In 1764, on a hot Summer’s day at the end of June, a young peasant woman called Jeanne Boulet was killed by an unidentified creature while tending to her livestock. The attack occurred in a grazing pasture outside the village of Ubac in the Gévaudan:1 a mountainous and heavily forested inland portion of the Languedoc region of Southern France. Following Boulet’s death, a local priest claimed to have seen a beast that had been roaming the area for a number of weeks,2 and by late September of the same year, many more peasants and shepherds were killed by the mysterious entity. Stories of the creature were at first only circulated locally in Languedoc and its neighbouring regions of Provence and Auvergne. In a matter of weeks, however, news of the Beast of Gévaudan grew more widespread. Following increasing popularity in Parisian newspapers such as the Gazette de France, these reports of the monster quickly struck terror into the populace of the French capital, along with the court at Versailles. On the 16th of November 1764, the Gazette ran its first story on the Beast, describing it as a ‘cruel animal’ roaming the parishes of the Gévaudan.3 Responding to a mounting sense of panic in the capital, France’s monarch Louis XV deployed army captains and hunters down to the South of the kingdom to kill the mysterious creature and end the anguish and devastation it was causing.4 In the Summer of 1765, after several failed hunts carried out by a local dragoon captain called Duhamel,5 the king sent his personal arquebusier François Antoine down to the Languedoc region to search for the Beast.6 On the 20th September, after six weeks scouring the countryside, Antoine, his assistant M. Reinchard (a Swiss hunter in the employment of the duc d’Orléans),7 and a small band of soldiers managed to track the creature to Les Chazes where it was hiding in the land surrounding the royal abbey.8 After bursting out from a thicket, Antoine shot the animal and killed it, giving an abrupt sense of closure to the year-long hunt.9
Following this dramatic culmination of events, the supposed monster killed by the king’s hunter appeared to be nothing more than a wolf,10 and its body was preserved and sent back to Versailles for Louis XV to personally inspect.11 This unusual encounter of a rural French ‘monster’ and the absolute Bourbon monarchy at Versailles was commemorated in a 1765 etching produced at the printing house Chez Mondhare in Paris’ Rue St. Jacques [Fig. 1].12 Standing amid a dense crowd of assembled courtiers, the figure of Louis XV is still visible in the centre of the composition directly behind the wolf, whose large jaws appears as if locked in a stiff rictus. To the left of the huddled mass of nobles, positioned close to the once deadly mouth of the animal, François Antoine stands with his hand curled in a gesture which draws the viewer’s eye simultaneously towards both the Ordre du Saint-Esprit pinned to his jacket and the dead animal which ensured the medal’s obtainment. Following this inspection, Louis XV declared that he was satisfied that the terrible Bête du Gévaudan had been dispatched, and soon the popular interest and panic concerning this monster began to peter out in both Paris and at the French court.13 In the Chez Mondhare etching, we see the creature from the perspective of its innate strangeness, presented as a savage natural specimen within the refined space of the French court, ultimately decontextualised from its wild origins in the fields and woods of Southern France. The print conveys an effective juxtaposition between the Beast and the court as the dark mass of the animal’s body contrasts the refined white clothing worn by the king and the assembles nobles.
The purpose of this discussion is to examine representations of the Beast such as that etched at Chez Mondhare, produced from the Summer of 1764 until the end of the following year, asking how these depictions contextualised the creature within wider discourses concerning order, ecology, and the natural world. The story of the monster has previously received wide attention from historians, who have considered it from a variety of angles such as the growth of mass media in the mid-eighteenth century, or the persistence of superstitious beliefs within Enlightenment Paris.14 However, these discussions often omit or underemphasise the role played by visual representations of the Beast in the formation of its story at the time that it was believed to be ravaging the populations of the Gévaudan. Furthermore, the visual forms given to the creature differed between the French capital and the monster’s region of origin in the South of France, contextualised as they were within localised iconographies and popular traditions. A true understanding of the Beast’s depictions and their wider meanings cannot be gained by solely considering Parisian conceptions of the creature. A wider understanding of the monster’s depictions will be achieved through a conscious re-regionalisation of the creature, looking at the corpus of its visual forms not as a single unit, but as a nuanced taxonomy informed by differing localised iconographies and identities. This act of comparison across geographical and cultural distances will allow us to see more clearly the changes sustained to the Beast’s visual form in the print workshops of Paris, and the larger symbolic discourses of monstrousness, anthropocentrism, and ecological (dis)order which these modifications suggest.
