Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?

by The Frame Blog

Marika Takanishi Knowles considers the French resistance to Northern Italian models of the Auricular, and the peculiarly idiosyncratic appearances of the style in the work of French designers and ornemanistes.


Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … (detail), 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

‘Who’s afraid of the French Auricular?’ The answer, in fact, is the French themselves, whose ornament designers consistently refused to push their work in the direction of the Auricular. While the French toyed with certain elements of the style, and in one case riffed extensively on a single Auricular motif, only a few French designers embraced the kind of Auricular style seen in the work of Dutch, German, and Italian metalworkers and print- and framemakers. Nevertheless, in the single comprehensive work published to date on the Auricular, Walter Karl Zülch’s Entstehung des Ohrmuschelstiles, Zülch attributes the origins of the Auricular style to innovations made by the artists of the School of Fontainebleau.[1] The grainy, black and white plates at the back of Zülch’s text begin with two full pages reproducing the designs of artists working in France in the 16th century. After these two pages, however, only two of the following 164 images show objects made or prints published in France. In other words, France initiated an ornamental style that would lead to the Auricular, but it did not participate in its flowering.

Here, I will confirm that Zülch’s thesis holds, but I will also discuss the exceptions, two designers who produced variants of the Auricular style in early 17th century France: Daniel Rabel and Denis Boutemie. I also posit some reasons why the Auricular did not prove popular in France, namely that the shift towards an aesthetic style broadly described as ‘classicism’ was already palpable in the early 17th century. In addition, as I show, the French, clambering out from under the thumb of Italian influence, eagerly explored a ‘local’ variation on grotesque ornament in the form of the peapod (cosse de pois). Chasing after peas distracted these designers from the cartilage-work of their European counterparts; the pursuit of the cosse de pois also allowed the French to lay claim a national tradition of ‘gothic’ vegetal ornament.

The preference for the vegetal over the fleshy points to the underlying reluctance of the French sensibility to pursue a style in which the material of the human body was represented in a constant and perilous state of flux, shifting from solid to liquid, from stone to leather, from the slippery slime of fish scales to the ridges of a lion’s knuckles. This gooey medium produces the Auricular style’s lumps and ridges; the Auricular tends towards the drooping and the bulging rather than the erect or contained. Take, for example, Johannes Lutma’s cartouche, published in 1650-54.


Figure 1. Johannes Lutma, Cartouche from Veelderhande Niewe Compartemente, 1650-54, engraving, 22.5 x 18.7 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Two ‘faces’ or ‘masks’ ripple outwards at the cartouche’s crown and base. The masks suggest a number of possible animal forms, from bats to lizards, to birds, to the mysterious whiskered ‘sea-monster’ that proliferates in many of the designs of this period. Yet there are also vegetal allusions: the upper part of the cartouche evokes the crumpled leaves of an oak tree, but the ‘leaves’ are ridged like the erect ears of a bat. The human body also appears. Lutma has studied the qualities of human flesh, of the way loose skin folds and bunches. He has also attended to the anatomy of the female sex, an association suggested as well by the yawning ‘mouth’ at the center of the frame, evocative of what the 17th century botanist Paul Contant described evasively as ‘that which I do not want to name from which the world emerges’.[2] Lutma’s achievement is to represent a medium that never settles into a single substance, but constantly shifts its allusion from plant, to animal, to human.

Lutma’s ‘indeterminate medium’ is the hallmark of what I would like to call the ‘high’ Auricular style. This is the style at its most extreme and also at its most unified. While the medium of Lutma’s cartouche might allude to many different substances, the cartouche appears to be wrought out of a single substance: an indeterminate medium, but a single medium. There is little sense of elements added or affixed to the frame; its substance appears to be continuous, as if one single sheet of the indeterminate medium had been folded and cut in order to make this cartouche. In France, there is no ‘high’ Auricular style, only what I would call a ‘hybrid’ Auricular, in which elements of the high Auricular mingle with other elements that can be described as distinctly French.

Before describing early 17th century examples of the French Auricular, I would like first to address the question of the School of Fontainebleau, to which Zülch grants importance in the formation of the Auricular style. The School of Fontainebleau was an artistic style that emerged from the decorative projects and the artisanal ateliers at the Chateau of Fontainebleau, where François I situated his court in the 16th century.[3] One of the most important legacies of the School of Fontainebleau was its production of prints, which disseminated in two dimensions the style’s distinctive mixture of painting, sculpture, and architectural decoration.[4] I would like to focus here on the frames designed by Primaticcio for the chamber of the Duchesse d’Etampes, one of the favorites of Francçois I.


