Panat in postcardThe Ranums'

Panat Times

Volume 1, redone Dec. 2014


Volume 1


Orest's Pages

Patricia's Musings



Musical Rhetoric

Transcribed Sources


A portrait of the artist:
Molière as Arnolphe, Marc-Antoine Charpentier at a ball

This Musing is prompted by my reading of Joan DeJean's pages on an early mass-market portrait of Molière, in her The Reinvention of Obscenity: Sex, Lies, and Tabloids in Early Modern France (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 108-118. She addresses the question of what constitutes a "portrait."

The same issue was raised by Alberto Ausoni in "Musique et propagande monarchique dans les almanachs illustrés sous le règne de Louis XIV," Gazette des Beaux Arts, Jan. 1997, pp. 43-56. Ausoni argues that the man holding a piece of music in an Almanach Royal for 1682, engraved by Pierre Landry and entitled Bal à la Françoise, should not be taken as a "portrait," because all the representations in that engraving are so stereotypical.

A few years earlier, in "Un portrait présumé de Marc-Antoine Charpentier," ― which appeared in the Bulletin Charpentier in 1991  ― I had proposed that the man is Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Ausoni clearly did not agree. But now, in 2005, revisiting the question of what constitutes a "portrait" is especially appropriate, because the article has just been reprinted in Marc-Antoine Charpentier, un musicien retrouvé, a joint publication of the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles and Editions Mardaga, 2005.

In marked contrast with Ausoni, Joan DeJean argues that a "portrait" did not have to actually resemble the individual in order to become, for the public, a believable representation of that person. I welcome DeJean's thoughtful and probing insights on this issue. Indeed, her thoughts are doubly welcome, because Ausoni's critique has resurfaced in Jean-Paul Montagnier's review of my Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier (Revue de Musicologie, 90, 2004, p. 366.)

First I will briefly summarize Ausoni's position; then I will present excerpts from DeJean.
Ausoni's position on the Bal à la Françoise.

Antonio Ausoni on "Monsieur Charpentier" and the the Bal à la Françoise

Antonio Ausoni's principal interest in the almanacs is set out in first sentences of his article: These large illustrations, which were used to "decorate" the interiors of houses and shops, blend "la realité de l'histoire" with "l'imaginaire de l'allégorie." Ausoni trains his attention on depictions of musicians, and how they "entre[nt] dans un ensemble décoratif et joue[nt], en même temps, un rôle symbolique et allégorique," and how, at the same time, these musicians "dans un but assez réaliste, [servent à évoquer] des événements ou des occasions de réjouisssances qui comportaient souvent un accompagnement musical" (pp. 43-44).

Toward the end of the article, Ausoni discusses Landry's Le Bal à la Françoise. Caught up in the allegorical and the decorative aspects of the almanacs he is examining, he asserts that Landry's almanac is "une exception" because, unlike "most" almanacs, it lacks "des représentations stéréotypées pour permettre d'en reconnaître immédiatement les principaux personnages" (p. 52). Yet Ausoni himself notes that Louis XIV is wearing his "recognizable" hat (p. 52).

Ausoni is not convinced by my identification of the principal persons in Landry's engraving. He deems these representations too stylized to be actual portraits. When he argues that the faces are "absolument conventionnels et interchangeables," is he really suggesting that Louis XIV's face is interchangeable with Dauphin's? Or that it would make no difference if the face of one woman were cut out and pasted over the visage of another?

There is little point in rehearsing here the identifications I proposed in my article, nor Ausoni's objections to those identifications. If each of us devoted pages to the subject, we would get no closer to the truth than the typical purchaser of that almanac back in 1682. That is, the King is recognizable by his hat and his cordon bleu, and the Dauphin is recognizable by his brand-new cordon bleu; and somewhere in that assembly of courtly ladies and gentlemen, are the Queen, the Dauphine, Madame, and Monsieur. Although the accuracy of our choice cannot be verified, like the seventeenth-century purchaser, each of us has to decide, to his personal satisfaction, who is who.