These narratives of beastliness and symbolic order are present across depictions of the creature, whether they were produced in Paris or in Southern France. An art historical method that is conscious of regional and micro-cultural differences allows for a more precise examination of the particular forms that these depictions took as they relate to iconographic and ceremonial traditions which were particular to each locality. Just as the monster will be considered from the specific regional iconography of Languedoc and its surrounding areas, so Paris will also be seen not as a metonym for France, but as a single region where the story of the Beast was ultimately couched in a particular visual and symbolic language rooted in historical memory and collective experience. Paris in the mid-eighteenth century was a city experiencing a number of social hardships which led to a crisis of popular faith in the absolute monarchy. The presence of a monstrous creature in the South of France seemed to compound the struggles already facing both the capital and the kingdom as a whole, as it represented an upset to the natural and ecological order: a potentially apocalyptic harbinger stalking the fields and woods of the Languedoc. However, the narrative began in the Southern region of Languedoc, and the ceremonial and iconographic traditions peculiar to the region.
Every year in towns and villages throughout the former Languedoc region and in neighbouring Provence,15 locals hold an annual procession to commemorate Sainte Marthe: the early medieval saint who delivered the town of Tarascon from a terrible monster known as the Tarasque.16 The creature had dismembered and eaten local people who dared to step outside of the town’s walls into the countryside beyond until the divinely-appointed saint pacified the beast and bid it to not return. While the story of the Tarasque and the jubilant annual celebration of Sainte Marthe began in Provence, and not Languedoc where stories of the Beast of Gévaudan would originate, the two regions shared many cultural traditions which were distinct to them alone. Both Provence and Languedoc had been Medieval additions to the French kingdom which provided France’s kings access to the previously inaccessible trade routes of the Mediterranean.17 Before their conquest, and persisting long afterwards, the fluvial link provided by the Rhȏne had in effect blurred the sharp distinctions between these regions, acting as a conduit for the transmission of culture between the towns which lined the banks of the river, such as Tarascon, Beaucaire, and Avignon.18 Furthermore, the Rhȏne and its tributaries acted as the primary highway of goods and people in the Southern French region characterised by the langue d’oc. As distinct from the Northern langue d’oïl, which constitutes the pre-modern base of the modern French language,19 langue d’oc was a Southern dialect whose isogloss lay as far North as Lyon and the Midi,20 and which stood as a distinguishing feature of Southern French culture even after Northern France’s incorporation of Languedoc and Provence in the later Medieval period. While the Beast of Gévaudan may have hailed from Languedoc, and the Tarasque from Provence, we can understand the two monster stories as having coexisted within a shared cultural geography which superseded the cartographic division of the two regions.21
Beginning in the fifteenth century in the Provencal town of Tarascon before spreading down the bustling and turbulent Rhȏne waterway, the feast day of Sainte Marthe coalesced around a procession which enacted the story of the local saviour and the Tarasque with costumed players and portable models which were manoeuvred through the town’s winding medieval streets. The procession on Sainte Marthe’s feast day in 1466 is the first to be recorded as having a three-dimensional model of the Tarasque,22 and the tradition endures to this day, taking place annually on the 24th of June.23 When the beast of Gévaudan was first believed to have struck in 1764, its first victim Jeanne Boulet was killed on the 30th of June, only six days after the feast day, when towns throughout Provence and Languedoc would have put on parades and carnivals dedicated to not only remembering this folkloric myth, but also re-enacting it graphically for the entertainment of people in the streets. Boulet’s village of Ubac was situated close to a nearby bourg named Sainte-Marthe after the Provencal saint, and the villagers would have been aware of the story of the Tarasque. Locals may even have attended celebrations for the saint in the larger town of Mende only days before the killing. In an age when the pastoral occupation such as that of Boulet was characterised by the ever-present threat of wolf attacks, it is tempting to think that the monstrous dimension attached to Boulet’s killer may have sprung from a localised iconography of a killer monster that has previously gone undiscussed.24 The iconographic association of the Provencal myth and the Languedoc Beast, linked through the shared cultural activities of the Rhȏne corridor and its surrounding areas, becomes more compelling when the depictions of the Gévaudan creature are compared to those of the Tarasque.