Figure 2. Francesco Primaticcio, Female figures and putti, Alexander taming Bucephalus, 1541-44, stucco & fresco. Fontainebleau: Château de Fontainebleau. Photo © Bridgeman-Giraudon/Art Resource, NY.

These sculptural frames were positioned in the upper register of the walls of the Duchesse’s chamber, now a staircase; the frames surround frescoes, also by Primaticcio. Three elements compose the frame: fruit, human figures, and strapwork. Two slender, elongated female figures stand to either side of the oval fresco, atop which three putti perch. Garlands of squash, pears, artichokes and pomegranates fill the space between the figures, whose hands are raised in order to grasp the edges of two rectangular strapwork cartouches. All the ingredients of Auricular materiality – inorganic architectural substance, flora and fauna, human flesh – are present in this frame. Nevertheless, at no point do the individual elements merge into a single substance in order to form the typical hybrid medium of the high Auricular. The human bodies remain human; they touch, but they do not seep into or join the spherical fruits. Boundaries between bodies of human, animal, and vegetal origin are strictly maintained. While it is possible to establish analogies between the garlands of fruits and the spherical forms of the female nudes – an apple is like a breast, a pomegranate is like an ovary, and so on – no single form ever attempts to merge the body and the fruit together in the way that Lutma merges bat-skin, leaf, and intimate membranes to make the material of his cartouche.

As a point of origin for the Auricular, then, Fontainebleau frames offer up the distinct ingredients of the Auricular, but unblended, as it were. At Fontainebleau, the decorative frame becomes an animated source of visual interest that distracts the viewer from comparatively diminutive frescoes. Strap-work, which is a key element of all Fontainebleau frames and decoration, also plays an important role in the evolution of the Auricular. Strap-work is a peculiar entity, a flat sheet of varying thickness – the ‘strap’ – that is folded and curled in order to create volume. Intimately related to the cartouche, which in turn was related to the shield or the coat of arms, often made of thick sheets of moulded leather, strap-work is massive but also dynamic; it has the uncanny character of appearing inorganic but yet still possessing organic dynamism and liveliness. In this sense, strap-work anticipates the Auricular as a lively, mobile, and sculptural frame. Lutma’s cartouche, for example, is basically one large strap, which has been folded and pleated into the shape of the cartouche. Along the way, organic energies have begun to pulse up from inside the medium of Lutma’s cartouche, causing the smooth surface to undulate.

While Fontainebleau ornament may have pointed a way towards the Auricular style, French designers participated only marginally in the motif’s flowering during the early- and mid-17th century. It must be remembered, as an important factor in considering any artistic work in France during the early 17th century, that for the last thirty years of the 16th century, France was embroiled in a terrible series of civil wars, the Wars of Religion (1562-1594) between Catholics and Protestants.[5] During these thirty years, artistic production ground to an almost complete halt. After Henri IV took the throne in 1594, the situation began to improve and artists once again were active in Paris.[6] It makes sense that a new style would be sought, rather than a return to old models. While painters did continue to rely heavily on the example of Fontainebleau, giving rise to the ‘Second School of Fontainebleau,’ metalworkers and printmakers looked in different directions.[7] A particularly important feature of artistic production in early 17th century France was the lively field of print-making, a relatively inexpensive medium that allowed for stylistic flexibility and experimentation.[8] It is in the world of print-making, not of metalwork, that the first example of the French Auricular is found, in two series of cartouches designed by Daniel Rabel (1578-1637).

Unlike many of designers of ornamental prints during the early 17th century, Rabel was not a goldsmith, but he was trained in engraving and etching, as well as painting.[9] Rabel’s two series were both published during the 1630s, one in the vertical ‘portrait’ orientation, the other horizontally oriented.


