between Calonne’s name and that of Coleano, a harpy from the Aeneid, did not help, either, and was cited in a satirical pamphlet printed in Amsterdam in 1787. After affixing the queen’s profile to a harpy’s body, the creature reappeared to caricature the National Assembly, shown as a blind harpy with sagging breasts, moustache, and horns stringing together a series of beads upon which listed the names of various acts and declarations. With the Assembly’s fall in 1792, a new figure came to represent France’s government: Liberty. Depicted as a beautiful woman, crushing a three-headed serpent or hydra under her feet and often accompanied by children, the new French Liberty was the antithesis of the ugly, carnivorous, and sterile harpy that had less than a decade ago captured public attention and imagination.

Posted by: plbh88 | 10/09/2010


Sorry that it’s been forever since I’ve updated this blog. Since my last post, I’ve made a major revision in the focus of my thesis.  At the same time that I was looking at dogs at Versailles, I was also doing research on a related topic that has always fascinated me: political caricatures of the revolutionary period.  With the onset of the French Revolution, animal images and metaphors came to play a significant role in caricatures, pamphlets, and other media critical of the Ancien régime.  From barnyard fowl to exotic and mythical creatures, animal metaphors were used by revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries alike in printed political discourse and imagery.

Basically, what interests me most is the use of real and fantastic animals in political discourse, specifically caricatures, of the revolutionary period.  What I plan to do next is look at the origins of this animal politic, beginning in the sixteenth century with the rise of the printing press and continuing with travel narratives, the development of menageries, the sensationalism of exotic animal displays (and associated charlatanism), scientific discoveries/natural histories of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, etc. The definition of “what” made a monster a “monster” or a real animal “monstrous” and why these were chosen to portray Marie-Antoinette, the National Assembly, refractory priests, etc. is kind of what I’m hoping to pinpoint.  In addition, I want to look at how actual animals became “monstrous” enough to be used to caricture political leaders and institutions during the period.

I’m not getting rid of my dog research, however. In light of my new focus, my other research gives important context to an understanding of the political symbolism of animals before 1789. In effect, there are no portraits of Louis XVI with a favorite hunting dog. During his reign, he took an active interest in utilitarian animals, establishing a merino sheep farm at Rambouillet to stimulate the French wool industry. At the same time, veiled erotic images of ladies and lapdogs fell out of style, and pamphleteers criticized the attachment that some still felt for their pets. Public animal displays were prohibited by municipal authorities on the grounds that aristocratic plots against the Revolution would make use of ferocious beasts to wreak havoc.

Au second ordre de l'Etat

Posted by: plbh88 | 09/08/2010


I’ve been really busy the last two weeks and wanted to quickly mention in detail a few of the things that I have been doing:

1. Two weeks ago, I was graciously offered a special visit of the Grandes Écuries of Chantilly with Sophie Bienaimé, director of the Musée vivant du cheval housed in the structure completed in 1735. She made a point of showing me the surviving features of the stable’s chenils, which continued to be used until the early-twentieth century.  I was able to see and photograph a nineteenth-century bakery/kitchen used to prepare the dogs’ food (bread mixed with game and other meat), similar to the kinds shown on architectural plans of the Grand Chenil of Versailles, as well as fountains for the dogs.  Entries from the Encyclopédie of 1751 and other period treatises mention that dogs should never sleep directly on the ground, but on raised wooden boards or platforms covered in straw.  The kennels at Chantilly conserve two such boards which illustrate this practice perfectly. There was even a surviving lodge for a valet (built right on top of an enclosure for female dogs in heat) in one of the kennels which goes to the show the proximity of these servants to their canine charges.

I was also able to see the 1670s Grand Chenil at Fontainebleau; it’s since been turned into an artillery school, so I was only able to see it from the outside.  At Marly, the kennels from the following decade have been absorbed into the town’s City Hall, so they were a little harder to appreciate.  Chantilly was a truly unique opportunity!

2. I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Mathieu Da Vinha at the Centre de Recherche of the châ­teau of Versailles. This research center located on the grounds of the Petit Trianon is a  research facility and library whose goals include making the châ­teau’s history and collections accessible to researchers, professors and students alike. M. Da Vinha is the author of several works on the history of Versailles and is an expert on the valets de chambre of Louis XIV (his methodology will be useful in examining the roles and importance of the valets de chiens and others who lived and worked in the Grand Chenil).  He was very enthusiastic about my work, introducing me to the several useful texts and documents and pointing me in the direction of others at the Centre and in other libraries.