By the sixteenth century, the iconography of the Tarasque had been established in Tarascon and around Southern France, with official stamps on local documents,25 pilgrim tokens, and the carved stone coat of arms over Tarascon’s city gate all showing the monster as a creature with a semi-feline face but with a more reptilian body, replete with an armoured shell and spines.26 This iconography did not exist solely within the vicinity of Tarascon, but as far away in the langue d’oc-speaking area as the small town of Chanteuges, near Mende and the area that was to be the epicentre of the Beast of Gévaudan’s activities. In Chanteuges’ Priory of Sainte Anne, built and decorated in 1137, one of the rock basalt carvings on the interior of the nave shows Sainte Marthe accompanied by the Tarasque [Fig. 2]. The monster has a gargoyle-like face, with bulging and eyes a bared bottom row of jagged teeth along with the scaly skin that has been rendered over its hunched over body, but is not present on the creature’s face. Here, in this small town on the outer edge of roads linking Montpellier to Lyon, and far from the direct influence of the Rhȏne and the town of Tarascon, this sculpted representation of the Tarasque is an early example of the consistency of the monster’s iconography across the geographical range of Sainte-Marthe’s popularity. While the carving at Chanteuges shows the geographical spread of Tarasque iconography throughout the Rhône trade route, the consistency of the monster’s depictions lasted well into the eighteenth century and beyond, carrying on to the present day. A watercolour and ink sketch produced by the draughtsman Conrad Mouren in 1787 shows the popular manifestation of the Tarasque as it persisted in the form of wooden floats covered and decorated to look like the creature for Sainte Marthe’s day parades in the towns of Provence and Languedoc [Fig. 3].27
The sketch shows a float being carried by four bearers, each wearing the traditional outfit of a white shirt and red sash, tucked into red breeches and worn with a black bicorn hat. The body of the float lifts from the ground and does not appear to have any wheels or supports other than the arms of the men holding it. Just as in the Chanteuges priory sculpture, the monster’s body is scaly like a reptile. In Mouren’s sketch it is painted green, and its red shell is covered with spiny protuberances. The feline face of the Tarasque here is more prominent than the almost anthropomorphic visage of the carving at Chanteuges, and Mouren has rendered the creature with whiskers to further this association. The float has been adorned with red eyes, and the creature’s mouth appears to house two striped fireworks which would have spat fire out at the assembled crowds that lined the streets to watch the procession. Mouren’s sketch, then, alludes not only to the iconography of the Tarasque as it was understood visually as a congruous and unchanged Medieval form of imagery. The drawing also shows how the people of Languedoc and Provence would have experienced this monster: as an animated float, held by bearers as it was carried through the streets of France’s Southern towns on the 24th of June every year, 28 spitting fire and soundtracked by the hiss of pyrotechnic effects. What the carving at Chanteuges and Mouren’s sketch both allow for is a greater consideration of how the visual form of the Tarasque was at once distinct and also unchanged across a certain regional expanse that encompassed the Gévaudan region where the Beast was believed to be killing the peasant populations.