Figure 3. Daniel Rabel, Plate 12 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In plate 12 from the horizontal series, Rabel explores the motif of a flayed, scaly sea monster, whose head lurks at the bottom of the frame, which contains a peaceful agrarian landscape showing a farmer at his plow and another tilling the soil. The medium of the cartouche does not approximate the character of skin, but rather appears to be a sheet of curled stucco or thick leather. A few passages of indeterminate medium do appear, however, particularly in the lower half of the cartouche, where two puffy, blubbery lozenges are juxtaposed with hanging festoons of fruit. The juxtaposition of swag of fruit and fatty rolls cleaves to the structure of analogy identified in the Fontainebleau frames: the two represented mediums are placed side by side and compared, with the round bottoms of apples or persimmons in the garlands rhyming the spherical characteristics of the fleshy passages. While comparison suggests likeness, it is also a structure of separation and distinction – ‘never the twain shall meet’.

Rabel’s interest in a reptilian skin was shared by his contemporaries, including the goldsmith Pierre Delabarre. Delabarre is known today for two extraordinary ewers made of precious stone surrounded by enameled and gold ornament.[10]

Delabarre Pierre (reÁu maÓtre en 1625-vers 1654). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. OA10409;MR130.

Figure 4. Pierre Delabarre, Ewer, ca. 1630-1635, enamel in the round, gold, diamond, emerald, ruby, opal, carnelian, sard, 26.1 x 13.4 x 6.9 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

The ewer illustrated here features a large body made of a hard quartz called sard. The ewer’s handle is rendered as an enameled dragon, on top of which a cupid wields the reins. The dragon sports plumes of rubies set in gold, a particular, seed-like pattern that I will return to later. While Delabarre’s ewer shares reptilian allusions with Rabel’s cartouche, it cannot really be described as an Auricular object. Delabarre creates volume through encrustation, by affixing to one another a multitude of tiny, delicate, and brittle bits of gold, stone, and glass. Thus, as opposed to massive, undulating forms made of a single material, Delabarre creates intricate piles of differentiated materials. The result is an additive constructive, built upon the surface of the stone, rather than built up from within the material itself.


Figure 5. Daniel Rabel, Plate 8 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634., engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

Another cartouche from Rabel’s suite exploits not the lizard skin, but the skin of a tiger. The tiger’s front and back paws surround the central motif; even its tail is suggested in the cascade of C-curves at the base of the frame, as if the tail has been carefully split open. Two nude figures balance within the structure created by the stretched skin. A possible inspiration for Rabel’s design, in this case, can be found in his career as a costume designer for ballets at the French court. Throughout the early modern period, court ballets created the opportunity for fantastic minglings of bizarre costumes and exotic animals.[11] Such spectacles were a major inspiration for grotesque ornament. In 1625, Rabel designed the costumes for the Ballet des fées des forêts de Saint-Germain, an elaborate spectacle featuring numerous ‘entrées’, when disguised courtiers danced on and off the stage.[12] The ballet chronicled the adventures of the fairies and other fanciful creatures who were supposed to enchant the forest outside of the château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, where the children of royal blood were raised.

Rabel Daniel (1578-1637). Paris, musÈe du Louvre, D.A.G.. INV32686.

Figure 6. Daniel Rabel, Lackeys & Bertrands playing ‘tour-niquet’ (whirligig), 1625, pen & brown ink, watercolour with highlights, on paper, 28. 5 x 44 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

In this watercolour from the album of Rabel’s costume designs, two monkeys stand on the shoulders of a pair of lackeys clothed in canary-yellow suits decorated with thin blue stripes. The lackeys and their monkeys are bent over a marble pedestal on which is placed a board for the playing of ‘tour-niquet’ or ‘whirligig’. Together, the two pairs of monkey and man, curved over the pedestal, mirroring one another across a central axis, suggest the cupped sides of a decorative cartouche. This mingling of man and animal is echoed in Rabel’s cartouche, where the two, diminutive nude figures climb within the cavern created by the lion’s open body. While Rabel’s cartouche is fantastic and imaginative, it nevertheless stops short of the ‘high’ Auricular, in that the substance of the frame can be clearly identified as consisting of a single medium, an animal’s skin, and in that the nude human figures are again kept distinct from the animal material.

Rabel’s cartouches do contain one important element of the European Auricular, which has hitherto largely gone uncommented. This element appears in the lion-skin cartouche in the form of the four chains of ridged spheres, which appear at the base and at each side of the frame, strange little bumps that rise on the motif’s peripheries (see Rabel’s cartouche, Figure 5). It is difficult to guess what part of the animal these rows of spheres might suggest. There seems to be some relationship to the creature’s paws, which, wrapped around the inner-most frame, end in rows of little spherical finger-pads, each pierced by a claw.