3. I have been in contact with Géraldine Chopin, a conservation assistant at the Musée-Promenade at Marly, who very graciously discussed my project with me and sent me useful documents from their research center.  This will be very helpful in analysing the dog portraits of Desportes and Oudry displayed at Marly until the Revolution and now at the Louvre and the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris.

4. For more on Desportes and Oudry, I visited the Musée international de la chasse (Gien) and the Musée de la Vénerie (Senlis) to visit their outstanding collection of works by these artists.  Both museums showcase outstanding collections of art and other objects inspired by the hunt in addition to trophies, musical instruments, etc. The diversity of their collections shows the extent to which the activity has influenced artists and popular culture since prehistory.

Something really interesting to note at Senlis- they have an “antique” taxidermied chien courant  or hunting dog on display.  Born in 1901, Dictateur died in 1913 and was preserved for posterity by his owner, the prince de La Tour d’Auvergne, on the eve of the First World War (an event that I learned drastically changed the history of hunting in France, as it destroyed not only large tracts of forests, but in the process, the amount of game they contained). He still has the “T”, sign of the La Tour d’Auvergne family, cut into the fur on his right flank with scissors.  Although this dog dates to the early-twentieth century, the practice of marking hunting dogs so that they could be easily identified or recognized dates back to the Middle Ages.  The king’s dogs at the Grand Chenil were identified by cross inside an overturned triangle on their right flank; this mark was captured by Oudry in the portait of Louis XV’s Polydore from 1726 (one of his most striking of the series, in my opinion) and on a greyhound in Wolf attacked by four dogs (at Gien) commissioned for the royal châ­teau at La Muette and exposed at the Salon in 1746. 

Polydore, 1726, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Musée national du château de Fontainebleau

Although I’m out of time for this summer, thanks to a recent contact from my internship supervisor at the Louvre, I am planning on visiting the documentation center of the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature during Christmas break.  This will be a great opportunity as I will have advanced on my writing by that point and will have a better idea of where I need to expand in addition to simply being inspired along the way.  I will be returning to France for Christmas with my family and will spend a good amount of time continuing research that I began this summer. 

This year went by too quickly, but I was able to get a lot of good sources from the Archives Nationales, the BnF, the Louvre, Marly, and Versailles, in addition to site visits and museums.  Although we live in a day and age where a lot of media is available electronically (the texts I find on googlebooks amaze me, I can’t believe some of the things that are uploaded onto it), nothing replaces the opportunity to actually go and visit the sites and places one is researching.  This isn’t specific to a project like mine which deals with history and art history.  I can definitely attest to the fact that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of preexisting work on any topic.  However, given that the Grand Chenil  at Versailles no longer exists, the possibilites of going out and seeing similar structures was a unique experience that gave me real, hands-on context. The same can be said for visiting the works of Desportes and Oudry, now scattered among different collections as the original châteaux have since been destroyed, in-person. 

Field research gives any project a meaning and purpose, and this has been one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience!

Posted by: plbh88 | 26/07/2010

Research updates/personal reminders to myself

Coming soon to a blog near you- what I found at the National Archives and BnF in Paris on the royal kennels and staff at Versailles, field trip to the surviving eighteenth-century kennels at Chantilly, and more findings at the research centers of Versailles and Marly.

Later for this week and the next- trips to the Musée international de la Chasse in Gien, the Musée de la Vénerie of Senlis, Fontainebleau (I visited Compiègne before beginning this blog, and I didn’t get the chance to see the dog portraits by Desportes and Oudry at Fontainebleau for very long since I was on a field trip for another course), possibly the surviving kennels of the marquis de Louvois at Meudon and early-eighteenth cynegetic décor at the communs of the château of Bercy, wrap up research at the Sorbonne libraries, the Archives, and the Louvre.

Then I’ll be in Corrèze for a cousin’s wedding, three days to pack my life up (fortunately a lot of it was shipped back today), and aux States on the 11 of August!

Plan of the kennels of Versailles, 1680

Posted by: plbh88 | 23/07/2010

This weekend

Just to update on my current plans, this weekend I am going to Chantilly to meet with my supervisor from my job at the American Embassy in Paris. She is the president and founder of the American Friends of Chantilly, and has agreed to introduce me to two people part of the château staff who will show me the kennels that are part of the domain’s famous stables. This is an amazing opportunity as they are not normally visitable and will help give more context to my analysis of the vanished Versailles kennels. Built between 1719 and 1735 for the duc de Bourbon, a cousin of the king and prince of the Blood, the structure held 240 horses and 500 dogs and was also the scene of royal receptions in honor of Louis XV, Frederick the Great, and the future tsar Peter I. It is still used today as a stable and houses an equestrian museum.