Following Jeanne Boulet’s death in the Summer of 1764, depictions of the Beast were produced to sate a quickly growing fascination with the potential nature of the mysterious attacker. While a handful of pen and ink sketches of the creature survive,29 printing techniques such as etchings, engravings, and woodcuts all acted as the primary medium through which visual renderings of the Beast were produced, both in Languedoc and also later in Paris. Engraved and etched representations were quick to make and cheap to disseminate to a wide audience, reflecting the mass popularity of the story of the monster from Languedoc as reports emanated ever-further outwards from the village of Ubac on the 30th of June 1764. Geographically, the earliest depictions of the creature were produced within the Languedoc and the area linked by the tributaries of the Rhȏne, in pamphlets and broadsheets which supplemented the descriptions and reports being published in newspapers such as the Courier d’Avignon.30 A coloured woodcut print produced in Languedoc contemporaneously to the attacks allows us to consider the perceived identity of the creature in comparison to the iconography of the Tarasque [Fig. 4].31 In the background of the print, on top of a small hill sits a church, and a man holding a rifle (perhaps the dragoon captain Duhamel, charged with coordinating the first hunts in the region) rushes in from the left side of the scene.32 In the central foreground, a naked human figure lies on the floor, their entrails being devoured by the ravenous Beast. In this woodcut depiction of the monster, a number of Tarasque-like characteristics stand out. A band of interlocking triangular shapes come to a point at the elbow of its forearm, appearing to be a kind of shell. In addition to this, the monster has a spiny back and tail and also possesses scales on the skin of its back legs and hind quarters. Another print, produced early in 1765 by the printmaker M. Ray, possibly in Avignon or nearby, presents the beast in the act of attacking Jeanne Boulet, stood up on its back legs (possibly even bipedal), as it holds the screaming shepherdess in its clawed hands [Fig. 5].33 The monster in Ray’s print may not have the scaly skin of the Tarasque, but the printmaker has decided to juxtapose the mammalian features of the head with a row of spines running the length of the animal’s back, which are reminiscent of those from the floats processed at the Sainte Marthe’s day parades. While this depiction may not have all of the features of the Tarasque which we see in the woodcut, with its shell and scaly skin, the row of spines in M. Ray’s print is still considered to be essential to the overall appearance of the Beast. The caption beneath the image begins with the line ‘L’on ne doit plus mettre en doute la forme & la figure de l’animal feroce qui ravage le jeuaudan (sic.)’ (we should no longer doubt the form and figure of the animal which ravages the Gévaudan). While the overall appearance of the creature is perhaps a synthesis of multiple reports published in the Courier d’Avignon which claimed the animal to be a panther, a lynx, or a lion, ultimately the monstrousness of the Tarasque, expressed in the row of spines along the creature’s back, still finds a place within this synthesis and as part of a visual form which the print itself claims to be beyond doubt. Comparing the Beast’s depictions to those of the Tarasque, it is possible to see how the two are often extremely similar, couched as they are within a regionally-specific visual discourse of monstrousness.
One final consideration of the role played by the regional iconography of monstrousness, itself derived from the popular culture of Southern French processions and carnivals, comes from the reporter Tardieu de LaBarthe. A native of the Languedoc town of Marjevols, LaBarthe discussed the story of a group of children who had chased the Beast into a bog after it attempted to eat one of their group. At the behest of their leader Jacques Portefaix, the children had beaten the monster with sticks until it released the boy and fled.34 This anecdote of Portefaix and his gang of brave warrior children, while both strange and almost comical in equal measure, is a useful point of entry into the story of the Beast as it was expressed in relation to Languedoc’s popular and localised forms of ceremony. Just as the mystery creature may have borrowed some or all of its monstrousness from the iconography of the Tarasque, the armed gang of children also has its roots in the ritual calendar of the Languedoc region (this time distinct from the wider sphere of the Rhȏne). In the city of Toulouse, the capital of Languedoc, every year on rogations day a traditional event called the Acampa would take place, where groups of children would be armed and made to fight one another in the form of mock rival militias, taking place throughout the town and its immediate surrounding countryside.35 The tradition emerged as a humorous re-enactment of the Medieval warring over internal boundaries within the city during the Albigensian Crusade in the thirteenth century,36 and the arming of children for a day was a kind of symbolic subversion where the social order was briefly overturned in favour of an unusual and amusing spectacle.37 The Acampa is a singular form of popular spectacle in Medieval and Early Modern France, and was particular to the city of Toulouse: a city which we might consider to be another localised pole of cultural influence from the towns of the Rhȏne.