Figure 7. Daniel Rabel, Plate 9 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Yet, a survey of Rabel’s suite reveals the row of spheres recurring throughout, in a variety of contexts, atop the whiskered sea-monster mask in plate 9 (Figure 7), and again on the edges of the cartouche, on the upper borders of plate 6 (Figure 8), representing the ram’s horns, but also extending above the ram’s head as a purely decorative border.


Figure 8. Daniel Rabel, Plate 6 from Cartouches de différentes inventions, 1634, engraving, 13.4 x 18.9 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The papers presented at the Auricular conference in October 2016 confirmed the omnipresence of the row of spheres in Auricular design of all stripes. Lukas Kilian, for example, favored the motif, which often takes on a spinal character, like a row of vertebrae (Figure 9), or which suggests the ridges of a shell, or a cornucopia (as in Figure 10).


Figure 9. Raphael Custos after Lucas Kilian, Plaste from Ein Newes Schildt Buech, 1630, engraving, 18.2 x 13.2 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Figure 10. Raphael Custos after Lucas Kilian, Plaste from Ein Newes Schildt Buech, 1630, engraving, 18.2 x 13.2 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The framemaker Johann Matthias Kager (1575-1634) also extensively used the device of the row of raised spheres as an element in his frames for the Golden Hall in Augsburg, as Daniela Roberts shows here.

Lutma also employs the motif in his cartouche, although he leans towards the ridged tube, rather than the row of spheres, but the motifs are interrelated: the ridges only have to be more fully articulated for the tube to become a chain of spheres, which is what has happened in Kager’s frames, for example. For Lutma, the ridges provide a way to variegate surfaces that might otherwise be left smooth.

In other words, the row of spheres was a formal, decorative element, which could evoke a number of different elements found in the natural world, including spines, shells, beads, and legumes. Without a fixed reference, the motif belonged to the interminate medium of the Auricular. In the French context, however, the row of spheres acquired a very specific, and rather surprising reference: the pea plant – specificially, the peapod.

The ornamental motif known as the cosse de pois (peapod) appeared around 1615 in the work of French designers in Paris and in Chateaudun.[13] Its popularity endured, in various forms, until around 1635, so it overlapped with the years during which the Auricular style enjoyed its first wave of popularity in Italy and the North. The cosse de pois was the work of French goldsmiths, who turned to printmaking as a way to augment their income and to build their personal reputations.[14] A huge body of peapod ornament – at least 463 original designs – was published in France during the motif’s heyday.

There were several different styles of peapod ornament; indeed, differences tended to proliferate because the goldsmiths used the suites of prints as calling cards to advertise their personal style. Pierre Marchand’s peas, for example, tended towards the healthfully buxom, while Jacques Caillart produced a floppier pod, but used a finer etched line to create a delicate density in his designs.

Paris, bibliothËque de l'INHA, collections Jacques Doucet. FolRes120-1-12-folio58.

Figure 11. Pierre Marchand, Frontispiece from Bouquets de joaillerie, feuilles stylisées et cosses de pois, 1623, etching, Paris: Bibliothèque de l’INHA, Collections Jacques Doucet. Photo © INHA, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.


Figure 12. J. Briot after Jacques Caillart, Plate 4 from Bouquets d’orfèvrerie, 1629, second edition (1627, first edition), etching & burin. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The ostensible goal was the design of jewellery, like the beautiful brooch in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, in which a trellis of red, white, and green peas surrounds an opal cameo showing an aristocratic infant.


Figure 13. Camée d’opale à monture de cosses de pois, c. 1615-25, ‘Hungarian’ opal, gold, white & black opaque enamel, translucent green enamel, 6.2 x 4.3 cm. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © BnF.

This particular piece is enamelled, but the designs could also be realized as a combination of gold setting or ‘pod’ and diamond ‘pea,’ as in the case of the breast ornament in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


Figure 14. Breast ornament, c. 1620-1630, enamelled gold set with diamonds, 12.4 x 7.4 x 3.0 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The cosse de pois can also be seen in the ornamentation of Delabarre’s ewer, which I discussed above. Those fan-like scrolls of gold flaring out behind the dragon and set with individual gems are derived from the motif of the arched, stuffed peapod, like those in Caillart’s design.

Delabarre Pierre (reÁu maÓtre en 1625-vers 1654). Paris, musÈe du Louvre. OA10409;MR130.