Ausoni is especially skeptical about my proposal that the man offering the Menuet de Strasbourg to a seated woman is Marc-Antoine Charpentier. He deems it "hasardeuse" but "séduisant" to make such an identification. For him, the three people in the foreground, like the servant carrying a tray laden with food, are more or less "decorations" that do not represent a precise protégé offering a gift to a precise protector. "Nous préférons," he says, "mettre l'accent sur l'aspect décoratif de l'ensemble" (p. 53 and n. 37). Ausoni's stated preference ― decoration and representations of musicians, rather than a reading of the iconography as a whole, in the context of a specific event ― results in a questionable discussion of this particular almanac that concludes with these rather self-evident observations: "On doit conclure, que cette gravure évoque un bal à la cour avec une précision qui se manifeste et dans le goût décoratif de la salle, et dans les détails des costumes et des attitudes des personnages" (p. 53).

Ausoni's approach leaves several major questions unaddressed. If these are not real persons, if they are merely stylized decorations, why did Landry name the author of the menuet? Is it not significant that the only name (beyond Landry's) in the engraving is that of a composer known as "Mr Charpentier"? Landry did not routinely name the composer of a piece of music so explicitly, so unequivocally. For example, no composer is credited with the title-less, march-like piece that Landry inserted into his almanac for 1693 (Maxime Préaud, Les Effets du Soleil, Almanachs du règne de Louis XIV, Paris, Réunions des Musées nationaux, 1995, p. 102). Might one not argue that "Mr Charpentier" ― who had been composing for the Dauphin's Music since 1679 ― is the artistic "star" of this particular almanac, and that Landry therefore wanted to be sure that the public could identify the man? That Charpentier and his music embody everything that is splendid in the musical arts at the Sun King's court? The fact that Charpentier's name is mentioned would therefore seem an important bit of evidence that must not be brushed aside as inconsequential.

Joan DeJean on Molière's portraits

I will summarize DeJean's argument, using her own words whenever possible. I have highlighted some of the more thought-provoking statements in bold type.

DeJean begins by discussing Fame. Donneau de Visé, she points out, "[made] Molière famous by declaring that this was already the case. ... This frequent proclaiming of Molière's celebrity had many repercussions, notably one directly related to his new status as a writer able to sell his manuscripts to publishers." Thus, in 1663, Guillaume de Luyne published Les Oeuvres de Monsieur Molier [sic] (pp. 108-109).

This publication "contributed to the image of Molière as, in the phrase Donneau de Visé chose to open his biography, 'someone who is talked about all over Europe.' .... Various references confirm that ... Molière was acquiring an audience outside France. .. .In the final ramification of this sudden rise to celebrity, Molière also became the first French author to acquire still another newly invented status symbol: his portrait" (p. 110).

(Entre parenthèses, the bookseller's readiness to "recognize" Molière in Chauvreau's little engraving calls to mind the story of how, back in the fifth century, Severus asked St. Paulinus of Nola for a portrait, so that he could have it reproduced as part of the decorations of his new basilica. After thanking God for having painted, in the heart of his friend, a portrait that will not perish, the saint tells Severus that instead of copying a picture, he need but call upon his own memory and instruct his artists to give Paulinus the features of one or another persons in his entourage. If the result does not resemble Paulinus, Severus is not to be distressed, for at every moment of the day and night he can contemplate the real image of Paulinus in his heart (Pierre Fabre, Saint Paulin de Nole et l'Amitié chrétienne, Paris: Boccard, 1949, pp. 321-323). )

The edition of L'Ecole des femmes of 1663 bears a frontispiece by Chauveau (p. 111) that shows a seated Arnolphe explaining the duties of marriage to Agnès. "One thing that Chauveau's frontispiece does not indicate," continues DeJean, "is the identity of the two people it features: they seem, very simply, Arnolphe and Agnès -- or rather two middle-class citizens depicted next to the ultimate symbol of the bourgeoisie, its houses. They are representative of the portraits of characters that, from this point on, ornament all the major editions of Molière's plays in that they are remarkable above all for their complete lack of individuality. And yet, from the start, Molière's contemporaries did not see it this way. Montfleury has his economically savvy Marquis begin his foray into the world of publishing by asking for Molière's latest. The bookseller offers him L'Ecole des femmes. As he accepts a copy, a stage direction reads: 'He looks at the first leaf of L'Ecole des femmes where Molière is depicted.' 'Isn't that Molière?' the Marquis queries. The bookseller confirms that it is, and her customer adds, 'Yes, that's his portrait'" (p. 112).