The popular story of Portefaix and his band of fellow children fighting off the creature with sticks appears to represent a symbolic merging of various folkloric and regionally specific tropes that the people of Languedoc would have experienced at the high point of the ceremonial calendar in the Summer. The band of armed children, in the manner of the Acampa, clashed with the Beast, whose depictions familiarised and expressed its monstrousness in relation to the Tarasque: wooden representations of which would have bobbed and hissed their way through the crowds at Sainte Marthe’s Day parades across the langue d’oc-speaking region. In this way, we can understand how the visual conception of the Beast of Gévaudan had its roots in the localised popular culture which ranged from Toulouse and Montpellier to the Provencal towns that lined the banks of the Rhône. Both in depictions, as well as the articulation of certain events in the Beast’s narrative, the iconography of the Tarasque appears to have played a large part in this regionally specific conception of the monster in the area of its first appearance. The creature can be said to have originated in the cyclical events of Languedoc’s annual calendar, coming from an unbroken Medieval tradition. In the French capital, however, the Beast would find a new context, as shifting social factors created a febrile and symbolically charged popular discourse concerning the authority of the Bourbons and the imbalance of both the social and ecological orders.
While Paris had no less of a localised culture of patron saints and public ceremonies than the Languedoc and the towns of the Rhȏne waterway38, it could nevertheless be said that before the story of the Beast, the city during the mid-1760s had grown uninterested in monsters and the realm of the supernatural. One such example of this is the editorial history concerning the successive reprinting of Les delices de la Suisse: a guide to the Swiss cantons written and compiled by Jean-Jacques Abraham Ruchat, originally published in 1714. While this book may seem unrelated to the present discussion of Languedoc, Provence, the Tarasque, or the Beast, it allows us to think more critically about a Parisian interest in the extra-natural at the time when stories of the Southern monster were reaching the capital. In the first edition of Ruchat’s book, along with its reprint in 1730, the author chose to include a story taken from the Swiss naturalist Johann-Jakob Scheuchzer’s 1708 book Naturgeschichte des Schweitzerlandes,39 which illustrates an episode from the fifteenth century where a peasant in Lucerne saw a dragon as he was moving in a meadow. Flying above the field, the dragon suddenly dropped an object from the sky, and when the peasant went to inspect it, he noticed that a strange marble stone: a ‘pierre de dragon’ (dragon stone) had been laid within a pool of blood.40 This anecdotal story was accompanied in Ruchat’s book by Scheuchzer’s original 1708 plate [Fig. 6]. The upper half of the scene is an Alpine landscape, showing the meadow in the foreground, and two cottages further back, nestled between two steep mountains. To the left, scythe in hand, we see the astonished peasant looking up at the dragon, which flies ahead with fire or smoke billowing from its mouth. Beneath the dragon, between it and the mower’s scythe, we can see the spherical marble stone falling to the floor. The centre of the plate shows two views of this stone, both the outside and its cross-section, that appear to contain tadpole-like creatures that are perhaps juvenile dragons. Not including the space provided for the plate, this anecdote takes up less than one page of Ruchat’s book, however, it was the only detail to be edited out in the 1764 Parisian republication, despite having been included in the previous two print runs. It has been posited that this editorial decision could perhaps be due to the rise in the Enlightenment’s popularising of science and natural history, which came largely at the expense of belief and interest in superstition and folklore.41 This culture of scientific enquiry and increased focus on the observable phenomena of the natural world was the one into which the stories of the Beast of Gévaudan emerged in the Summer of 1764. By contrast to the decline in interest in Scheuchzer and Ruchat’s dragons, stories of the Beast spread real terror among the French capital’s population. To consider why the monster carried such direct and terrifying symbolic potential, it is first important to understand the febrile social climate of Paris at the time when printing houses were producing widely circulated images of the Languedoc creature.