Figure 15. Pierre Delabarre, Ewer (detail), ca. 1630-1635, enamel in the round, gold, diamond, emerald, ruby, opal, carnelian, sard, 26.1 x 13.4 x 6.9 cm. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.

There is no denying the embodied character of the peapod motif, particularly in Caillart’s design. A skin swollen into a sphere suggests any number of body parts, from the testicles, breasts, and belly, to the buttocks, an analogy which I think is particularly appropriate for this design. For the most part, however, the peapod ornament alludes to the body while remaining in the realm of the vegetal. Again, this is the mode of analogy: the peapod resembles a body, it does not metamorphose into one.


Figure 16. Alexandre Vivot, Grand bouquet d’orfèvrerie de forme ovale, 1624, etching, 43.1 x 31.3 cm. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo © BnF.

In one case, however, the peapod does metamorphose into bodies and animals, in the work of Alexandre Vivot, a French goldsmith. Vivot came from a family of Parisian goldsmiths and sellers of curiosities (these were overlapping milieus in early 17th century Paris).[15] By the 1620s, Vivot was living and working in Madrid, although this extraordinary large sheet of peapod ornament was published in Paris.[16] Vivot’s design shows the peapod transforming into a pair of excreting buttocks wearing a jester’s cap, a mouth vomiting a vine, a head wearing an enormous, unicorn-like headress of a pod splitting open to sprout a chain of peas. The fantastic grotesquerie of this design necessitates that in some cases, including that of the excreting buttocks-face clad in the jester’s hat, the medium does indeed assume the indeterminate character that marks the essence of the high Auricular.

However, Vivot’s style remains distinct, and distinctly ‘French,’ in its aerated, linear character. The individual elements float with surprising lightness. They are bound together by an extremely delicate lattice of spiraling pea tendrils as well as the rapier-sharp points created by the tips of the pods.

A simple reason then, why the Auricular was not as popular in France as it was in the rest of Europe was that French goldsmiths were entirely absorbed by the peapod. What is more difficult to ascertain is the reason for this preference. This is the subject of my article, ‘Ornament in the Kitchen Garden: The Pea As Motif for Goldsmithing in the France of Louis XIII’, which will be published in Art History in 2017. Therefore, I will refrain from commenting extensively on the motif here, except in its relationship to the failure of French ornament to move towards the Auricular. At this moment in the early 17th century, the French were keen to come out from under the shadow of Italian artists, who had dominated the Fontainebleau style. This desire was perhaps exacerbated by the realization that artistic activity in France had fallen behind the rest of Europe, thanks to the turmoil of Wars of Religion. French designers needed to make a significant and an original statement. To reject a decorative style based on strapwork was to reject Italian influence and to embrace instead a vegetal form of ornament, which could be described as ‘gothic,’ an artistic style that France regarded as its own property.[17] Finally, the peapod granted ornament a fixed medium, anchoring the body of ornament in a single, organic substance. Of course, few designers were able to entirely stick within this single body. Vivot and Caillart both pushed the body of the pea towards the human body, mingling the two bodies in promiscuous fashion.

The second artist to engage in a sustained manner with the Auricular style was Denis Boutemie, a Parisian goldsmith.[18] In an extraordinary series of ornament prints, Boutemie came at the Auricular from an interesting angle – the hat. His designs demonstrate the manifold ways that a single hat can be folded, cut, and re-made into a fantastical series of headdresses for male and female models.


Figure 17. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation sous diverses caprices et gentillesses representees en l’industrieuse decoupure d’un chapteau, 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

In this plate, one of the two frontispieces to the series, the hat has been opened and splayed. It also appears to have merged with the body of a dog, whose legs, tails, and paws are visible. Some of the spiny character of the peapod ornament remains in the border elements, and the two bulbous fangs, extending from the lower border of the motif, also suggest the peapod. The following prints show pairs, and occasionally trios of male and female busts, their faces masked by the extraordinary head-pieces, many of which feature a dangling tendril of large spheres, reminiscent, at an enlarged scale, of the chains of sprouting peas seen in the cosse de pois prints.


Figure 18. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … , 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.


