Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel

Desprez, François. Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, Paris: Richard Breton, 1565 (64 folios; 120 woodcuts).

Complete title: Les Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, ou sont contenues plusieurs figures de l’invention de maistre François Rabelais : & derniere oeuvre d’iceluy, pour la recreation des bons esprits (The Droll Dreams of Pantagruel, where are contained several characters created by M. Francois Rabelais: and the last work of same, for the recreation of good souls).

Although the original editor indicated Rabelais as author of the engravings, it is thanks to the work of Jean Porcher (1892-1966) that the engravings are today attributed to François Desprez. See, for instance, Porcher, "L'auteur des Songes drolatiques de Pantagruel", dans Mélanges A. Lefranc, Paris, 1936, p. 229-233.

Desprez's work is based on Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais, written between 1530 and 1564. The literary source is a connected series of five novels. It is the story of two giants, a father (Gargantua) and his son (Pantagruel) and their adventures, written in an amusing, extravagant, satirical vein. There is much crudity and scatological humor as well as a large amount of violence. Enumerations of vulgar insults fill several chapters (Art & Popular Culture).

Scholar and groundbreaking satirical writer, François Rabelais (1483-1553) issued his magnum opus The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel as a five book series over 20 years up to 1564. The books chart the humorous adventures of giants Gargantua and his son, Pantagruel in a scatalogical and often bawdy manner. Rabelais wrote in the epic tradition of Homer and, beyond the burlesque, there is an underlying serious examination of society, politics, education and philosophy whilst introducing 500 new words to the French language (BibliOdyssey).

An exemplar of Desprez's volume is kept in the Bibliothèque Municipale de Tours. Les Bibliothèques Virtuelles Humanistes possess a digital version of the book, including all the 120 prints by Desprez. An additional copy is kept in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel; it also encopasses all the woodcuts.

François Desprez, Les songes drolatiques de Pantagruel, woodcut 21

The work of Desprez can recall the medieval Bestiary and has a lot to do with the imagery of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569).

Commedia dell'arte seems to have much in common with Les sognes drolatiques.
Jacques Callot, Cucorongna & Pernovalla, from Balli di Sfessania, etching, 1621-22. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

During the 19th century, Rabelais' characters were still much appreciated and even depicted in Germany.

Attributed to Rabelais Denkmäler des Theatres VIII: Mappe Groteskkomödie und Stegreifstück, Munich: R. Piper & Co., 19th century, plate 15 (180).

Attributed to Rabelais Denkmäler des Theatres VIII: Mappe Groteskkomödie und Stegreifstück, Munich: R. Piper & Co., 19th century, plate 15 (181).

In 1973 Salvador Dalí executed some lecherous compositions which owe perhaps too much to Desprez's initial woodcuts. Inspired in a much subtler way by Desprez's imagery, Fabrizio Riccardi developed in 2008-9 a great series of pictures, many of which were exhibited at the Galleria Davico in Torino in 2010.

Progetto Songes Drôlatiques. A partire dal Settembre del 2008 l’artista Fabrizio Riccardi, in accordo con la Galleria Davico di Torino, ha dato avvio alla realizzazione di una serie di dipinti dedicati all’interpretazione fantastica delle immagini che fanno parte della raccolta "Les Songes Drolatiques", opera attribuita a Rabelais: i personaggi ivi rappresentati, realizzati dall’incisore Francois Desprez, sono tutti caricature grottesche del variegato mondo che frequentava la Corte Papale in Roma. Riccardi rivisita ciascun personaggio dandogli vita, colori e tridimensionalità, in un’atmosfera di "burlesque" con un sapiente tocco surreale fantastico. Fabrizio Riccardi è impegnato a realizzare le 120 opere dei Songes Drolatiques entro la fine del 2011. Il progetto, decisamente ambizioso, verrà coordinato per gli aspetti logistico-espositivi dalla Galleria Davico che costituisce il punto di riferimento per qualunque tipo di iniziativa inerente lo stesso.

Riccardi after Desprez

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 motif

French Gothic sculpture

All 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, 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
---. Fabrizio Riccardi: Paintings of Pantagruel, Monsterbrains, 26.11.2011
Albertino Gonçalves, Criaturas pantagruélicas 1, 2, 3, Tendências do imaginário, Portugal, 21-24.4.2012
Mariano Akerman, François Desprez and Fabrizio Riccardi, Imaginarium, 9-10.3.2013
---. Sueños de Pantagruel, Hola Amigos, 11.3.2003.

Tendências do imaginário
O desconcerto do mundo
Callot: Danças de Rua
Callot: Corcundas


NCL said...

Inquietantes las imágenes. Magnífica la investigación. Un beso grande.

Adri Morawitt said...


Andy Gobby said...

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

Mónica Ottino said...

Maravillosa, conmocionante investigación. Dios ¿de dónde sacás las cosas?

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