During the period of 1764-5 when the Beast was roaming the Gévaudan, France was still recovering from the very recent ending of the Seven Years’ War. Fought from 1756-63, the conflict saw France engaged at various times in fighting Prussia, Great Britain, and Habsburg Austria, along with Sweden, Portugal, and a collection of other states from the Holy Roman Empire and elsewhere.42 The war was initially a colonial conflict between France and Britain concerning their North American colonies, but this disagreement sparked a series of battles which led to a state of conflict between European powers that was further exacerbated by constantly shifting alliances, and military engagements across the globe in India, Africa, the Philippines, North America and the Caribbean.43 France had entered the hostilities as Europe’s premier military and political power, however, a series of poorly managed military engagements,44 along with a reliance on an unmodernised army drained French finances and severely damaged the country’s respected political position on the European stage. The French public, especially the population of Paris, blamed Louis XV for the kingdom’s defeat in the war. More specifically, the involvement of the monarch’s mistress the marquise de Pompadour in decisions concerning the conflict led to a wider critique of the state of the king’s judgement. Louis XV had appointed court favourites of the marquise as both ministers and generals throughout the war, leading to a number of disastrous defeats such as the Battle of Rossbach in November 1757.45
Despite France’s poor performance in the Seven Years’ War, Louis XV was determined to be seen as a valiant king who had not been defeated. This image of the monarch was to be communicated to the people of Paris with the full force of Bourbon ceremony and artistic patronage, making visible and explicit the vision of the king as a strong ruler. On the 20th of July 1763, a large equestrian statue of the monarch produced by the sculptor Edmé Bouchardon (completed by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle following Bouchardon’s death)46 was unveiled in the Place Louis XV in Paris.47 To commemorate the unveiling, the painter Joseph-Marie Vien was commissioned to execute a large oil painting destined to be hung in Paris’ Hôtel de Ville, which is now in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris [Fig. 7].48 In Vien’s painting, we see the gilded statue of the horse and rider in the background, elevated on a white marble pedestal, and depicting the king draped in classicising robes in the manner of a Roman emperor, with one arm outstretched while the other coolly yet firmly holds the reins of the animal beneath him. In the foreground, at the very centre of the painting’s composition, Louis XV sits on a white horse clad in a scarlet outfit trimmed with gold brocade and a blue satin sash, subtly mirroring the sculpture behind him by extending his right arm to hold out his tricorn hat. Around the Bourbon monarch are a number of Parisian dignitaries, as well as a fanfare of trumpet blowers to the right of the scene.49 Within this illustrious gathering of the king and his officials, the lower register of the canvas shows a different aspect of Paris following the Seven Years’ War: one which perhaps contradicts the gilded opulence which Bouchardon’s statue aimed to project to the city’s population. Among the stomping hooves of the horses in Vien’s painting, we can see the figures of three children who scrabble on the floor to collect largesse distributed by the king. The canvas was an officially sanctioned image of the king’s munificence and splendour, showcasing the ceremonial unveiling of the statue as a symbol of the Bourbon monarchy’s status and wealth. The painting was destined, ultimately, to function as propaganda in the interest of the king, showing him as the living echo of his glorious memorial. The figures of the children were no doubt intended to show the charity of the monarch as he made his way through the capital in July 1763, however, the anguished faces of the children, and the manner in which the two boys on the left fight one another over the silver coins is indicative of the real economic struggle and social hardships facing Paris in the wake of the war. Vien has taken pains to show the boys as being engaged in a brutal struggle for the casually tossed money, risking being trampled in the process. Alongside this painted depiction of the screaming, scrabbling children of Paris, the city’s reaction to Bouchardon’s statue following its unveiling is indicative of a popular backlash aimed at the sculpture’s glorifying and beautified image of the absolute monarchy. In the days following the 20th of July, a sign was hung around the neck of the horse which read ‘the virtues are beneath, the vices are on the horse.’50 Another graffito—this time scratched into the base of the statue—gnomically read statua statuæ (a statue of a statue).51 Not only does this call into more explicit terms the perception of the Bourbon monarchy as being an antique relic, but it also demonstrates how popular displeasure directed at Louis XV was not reserved exclusively to the poor or uneducated classes of Paris.52 Through the vandalism sustained by Louis XV’s equestrian statue, the monument became just as much a physical record of Paris’ popular discontentment as it was an image of Bourbon magnificence.