Figure 19. Denis Boutemie, page from Ouvrage rare et nouveau contenant plusieurs desseins de merveilleuse recreation … , 1636, engraving, 12 x 20.6 cm. London: Victoria & Albert Museum. Photo © Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

These headdresses may have been intended to inspire the designers of costumes for court ballets, including an artist like Rabel. Yet the designs were also prized solely for their visual interest and novel ‘inventions’. Boutemie’s title was ‘inventeur ordinaire du roi’, ‘ordinary inventor of the king’, which suggested that his job was not necessarily to make objects but to invent novel fantasies, such as transforming a plain hat into a bird of paradise. In terms of the relationship of these masks to the Auricular, I would insist upon the way that Boutemie restrains his fantasy to the medium of the hat. These are headdresses, costumes to be worn, they do not ask the wearer to transform his or her own flesh. Thus the distinction between the human figure and its grotesque costume is carefully preserved

In conclusion, the most marked characteristic of French stabs at the Auricular style is a refusal to embrace the indeterminate medium and a preference, instead, for analogy, comparison, and other modes of suggestion that maintain the cordon sanitaire between human bodies and other media. Part of the reason for this particular tendency can be attributed to the rising influence of ‘classicism’. The official period of French classicism is generally dated to the second half of the 17th century, between 1660 and 1685.[19] But the tensions between a simple, plain style and an ornate, extravagant style were already present in the early 17th century, particularly in the realm of literary theory: for example, Jean Chapelain’s famous preface to the French translation of Giambattista Marino’s Adone (1621, published 1623).[20] Marino’s peacetime epic was written in a wonderfully ornamented style, rich with elaborate metaphors; it is a text that seems to glitter, thanks to the plentiful references to the gleaming surfaces of precious gems.[21] Chapelain, while in principal entirely opposed to Marino’s style, was friends with the poet and therefore his preface is consummately politic. Nevertheless, without directly criticizing Marino, Chapelain uses this text to outline some of the major tenets of classicism: namely, truth to an idealized conception of nature, an overarching aesthetic of easeful simplicity, and the necessity of finding the proper mode of expression for a given subject (convenance). So, for example, elevated poetic verse was appropriate for political tragedy, while burlesque, low prose could be used for comedies about the lives of ordinary people. Chapelain believed that art should replicate the proper order of the natural world; he counted as disorderly the joining of different kinds of bodies to one another. Early on in his preface, he discusses forms of ‘novelty’, one that is against nature and another that is natural, and therefore worthy of praise:

‘[That novelty] which is against nature is double; the first [kind of novelty] would be called perfect in its imperfection, which is when a body of one nature and a body of another nature are joined together, like the satyrs of Antiquity, and in our time half-men half-dogs, and when novelty is in excess of monstrosity. The second [kind of novelty] would be called imperfect, and it is when a body of one nature and a body of another nature are assembled, without unifying and merging, such that two movements appear and produce two distinct operations, independent of one another; like a monster with two heads, hermaphrodites, infants attached by the forehead, and in which novelty is purely monstrous without excess’.[22]

While this fascinating passage cannot be applied word for word to an analysis of the Auricular style, it is nevertheless enormously suggestive. Perhaps most instructive is Chapelain’s discomfort with the presence of ‘two movements’ within a single medium, as opposed to the ‘perfect imperfection’ of a body that is hybrid, yet in which the elements of the hybrid are distinct. As an example of ‘perfect imperfection’ in novelty, take Primaticcio’s frame at Fontainebleau, in which the little satyrs, affixed to the pilasters between the nude women, are composed of human torsos and heads, from which extend two horns. Their bottom half, however, consists of two curving volutes, which belong to the plastic medium of strap-work. The Fontainebleau satyr combines two bodies (human and plastic-architectural), yet each body possesses its independent ‘movement’, its distinct ontology. Thus unity is possible even in the case of the composite. On the side of Chapelain’s ‘imperfect novelty’, Lutma’s cartouche and the high Auricular exemplify the body in which two or more ‘movements’ compete. These ‘movements’ are the affinities of the cartouche’s medium with the multiple substances it evokes: bat, leaf, cartilage, winkled and ridged skins. These mixed, contradictory affinities tease the substance of the cartouche in different directions, producing a medium, apparently singular, that is in fact highly unstable.

