Fabrizio Riccardi

by Mariano Akerman

Inspired by the visual imagery of François Desprez's Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel (Paris, 1565), Fabrizio Riccardi painted some 70 pictures (Torino, 2008-11) recreating some of the most bizarre characters ever conceived in France.

Riccardi's accurate and colorful rendering of the Renaissance characters refreshes our understanding of the original 120 woodcuts satirizing the Papal court of Julius II (Il Papa Terribile) and dating from nearly half a millennium ago.

Of course, all the characters depicted by both Desprez and Riccardi have their ultimate source of inspiration in the literary oeuvre of François Rabelais (Gargantua and Pantagruel, 5 vols., written between 1530 and 1564).

If you visit Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes and explore the online version of Desprez's volume preserved in the Bibliothèque Municipale de Tours (France), you will discover that all characters have been considered as individual designs, so each of them presents an exclusive number (inscribed in Arabic numerals; top corner of each folio).

In his series of paintings, Riccardi follows the Tours enumeration and he does so consistently. Indeed, some of Riccardi's paintings are not only numbered but also in perfect harmony with the numerals of Desprez's book in Tours. Yet, in his pictures and their titles, Riccardi changes the Arabic numerals of the Tours volume into Roman numerals (e.g., XVIII). The painter signs with the initial "R" (standing for Riccardi), a gesture that recalls the way many Renaissance artists used to sign their paintings and engravings (e.g., "XXXIX R").

Artwork Correlation: Riccardi meets Desprez. My personal research leads me to examine the grotesqueness of Les songes drolatiques. The Grotesque prevails in at least 23 visual cases, each presented here as a matched pair. Original enumeration is kept.

Riccardi, Les sognes drolatiques, CI

Desprez, Les Sognes drolatiques, 101













































Songe drolatique. The title of Rabelais' book includes an adjective (drolatique) which seems to appear here for the first time in French. Drôle means "funny, curious", and this is the origin of the term drôlerie used by modern art history for the ornamental fantasies on the borders of medieval manuscripts or architectural decorations. Drôlerie is thus related to grottesco, yet they are distinguished by the ancient origins of the latter as contrasted to the medieval roots of the former. In late 16th-century France the meaning of drôlerie also included those satyrical – and often grotesque – figures which since the beginning of the wars of religion flooded the press, as well as the animal-shaped masks and costumes. Its ethymological origin, the Dutch drol (trol; troll; kabouter; gnome) carries in itself the ambivalence of a being which on the one hand is funny and simple, while on the other hand murky, tangled and even with a shade of malignancy.

Medieval illumination motif

French Gothic sculpture

Such incongruous figures were not born from nothing: they were rooted in a burlesque and satiric tradition, in the metamorphosis of the carnival, the transgressive visions of madness. They had been present in medieval architecture, the carvings of stalls and capitals, between the ornaments of tapestries, and of course on the borders of manuscripts, the drôleries. All these sources offered to the avid eyes of the artist a feast of images, where the figurative and the ornamental, intertwining each other, created a multitude of unusual, whimsical or shocking forms.

Cranach, Against the Papacy at Rome, engraving, 1545

"Drolatic" is an adjective of "dream" in the title, and we must ask what kind of dream is this. It is pressumably the dream of reason, which gives birth to monsters. There is nothing derogatory in the use of "dream" in the title, nothing that would diminish the seriousness of the artistic purpose. On the contrary, this dream reveals us a reality which is hidden by daytime appearances, and which escapes the constraints of socially correct discourse, language and logic. The dream of reason offers us a glimpse into the continuous flow of the unexpected associations between the objects and the elements of the language, into a deeper layer of reality which makes more complete our understanding of the world (Studiolum).

Mariano Akerman, Your Honour, 1989
watercolor and ink
Nicole Myrand Collection, Accra, Ghana

André Tournon, Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Bulletin de l'Association d'étude sur l'humanisme, la réforme et la renaissance, Vol. 29, No. 29, 1989, pp. 58-60.
François Rabelais: Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Larousse, France
Les Songes Drolatiques de Pantagruel ou sont contenues plusieurs figures de l'invention de maitre François Rabelais, The Metropolitan Museum, New York
Pantagruel I and Pantagruel II, BibliOdyssey, June 2006
David Pescovitz, Illustrations from Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, Boingboing, 12.06.2006
Studiolum, El disfraz insoportable (The Unbearable Mask), Poemas del río Wang, July 2011
Aeron, François Desprez: The Droll Dreams of Pantagruel (1565), Monsterbrains, 20.11.2011
Albertino Gonçalves, Criaturas pantagruélicas 1, Tendências do imaginário, Portugal, 21-24.4.2012
Mariano Akerman, Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel and François Desprez, Imaginarium, 8-9.3.2013
___. Sueños de Pantagruel, Impronta, 11.3.2013
___. Correlatividad en los sueños de Pantagruel, Impronta, 8.4.2014


Ilona Yusuf said...

Thoroughly enjoyed the paintings and the woodcuts. The article is very well put together. Both text and images.

Nicole Myrand said...

Mariano: C'est avec une grande joie que je vous lis. A tous les jours, grâce aux magnifiques tableaux, vous êtes dans mes pensées. A bientôt, Nicole

NCL said...

Inquietantes las imágenes. Magnífica la investigación. Pienso que han de preceder tu estudio sobre el grotesco en el siglo XXI. Un beso grande.

Deb Siskindo said...

Woooow! Impresionante lo de Riccardi. ¡Qué manera de inspirarse en Desprez! Muy buena tu investigación y como siempre un placer leer tu blog. Voilà

Adri Morawitt said...

¡Fantástico! Tanto las imágenes como la investigación. La obra de Riccardi basada en Desprez es estremecedora.

Andy Gobbi said...

Querido, ¡qué bueno está esto! Te mando un beso enorme.

Mónica Ottino said...

Maravillosa, conmocionante investigación.

Lara Felix said...

This post and its illustrations are just priceless.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...