"If we dismiss this exchange as mere padding," says DeJean, "we miss the fact that Montfleury is drawing our attention to the concept of the portrait." Having pointed out, she continues, that he has had his own portrait painted, "the bookseller is referring to one meaning the term had acquired in a literary context, a portrait in the sense of an image that guaranteed the authenticity of a text. It is in this way, that [Elizabeth] Eisenstein [The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1979)] explains the growing presence of individualized portraits of authors and artists in early modern print culture; once print had begun to make the standardization of texts and images a reality, the desire for individuality developed as a counterforce. Thus, as of the sixteenth century, publishers began to feature portraits of authors as a promotional device" (p. 112).

DeJean elaborates upon this point: "Molière was the first French author to have benefited fully from the new desire to assign to the best-known authors a visual image by which they could be recognized. We do, of course, have engravings and even occasional painted portraits of earlier literary figures. All these portraits, however, have at most a minimal degree of individuality ― one can hardly be certain to have a real sense of what Corneille, for instance, looked like, or even of being able to guess, on the basis of one portrait of the author, that a second portrait, allegedly also of Corneille, represents the same man. With Molière, however, for the first time we note an instance of an author's portrait, in the sense in which Foucault speaks of an author's name. Numerous painted portraits preserve a record of Molière's face during the last decade [of his life]; once you have seen one of them, you recognize the author in the others ...." (p. 112).

"With this sense of portrait in mind," continues DeJean, "let's return to the frontispiece of L'Ecole des femmes. Following the lead of Montfleury's Marquis, commentators have always assumed that Molière himself was portrayed there, and not just the character he played. In order to make this assumption, they force themselves to ignore the fact that this image has little in the way of individuality. True, the seated man does have a mustache, as Molière did (although probably not the same kind). Yet when we compare the image to that of even a fairly crude contemporary painting showing Molière (as opposed to a generic actor) playing Arnolphe [her fig. 9, p. 116], we note that, whereas the costume is the same, the face in the frontispiece lacks any sign of true life ― and surely Chauveau, the finest artist of the century to turn his hand to book illustration, could have produced more of a likeness, if that had been the task assigned to him. Chauveau created another type of portrait, a standardized image perfectly suited to the new, mass-marketed literary product it was to illustrate. ... Molière's market value now would extend beyond his name: his person, too, was in the process of being commodified" (p. 115).

DeJean concludes on a note of irony: "It is fitting, therefore, that over the centuries the engraving [by Chauveau] has been thoroughly remodeled to accommodate changing ideas of seventeenth-century style, and yet all the while commentators still continue to identify the image as a portrait of Molière. ... The image's long-term fate makes clear just what was at stake when Montfleury's Marquis identified the engraving as a portrait of Molière. As a result of the controversy [provoked by L'Ecole des femmes], Molière may well have become the first writer to experience a side-effect of media exposure all too familiar to any observer of celebrity today ― the price of his fame was a certain loss of individuality, and certainly a loss of privacy" (p. 115).

(On several occasions Joan DeJean refers to an article by G. Donald Jackson, "Les Frontispices des éditions de Molière parues au XVIIIe siècle: Stéréotypes et expressivité," Biblio 17, Papers on French Seventeenth-Century Literature, 14 (1987), pp. 37-60. This specific volume is currently missing from the stacks of the Johns Hopkins University Library. When Jackson's article becomes available, I intend to add his argument to this Musing. )

Some parallels between DeJean's observations and Le Bal à la Françoise, with its menuet by "Monsieur Charpentier"

In many instances, if "Molière" is replaced by "Charpentier," in the above quotations, Joan DeJean might well be writing about Marc-Antoine Charpentier and the public image of him that had begun to emerge in the mid-1670s.