In addition to the unpopular realities left by the Seven Years’ War, France was also facing the problem of widespread starvation. As opposed to the indolence which was popularly believed to be the cause of Louis XV’s failures regarding the recent conflict, the famine was seen widely in Paris as a deliberate revocation of the monarch’s duty to provide for his people. Food shortages had always been a fact of life in France’s history, occurring regularly in contained, provincial episodes due to blight and changeable or damp weather conditions.53 This was an unwanted but expected part of the seasonal existence of many people in both metropolitan and rural France.54 Supposedly working to mitigate this perpetual unpredictability in the kingdom’s food supply, Louis XIV had centralised the royal control of the grain depots in the late seventeenth century, allowing for the equal distribution of wheat to any parts of the kingdom that required it during times of hardship.55 However, in 1763, Louis XV altered the relationship between the crown and the kingdom’s store of grain.56 Following the monetary downturn produced by the Seven Years’ War, Louis XV had attempted to stimulate France’s economy by deregulating the grain trade,57 allowing shares in wheat depots to be purchased by private individuals.58 The king himself bought up large sums of these shares, thus eschewing responsibility for the grain supply while retaining the ability to profit hugely from it. Following poor harvests and widespread hunger in 1763, a rumour began to be circulated in Paris that claimed that the king, at the behest of the marquise de Pompadour, had concocted a ‘famine plot’,59 whereby the crown was believed to be making money by deliberately producing localised wheat shortages, only to then profit from privately selling grain to meet demand.60 Whether the famine plot rumour contained any truth or not, the feeling in the French capital was that the king had abandoned his duties, and had allowed the malign influence of courtiers to corrupt the execution of his duty of care towards his subjects.
Despite the geographical and cultural gulfs between Paris and Languedoc, the region nevertheless entered into the wider Parisian discourse concerning the dysfunction of the Bourbon-led kingdom in the mid-1760s and did so around the time of the Beast of Gévaudan’s first appearance in Ubac. Languedoc, and its capital of Toulouse, was one of the last true bastions of remaining French Huguenots after the religious reforms of Louis XIV, who officially banished Protestants from the kingdom in 1685 to achieve his vision of France as a solely Catholic state.61 Because of this, the citizens of Toulouse had often lived in an uneasy arrangement, as a small Catholic minority ruled the city populated largely by Protestants.62 This balance of religious power in the city eventually came to a head when in 1761 a case of localised religious intolerance occurred in Toulouse which became a matter of outrage in Paris and across Europe as a whole. On the 13th of October, a Toulousainmerchant called Jean Calas had discovered the hanging body of his son in his house. Rumours had been heard around the town that the son, Marc-Antoine, was thinking of converting to Catholicism and that his father had killed him to prevent this. Jean Calas was arrested and tortured for information, all the while protesting his innocence.63 Despite this, Calas was sentenced to be executed by being publicly beaten while tied to a wheel in the main square in Toulouse, before being strangled and burned,64 an event which occurred on the 9th of March 1762.65 Calas’ wife and family appealed to the exiled playwright and philosophe Voltaire, who at the time was living on the Franco-Swiss border. By sending an agent to Toulouse to investigate,66 and collecting information regarding the case of Jean Calas, Voltaire was able to make a reasonable case that the sixty-three-year-old merchant had not killed his son, as he was weak and had been upstairs in the house the whole evening before finding his son’s body.67 In 1763, Voltaire published an essay called the Traité sur la tolérance, which described in detail the religious factions of the town and their involvement in the execution of Jean Calas, seeing the case as an example of the social intolerance at play within not just Toulouse and Languedoc, but Bourbon-ruled France as a whole.68