The kennels at Chantilly, along with the rest of the complex, were state-of-the-art for the eighteenth century. With specially-designed spaces to accomodate dogs according to the type of game they hunted, they also housed the various valets and even a bakery.

Hallali du cerf dans les Grandes Ecuries le 13 septembre 1776, Nicolas-Anne Dubois, 1780, musée Condé, Chantilly

Posted by: plbh88 | 19/07/2010

“Sire, Marly”

Today I visited what site of Louis XIV’s residence of Marly, near Versailles in the department of the Yvelines.  I ended up walking super far because, of course, the train station of Marly-le-Roi is not the closest station. I got off there, when I should have gotten off at Louveciennes, the town right before. It was a nice walk, however, and it’s interesting to see how both towns have retained their village aspect since they were both built around royal country estates whose major prosperity ended around 1789. 

Built between 1679 and 1686 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Marly was not open to the public like Versailles, but rather to courtiers handpicked by the king. Basically, it was a private country retreat and was said to be the king’s favorite, even more so than Versailles. Twelve pavilions bounded the walk from a magnificent series of fountains and waterworks that led to the king’s pavilion at the center of the domain. Invitations to what were known as the Marlys, the several-day excursions to the estate marked by spectacles and a relaxed etiquette, were highly prized. The duc de Saint-Simon recounts eager courtiers imploring “Sire, Marly”; they were literally begging to be invited. In effect, the only ones invited to Marly were those of the sword, the oldest families whose military origins dated to the Middle Ages. These were the same nobles who had revolted against royal authority during the Fronde in the 1640s and 1650s, and along with the lavish lifestyle offered by Versailles, the Marlys were a concentrated effort by Louis XIV to keep these would-be upstarts under royal control.  Among the privileges of Marly was participation in the king’s hunt, which took place every day. Although Louis XIV hunted at Versailles, Fontainebleau, Chambord, etc., the exclusive nature of Marly made its hunts all the more prestigious.

Vue générale du château de Marly, prise de l'abreuvoir, Pierre-Martin Denis, 1724, châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Although they survived the ravages of the Revolution, the pavilions were almost entirely destroyed by the first decade of the nineteenth century after domain’s owner, an industrialist, installed a cotton factory in them and then dismanteled most of them to use the material to build more; Napoleon finished the demolition job in 1811 after purchasing it for its game-filled woods. Today, all the foundations are marked and there are illustrated interpretive signs throughout the parc. Apart from two bassins and one of the water parterres, the fountains and lakes still exist, and copies of the original statues, now at the Louvre, were just installed this year. It was actually a really enjoyable tour, there were lots of people just sitting around the bassins, walking their dogs, picnicking, and sunbathing.

It is no surprise that the king chose to decorate his private retreat with elements that recalled his preferred sport. The exterior of the guest pavilion of Diana, goddess of the hunt, was marked by sculpted dogs over windows and doorways. The paintings installed in the king’s private apartments at Marly, however, are unique in that they represent actual dogs part of the king’s packs. Created by François-Alexandre Desportes, these veritable canine portraits convey a personal side of Louis XIV that is often forgotten, the authoritarian image of the Sun King and the glory of Versailles often taking precedence. I visited the Musée-Promenade, a local history museum located on the grounds, at which a painting of an unidentified dog stalking a pheasant and a partridge is exhibited along with two preparatory works.  Desportes painted Louis XIV’s eight favorite hunting dogs- Bonne, Ponne and Nonne, Blonde and Diane, Folle and Mite, and Tane- after receiving his first commission in 1702. He received a second order in 1714 for Lise, Nonette, Zette, and the fourth unidentified white dog. The idea of capturing favorite canines in oils caught on, with the prince de Condé commissioning overdoor paintings of Baltazar, Briodor, and Fanfaraut for Chantilly by an artist probably trained by or otherwise in the entourage of Desportes.  A member of the royal Academy of painting and sculpture, Desportes began his career at the Polish court of Jan Sobieski; upon his return to France in 1696, he  became the most important animal artist in France up until the 1725, when a fifteen year old Louis XV began to commission similar works from another artist, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, the son of a Parisian artist and art dealer and also a member of the Academy.