Indeed, the parallel is striking between the way Donneau de Visé "made Molière famous" during the 1660s and the way, a decade later, he began telling the public how famous Marc-Antoine Charpentier was. By 1663, the "famous" Molière was deemed worthy of having his "portrait" on the frontispiece of L'Ecole des femmes; by late 1682, the man whom Donneau would call "le fameux M. Charpentier," was deemed worthy of having his "portrait" in Landry's almanac. (For examples of how Donneau set about making Charpentier "famous," see my Portraits around Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Baltimore, 2004, pp. 177-188.)

Although Landry's portrait of "Monsieur Charpentier" lacks individuality, if a purchaser of Landry's almanac had been asked whether the man holding the music was Charpentier, even if he had never met the composer, the buyer probably would have replied in the same vein as Montfleury's bookseller:" Yes, that's his portrait."

That Marc-Antoine Charpentier's portrait was included in the almanac ― for I persist in believing that this is a "portrait" of sorts ― suggests that it should be seen as what DeJean calls "an image that guaranteed the authenticity of a text." In other words, this "portrait" guarantees not only the authenticity of the Menuet de Strasbourg, but the authenticity of everything that Charpentier had been writing for the Dauphin's Music.

Or perhaps I should put it the other way around: the name of "Monsieur Charpentier" inscribed on the Menuet de Strasbourg can be said to guarantee the authenticity of the "portrait"!

If we accept DeJean's argument, it is reasonable to assert that ― despite the fact that this "image has little in the way of individuality " ― the image was intended as a "portrait" of Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and it was understood by the public to be a "portrait" of that "famous" composer.

The same must, of course, be said for Louis XIV and all the courtiers depicted in the almanac. The public expected the entire royal family to be present, and purchasers were wont to identify ― perhaps correctly, perhaps incorrectly ― each famous person on the basis of a man's cordon bleu and plumed hat, the style of a woman's coiffe and the magnificence of her gown and her jewels, and the standing or seated position of each individual in the presence of the King. If uncertain about which woman was the Queen, the purchaser would doubtlessly have come to a decision with all the certitude demonstrated by Montfleury's bookseller. (As DeJean points out, p. 115, the fact that it was not Armande Béjart who played Agnès, but Mlle de Brie, did not prevent Chauveau's engraving from being read as a joint portrait of Molière and Béjart all the way into the twentieth century.)

Finally, I want to repeat here DeJean's conviction that the engraver "could have produced more of a likeness [of Molière], if that had been the task assigned to him." Landry, too, could doubtlessly have depicted his personages with greater verisimilitude. But instead, like Chauveau, he "created another type of portrait, a standardized image perfectly suited to the new, mass-marketed literary product it was to illustrate." Change DeJean's "literary product" to "musical product," and we gain a whole new understanding of Pierre Landry's depiction of the Bal à la Françoise. By 1682 Marc-Antoine Charpentier had become famous, and the public wanted a portrait of him (just as it hungered for portraits of the royal family). Landry therefore produced a mass-market image of the composer to accompany the standardized mass-market "portraits" of the princes whom Charpentier was then serving: Louis XIV, the Dauphin, and Mme de Guise.

I made most of these points back in 1991. Now, in 2005, I have to been able to call upon Joan DeJean's book to round out my article on the "portrait présumé de Marc-Antoine Charpentier." Weighed against DeJean's discussion of what constitutes a "portrait," Ausoni's assertion that Landry's depictions of people at the court of Louis XIV were not intended as portraits, contributes little to our understanding of what Landry's almanac is all about. By contrast, DeJean's argument is weighty; it lingers in one's thoughts, and it helps shape our understanding of the role that this depiction played in Marc-Antoine Charpentier's career.