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Compte rendu: Michel Jeanneret, 'De la nécessité du rire'

posted 30 Oct 2014, 06:59 by Cambridge EMS   [ updated 28 Jan 2015, 08:39 ]
The inaugural session of ‘Object Lessons’ began, appropriately enough, with an object: an album of 
Jacques Callot’s prints, including Vue du Pont-Neuf, and a series of comic figures, known as balli and gobbi. Michel Jeanneret outlined the 'Pont-Neuf' print’s juxtaposition of old – the ancient defensivguard tower of the Porte du Nesle – and new – the wide bridge, with its open space for public gatherings and street entertainment. The performers of the nearby Place Dauphine, who adopted comedic personae akin to the balli and the gobbi to convey their subversive reflections on contemporary society, were the starting point for an examination of the place of licentious laughter in an absolutist seventeenth century. 

Jeanneret argued that these entertainers represented a way of keeping alive the Rabelaisian freedom of the previous century, which had celebrated folly as an essential part of humanity. This more widespread licentiousness of earlier times took refuge both in performers – here and on the stage of the Hôtel de Bourgogne –, and in the bohemian writers who found protection in aristocratic households: Bois-Robert, Voiture, Scarron, d’Assoucy and even Molière. Though they pretended to be on the margins, these individuals were not revolutionaries or subversives, but rather integral to the way society functioned. The romantic vision of the misunderstood ‘artiste maudit’ in fact conceals the reality of their collusion in a game whose rules they understood very well: a game that was far more about laughter than tears.

Thank you to the Fitzwilliam Museum for allowing the prints to be on display.

Image sources: wikicommons and