Bonne, Ponne et Nonne, François-Alexandre Desportes, vers 1702, musée du Louvre

Although he continued the tradition of his great-grandfather at Marly, Louis XV’s greatest architectural achievement and preferred residence was Compiègne in Picardie. In several rooms of this château, Louis XV installed portraits by Oudry of his favorite dogs, including Misse and Turlu (1725),  Polydore (1726), Gredinet, Petite Fille and Charlotte (1727), Blanche (ca. 1727), Mignonne and Sylvie (1728),  Perle and Ponne, Luttine and Misse (1729), and Fine-Lize and Lize (1732).  These canine favorites were joined at Compiègne in 1739 by paintings representing Cocoq and Merluzine, Florissant and Pompée, Hermine and Muscade, and Jenite and Zerbine. These were the work of Desportes, who maintained royal favor and admiration up until his death in 1743. Oudry’s royal patronage also continued up until his death 1755; after painting Louis XV’s dogs, he went on to create whole royal hunting scenes that were subsequently adapted by Louis XVI, who commissioned copies in which he had himself painted in his grandfather the king’s place. They show the king not only astride a horse in the thick of the chase, but also leading dogs himself on a leash during a peaceful break. A very human image of the king engaging in one of his passions is revealed by these canvases.

Both Desportes and Oudry sketched from life,  visiting the royal kennels at Versailles and other royal domains. Draughtbook in hand and pencils at the ready, they even attended royal hunts to gain firsthand experience with their subjects. As notes Xavier Salmon, director of Fontainebleau, given that these portraits were destined for the private apartments of domains already removed from the public eye of Versailles, the feat of satisfying the personal taste of the king and not the predictable expectations of the state must have been all the more important. In light of this, these canine portraits reveal not only the types of dogs used for the hunt, details on collars, etc., but also provide a glimpse into the mindset and personalities of Louis XIV and Louis XV, for whom they were specifically-conceived.

It goes without saying that these dogs were indispensable to the success of the hunt, which was in and of itself an important element of Ancien régime kingship that actually continued into the Empire and Republican periods. Not only a sport, hunting was a manifestation, a “spectacular liturgy” to quote Philippe Salvadori, of the king’s mastery of both man (as seen in the order and hierarchy of the officers and servants of the hunt) and beast (demonstrated by the prey in addition to control of the dogs). It was a show of the sovereign’s physical strength and vigor, in addition to a metaphor of and training ground for battle. Both Desportes and Oudry show the skill and talents of the king’s dogs as they stalk birds, rabbits, wild boar, wolves, foxes, and deer. Is it going too far to infer that these canine portraits represent a sort of reverse anthropomorphization of the king’s strength and skills as they played out across fields and forests? By this I mean to ask whether Desportes and Oudry meant to represent the king’s power and command using his hunting dogs as metaphors.

 Misse et Turlu, levrettes de Louis XV, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1725, musée national du château de Fontainebleau

Posted by: plbh88 | 04/07/2010

Avoir du chien: Royal pet grooming at Versailles

Although the list of historical inaccuracies in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film “Marie-Antoinette” could probably make a whole blog of its own, one thing that I did appreciate in watching it was the importance given to actually showing dogs at Versailles in the early scenes. Although the young dauphine did have other interests, her love of dogs can be traced back to her childhood at the Habsburg court in Vienna and continued through her adult years; two of her favorites, the princesse de Lamballe and the comte de Fersen, gave the queen dogs as gifts.  She even commissioned dog heads to decorate the arms of fauteuils in her private apartments at Versailles around 1785. Her mother, the empress Maria Theresia, even had one of her dogs stuffed after it died, leaving us a “primary source” of sorts of  how court dogs looked. The dog, in the Vienna Natural History Museum, resembles a papillon dog, but has some unique features that set it apart from the modern breeds that probably descend from it. 

Back to the film, on arriving at the neutral island of Kehl in the Rhine, where she is to be handed off, the future Marie-Antoinette is stripped of everything, from her friends to her clothes and even her dog, a German pug or mops (these were known as doguins or mopses in France, and eventually carlins).  Her first lady of honor, the comtesse de Noailles, assures her mistress with “you can have as many French dogs as you like”.  In effect, the choice of dogs at Versailles made no small list, and the teenaged dauphine quickly set about choosing more than just a few.  In the early-1770s the Austrian ambassador, the comte de Mercy, recorded that Marie-Antoinette’s fondness for dogs would “not be without inconvenience” if she continued adding to her growing pack, noting that two were “far from cleanly in their habits”. 