This was not merely a question of medium. Underlying Chapelain’s text is a suspicion of improper movements between genres. Ornament possessed the capacity to facilitate such disorderly movements, by elevating what it ornamented above its intrinsic value. The Auricular frame posed exactly this danger, that it would distract and overwhelm what was framed, diverting the viewer’s attention to marginalia. This was a problem of boundaries between things not being observed: of an ornamental frame becoming a subject rather than remaining in its position of service, as a frame. Proprietary concerns, as it were, animate Chapelain’s discussion of the human body and the places where it was proper for this body to be found. Classicism, inspired by Antiquity, prized the human body as the ideal of beauty and as the medium of the representation of history and the passions. In this system, ornament, characterized as marginal and superfluous, was not a proper place for the human body. Thus the greater interest, in the French context, in vegetal, botanical, and mineral elements for ornament, and thus the care taken, when the body did manage to work its way into ornament, to preserve the body’s boundaries and its integrity as human substance. With the cosse de pois, these boundaries were somewhat easier to negotiate. On the one hand, the cosse de pois was a form of ornament that threatened to make a lowly vegetable into the decor of princely ceremony. On the other hand, the cosse de pois performed the lowness of its (ornamental) genre by ostensibly limiting itself to the vegetal body, a low subject (the pea) for a low genre (ornament).

During the early 17th century, French artists, particularly goldsmiths, invented ornamental styles that intersected with the European Auricular in productive ways. Yet, to speak of a French Auricular, is to speak of a very small body of work indeed. However, the examination of the French aversion to certain features of the Auricular facilitates an understanding of what makes the ‘high’ Auricular distinctive – and this, I would argue, is the Auricular’s pursuit of the ‘indeterminate medium’, which is neither animal, human, vegetable, or mineral, but everything all at once.


Marika T. Knowles is a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows where she studies French art, culture, and literature of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Upon receiving her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2013, she was awarded the Department of Art History’s Frances Blanshard Fellowship Fund prize for her dissertation, ‘Pierrot’s Costume: Theater, Curiosity, and the Subject of Art in France, 1665-1860.’ Between 2013 and 2015, she was Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Grinnell College. Her article on popular theater and photography in 19th century France, ‘Lost Ground: Nadar and Adrien Tournachon’s Photographs of Charles Deburau as Pierrot’, appeared in Oxford Art Journal in December 2015. She is currently at work on a book about French painting, decorative art, and prints during the reign of Louis XIII.


[1] Walter Karl Zülch, Enstehung des Ohrmuschelstils, Heidelberg, 1932.

[2] Paul Contant, Le jardin et cabinet poétique (1609), ed. Myriam Marrache-Gouraud and Pierre Martin, Rennes, 2004: ‘ce que je ne veux nommer d’où sort le monde’. Contant’s phrase occurs in a panegyric of ‘roundness’ (le rond).

[3] Henri Zerner, Renaissance Art in France: The Invention of Classicism, trans. Deke Dusinberre, Scott Wilson, Rachel Zerner, Paris, 2003.

[4] Henri Zerner, École de Fontainebleau: Gravures, Paris, 1969.

[5] Mack P. Holt, The French Wars of Religion, 1562-1629, Cambridge, 2005 (1995). See also Barbara B. Diefendorf, Beneath the Cross: Catholics and Huguenots in Sixteenth-Century Paris, Oxford, 1991.

[6] Jean-Pierre Babelon, ‘Quels étaient les goûts d’Henri IV en matière d’art?’ in Les arts au temps d’Henri IV, Pau, 1-25. On Henri’s encouragement of tapestry manufacture, see Jean-Marie Apostolidès, ‘Les Différents Types de Mécénat et la Tapisserie’ in Roland Mousnier et Jean Mesnard, eds., L’Âge d’Or du Mécénat (1598-1661), Paris, 1985. On the architectural and urban revivals initiated by Henri, see Hillary Ballon, The Paris of Henri IV: Architecture and Urbanism, Cambridge, 1991.

[7] On the Second School of Fontainebleau, see Louis Dimier, Histoire de la Peinture Française: Des Origines au Retour de Vouet, 1300-1627, Paris, 1925, 77-86. Alain Mérot, La peinture française au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 1994, 47-51.

[8] For an essential introduction to the history of prints in 17th century Paris see Marianne Grivel, Le commerce de l’estampe à Paris au XVIIe siècle, Geneva, 1986. Analysis of early modern European ornament prints has recently become a more interesting field, thanks to the efforts of a few scholars, principal among them Madeleine C. Viljoen. See her ‘The Airs of Early Modern Ornament Prints’, Oxford Art Journal, 37: 2, 2014, 117-133, and ‘Christoph Jamnitzer’s Neuw Grottessken Buch, Costmography, and Early Modern Ornament’, Art Bulletin, 98:2, 213-36.

