François Desprez

Desprez, François. Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris: Richard Breton, 1565 (64 folios; 120 woodcuts). Each image is numbered as a design; numbers are consistent with those inscribed in the volume preserved in the Bibliothèque Municipale de Tours, France (available online via Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes).
























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 etymological 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 hybrid

French Gothic sculpture

Cranach, Against the Papacy at Rome, engraving, 1545

Desprez's 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. The most learned and noble representative of this art was Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569), whose engravings were widely disseminated in France of those years. His work was also a source of inspiration for Desprez.

Desprez, woodcut 21

"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, BibliOddysey, 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, Imaginarium, 8.3.2013
_____. Sueños de Pantagruel, Impronta, 11.3.2003


Ilona Yusuf said...

These woodcuts are an eye opener.

NCL said...

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

Adri Morawitt said...

¡Fantástico! Tanto las imágenes como la investigación.

Andy Gobby said...

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

Mónica Ottino said...

Maravillosa, conmocionante investigación.

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