What was one to do for keeping domesticated animals, especially dogs, groomed at court?  Although they were parodied and caricatured, as seen in a 1771 British engraving, French dog barbers or tondeurs de chien were in high demand and de rigeur for anyone who wanted their pets to appear as fashionable as they did.  I have no idea of the etymological origins of the French expression avoir du chien, which means to be attractive or to have something special, but it could certainly date to this period when luxury dogs were just as much the focus of attention as the people who owned them.

The king’s hunting dogs certainly benefitted from the services of someone specially-trained. Under Louis XIV, the practice was to shave their tails, with the exception of small tufts at the tips. I am still working on figuring out why this was done, and it’s not something that appears in portraits of hunting dogs under Louis XV or Louis XVI. Additionally, dogs had to be marked so that they could be recognized (who they belonged to, what kind of game they hunted, etc.). Unlike horses, which were branded, dogs had the special emblem of their royal master clipped into their fur, a task that had to be repeated every few weeks.  Those belonging to the king, for example, bore an upside down triangle with a cross in the middle, evocative of the close ties between royal power and ecclesiastical authority, on their right flank.  The dogs belonging to the duc d’Orléans, a cadet branch descending from Monsieur (Philippe d’Orléans), brother of Louis XIV,  had the same inverted triangle, inside of which was an open circle.

Posted by: plbh88 | 23/06/2010

Pets and the People

Although my main focus in this project has thus far been the royal hunting dogs themselves and the people who kept and cared for them, I’m currently at the library exploring popular attitudes and reactions towards them that came from beyond the golden gates of Versailles in the hopes of giving my study further context.

Over the course of the eighteenth century, philosophes like Voltaire and Diderot and writers like Restif de La Bretonne poked fun at the attention lavished on aristocratic pets, including ostensibly utilitarian beasts like hunting dogs, in satirical texts (more on debates over animal “rights” and animal morality and the reaction of the French monarchy in another post). Others like Louis-Antoine de Carracioli directly criticized the disparity between the treatment of these animals and the poor. However, what I have recently been exploring gives these parodies and satires of court life a more global historic context that had significant political repercussions. These are the cahiers de doléances, the lists of grievances ordered by Louis XVI and drawn up in March and April of 1789. In these cahiers, the clergy, nobility, and third estate (everyone else from the bourgeoisie to the peasantry) enumerated their complaints and concerns by order. Interestingly, in addition to complaints over social privileges and taxation, several provinces cited animals in their lists.

Multiple provinces complain about the damage done to crops by dogs during noble hunts.  From Wimille, near Calais, came a demand for “the suppression of dogs that take so much bread and other expensive objects with money that could be used to assuage the poor.. and the levying of a considerable tax on dogs to make them rarer.” In Baume-les-Dames in Franche-Comté, the people extended this opinion to other creatures, stating that for “objects of amusement and luxury, we could impose 10 livres, more or less, for every dog, monkey and other animal of amusement [with the exception of dogs belonging to butchers and shepherds].” Although the cahiers should not be read as grievances exclusively against court pets,  as people other than courtiers owned them, we know that hundreds of them did exist at Versailles.  The fiscal solutions to the animal problem offered by these cahiers are intriguing; although the Revolution did not impose a dog tax, such a duty was levied in Great Britain in 1796, and not until 1855 in France.

The events that followed are also interesting to note.  The Almanach des honnêtes femmes is a 1790 periodical that proposed its readers anecdotes and a calendar of sorts that mocks the ecclesiastical year,  dedicating each day not to a saint but to a supposedly perverse lady of the court. It records the burning of  live dogs in front of the Hôtel de Ville of Paris- the site of public executions during the Ancien régime- for a crime “that morality prevents us from naming”. These canines now suffered from a stigma linking them to the feminine corruption and sexual depravity of the Ancien régime (the Almanach explicitly links dogs to the supposed sins of the duchesse de Villeroi and the baronne de St-Marceau, the latter preferring her dogs to male lovers and the former always surrounded by four lady’s maids and twelve dogs).

A 1797 history of the French Revolution by Louis-Marie Prudhomme relates the story of the dog of a condemned invalid, François Saint-Prix; it remained by the guillotine on the the Place de la Révolution, howling at the site of his master’s demise and even biting a revolutionary in November of 1793. The next day it was tried by the revolutionary tribunal, found guilty of biting a Jacobin and disturbing the peace, and bludgeoned to death at the foot of the scaffold.