[9] On Rabel see Véronique Meyer, ‘L’oeuvre gravé de Daniel Rabel’, Nouvelles de l’estampe 67, 6-15.

[10] On the decorative arts of this period, see Daniel Alcouffe, Emmanuel Coquery et. al., Un temps d’exuberance: Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d’Autriche, Paris, 2002. For the specific hôtel particuliers, the decoration of which reinvigorated the arts during the reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII, see Jean-Pierre Babelon, Demeures parisiennes sous Henri IV et Louis XIII, Paris, 1977. See also Nicolas Courtin, L’art d’habiter à Paris au XVIIe siècle: L’ameublement des hôtels particuliers, Dijon, 2011.

[11] On the ballet de cour see the fascinating work by Mark Franko, Dance as text: ideologies of the baroque body, Cambridge, 1993.

[12] On Les Fées des Forêts de Saint-Germain see Thomas Leconte, ed. Les Fées des Forêts de Saint-Germain, 1625: un ballet royal de ‘bouffonesque humeur’, Turnhout, Belgium, 2012.

[13] For an exhaustive survey and catalogue of the motif, see Peter Fuhring and Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, ‘Le style cosse de pois: l’orfèvrerie et la gravure à Paris sous Louis XIII’, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 139: 1595, January 2002, 1-224.

[14] On the history of goldsmithing in 17th century France, see Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, Les orfèvres et l’orfèvrerie de Paris au XVIIe siècle, 2 vols. Paris, 2002. See also Henry Nocq, Le Poinçon de Paris: Répertoire des Maîtres-Orfèvres de la Juridiction de Paris depuis le Moyen-âge jusqu’à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, 4 volumes, Paris, 1926-31.

[15] On the Parisian milieus of curiosity see Antoine Schnapper, Le géant, la licorne et la tulipe: les cabinets de curiosités en France au XVIIe siècle, Paris, 2012 (1988).

[16] Fuhring, ‘Le style “cosse de pois”’, 183-7.

[17] On the French interest in the ‘Gothic’ vegetal style as a distinctly French invention, see Zerner, Renaissance Art in France, 11-59.

[18] On Boutemie see Peter Fuhring, ‘Denis Boutemie: A Seventeenth-Century Virtuoso’, Print Quarterly 9:1, 46-55.

[19] Chantal Grell, Histoire intellectuelle et culturelle de la France du Grand Siècle, 1654-1715 (Paris: Nathan, 2000), 147-72. Grell dates the ‘official’ classicist period to the reign of Louis XIV, when authors and the cultural administration sponsored by the crown collaborated to produce a “system of representation” that emphasized “order, harmony, equilibrium, and reason.” Grell’s chapter is a helpful introduction to an enormously complicated aesthetic concept, which had many variations over the course of the 17th century. See also the dated, but still ‘classic’ René Bray, La Formation de la Doctrine Classique en France, Lausanne, 1931.

[20] Giambattista Marino, L’Adone, Paris, 1623. For a ‘modern’ edition, see Ernest Bovet, La préface de Chapelain à l’Adonis, Halle, 1905, 30-52 for the original text of the préface.

[21] For an English translation of selections from this very long poem, as well as a helpful introduction to Marino’s style, see Harold Martin Priest, ed. and trans., Adonis: selections from L’Adone, Ithaca, 1967.

[22] Bovet, La préface, 31: ‘Celle qui est contre nature est double; la première s’appellerait parfaite en son imperfection, qui est lorsqu’à un corps d’une nature un autre corps d’une autre nature est conjoint, comme on a vu des Satyres dans l’ancienneté, et de nos temps des demi-hommes demi-chiens; et lors la nouveauté est en l’excès de monstruosité. La seconde se pourrait dire imparfaite, et c’est quand à un corps d’une nature un autre corps de même nature est assemblé, sans pourtant qu’ils s’unissent et confondent, de sorte que les deux mouvements n’apparaissent et ne produisent deux opérations distinctes, indépendantes l’une de l’autre; comme on a vu des monstres d’hommes avec deux têtes, d’hermaphrodites, et d’enfants attachés par le front, et lors la nouveauté est purement monstrueuse sans excès’.