Even artists were keen to include this change in attitudes towards animals and petkeeping. Gone were erotic images of women and dogs, such as those created by Watteau and Fragonard.  Revolutionary ceramics depict liberated birds sitting atop their cages, echoing similar representations of the people standing on the ramparts of the Bastille. A gouache by Le Sueur at the musée Carnavalet, the museum of Paris history in the Marais, depicts a sans-culotte mocking pre-revolutionary fashions and pointing towards an Ancien régime couple and an abbé holding a dog. The caption underneath reads “the abé [sic] holding the little dog makes him laugh heartily.” Another gouache in the same series shows “the new manner of explaining…differences in opinion” represented by two fist-swinging sans-culottes; behind them are two fierce dogs clawing at each other.

In effect, the Etat de la France, an annual publication of positions in various royal households (the king’s, the queen’s, the dauphin’s, etc.) and the accompanying expenses, can be said to confirm complaints over the cost of royal animal upkeep. The 1686 edition notes 70 dogs for stag hunting. 24 valets existed for the care of these dogs, in addition to 18 others who looked after those trained to smell out prey and all received between 100 and 400 livres a year in addition to room and board in the Grand Chenil. Jacques du Moulin, dog surgeon, received 150 livres a year; in case his services failed, Louis Chapelle was engaged for 75 livres a year to cure any sort of rage from which they might suffer. 40 other dogs existed to hunt wild boar, in addition to 14 greyhounds (who benefited from the services of captain Henri de Lambert and 4 valets (Pierre de L’Isle, Richard Dodemant and Melchior de Sétre de Préaux) whose salaries, together with food for the dogs, cost 2567 livres a year) and unspecified numbers of dogs for deer, rabbits, and other game.

Perhaps the most striking detail in any edition is the sheer number of dogs.  414 are noted for 1731.  Despite a count of only 344 in 1737, this number rose to 614 in 1758.

The 1674 edition designates “le Sr Jàque Antoine & Jean son fils en survivance” as valet des épagneuls, in charge of Louis XIV’s 30 spaniels used for retrieving birds and rabbits taken during shooting outings, with an annual salary of over 1930 livres as well as meals and shoes.  The Antoine familyheld this position into the next century.  In 1702 the “Sieur Jean-Antoine, to be succeeded by his son Laurent” occupied it, and by 1749 it had fallen to François Antoine.  Feeding Louis XV’s 18 spaniels and other expenses cost 1,383 livres that year, in addition to François Antoine’s annual salary of 547 livres for his own meals and shoes for other valets and another 200 for his own clothing.    

What did these dogs eat? In 1712 the duc de St-Simon records the daily delivery of dog biscuits (biscotin) by the royal pastry chef, referred to in the 1702 Etat de la France as the “Paticier du Roy” ; Louis XIV personally fed these to his favorite chiens couchants, dogs that located shot game during a hunt, himself in the Cabinet des Chiens after dinners.  For those residing at the Grand Chenil in 1686, a baker was paid an annual wage of 160 livres for the preparation “bread  for dogs” that hunted wolves. Other bakers supplied several packs with food at 60 livres a year. The thirty-fifth volume of the 1781 Encyclopédie recounts that the king’s hunting dogs were fed a pure barley bread twice a day that kept their “bod[ies] fresh and in good form.”

Although some of the animal-related costs at Versailles were eventually eliminated (in 1786 Louis XVI disbanded the captains and valets for greyhound care, the former receiving close to 2,500 livres a year, and as early as 1729 it was decreed that the position of valet de chien would continue until it the male line of the holder went extinct rather than pass on to someone else), the cahiers show that “animals of amusement” were indeed a cause for concern among the people on the eve of the events that would forever alter Versailles.  Yet, many positions related to royal hunting, especially those related to dog care, survived through the Revolution.  Although these were abolished by 1792, they were resurrected by 1804 under the First Empire and continued to be a part of every political regime until the Second Empire, with the exception of the Second Republic from 1848-1852.

Interesting, the cited excerpts from the cahiers are from provinces far from the Ile-de-France, which lends weight to the idea that the kinds of animals that were a part of court culture and society, notably the dogs that made up the king’s hunting packs, were an important enough part of the Ancien régime’s “public image” to merit notice and popular reaction throughout the kingdom.

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