Despite Languedoc’s mid-eighteenth century association with intolerance and draconian systems of law highlighted by the Calas case, almost a century before the struggles of the 1760s, the region had in fact been a site for the display of French royal magnificence staged by Louis XV’s great grandfather and predecessor Louis XIV. In an effort to divert trade from Habsburg-ruled Spain, the monarch had commissioned the Toulousain engineer Pierre-Paul Riquet to build a canal that achieved the seemingly impossible task of linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean by cutting through large swaths of rugged and rocky land.69 Construction of the Canal Royal de Languedoc began in 1667,70 and the waterway first became functional in 1673,71 (however it was not until eight years later in 1681 that the king travelled South to stage an opening ceremony).72 A contemporary painting of Louis XIV’s inaugural use of the waterway shows the royal barge cruising down the canal at Béziers: the closest town to the village of Ensérune where Riquet’s excavators had begun cutting the first course of the waterway [Fig. 8].73 Past the banks lined with smartly dressed onlookers, a small bridge over the canal is topped with the temporary structure of a white triumphal arch hung with garlands and topped with a winged badge proudly displaying the Bourbon coat of arms of three gold fleur de lys on an azure blue background.74 The use of classical forms for the celebration of the victorious and glorious monarch makes an interesting comparison to Bouchardon’s statue and its subsequent reception. Writers composed panegyrics about Louis XIV’s canal, both at the moment of its inauguration and well into the eighteenth century. At the time of the inauguration, Louis XIV’s court writer of tragedies Pierre Corneille wrote that the project was the result of ‘nature attachée à ses lois éternelles’ (nature attached to its eternal laws), praising Riquet’s conquest of the ‘obstacle invincible’ of the Pyrenées.75 Continuing into the eighteenth century, the Canal Royal du Languedoc was still referenced as a symbol of Bourbon power displayed through the triumph of human endeavour over the difficulties posed by the natural world. In the case of the canal, this difficulty was primarily a geological one, as the hard rock courses of Languedoc (similar to the basalt from which the sculptures in the Priory of Sainte Anne in Chanteuges are carved) proved a major obstacle in the construction of the king’s vision on the form of the waterway. In 1748 the Mercure de France in Paris published a panegyric commemorating Riquet’s abilities,76 and in 1775 the Académie Toulousain commissioned a poem which talked of how the project had ‘réduire en poudre le rocher d’Ensérune’ (reduced to powder the rock of Ensérune).77 While Languedoc in the mid-1760s was a site that highlighted the injustice within Bourbon-ruled France, the region a century before had provided a stage for the display of French royal magnificence, not simply by overcoming political rivals such as Spain, but through manipulating and symbolically controlling the natural world.
In the same year that Parisian editors removed the dragon egg from Ruchat’s Swiss guidebook, the story of the Beast of Gévaudan became a sensation in both the capital and court, causing intrigue and concern in equal measure.78 Was it simply that this was a French monster that led to the widespread fascination with the beast? Was Ruchat’s dragon just too old a story, and too geographically removed from the Parisian readership to hold the same ability to terrify? The Beast as a French phenomenon, and one which originated in the kingdom’s periphery far removed from centres of the absolutist state, can explain its huge symbolic potential upon its reception in the capital and court. Paris in the mid-1760s was the capital of a kingdom that was experiencing a multitude of hardships such as the ill effects of war and widespread famine. These problems were believed to have stemmed from the perceived political impotence and personal greed of Louis XV, shaking the popular faith in the absolute monarch as the protector of France and its population. Within this subversive and panicked context, the Beast of Gévaudan came to prominence as another symbol of disorder and destruction. While the creature in its regional context was largely expressed through a local iconography that focussed on monstrousness in the form of the Tarasque, Parisian depictions differed significantly. In the capital, the Beast’s representations took on a different form grounded in natural history and the conception of animals as quarry. The visual form given to the Beast of Gévaudan in the printing houses of Paris alludes to a different conception of the story which privileges order, stability, and triumph over the seeming uncontrollability of nature.
A popular Parisian representation of the Beast claimed that it was a hyena.79 We can see this in explicit terms in the legend at the top of an engraving that was produced in an unnamed Parisian printing house in 1765 [Fig. 9]. The title of the print simply reads ‘HYENNE, Animal féroce qui ravage le Gévaudan depuis 1764 tel qu’on l’a envoyé à la cour (sic.)’. Despite this explicit naming of the creature as a hyena, the animal depicted in the print still seems somewhat monstrous and unfamiliar. Stood on a mound of cracked earth,80 the creature appears to be panting as a long, swollen tongue lolls out of its open and heavily fanged mouth. Its body bows at its back and ends in a long, thick tail. Despite this zoological definition asserted in the writing above it, the creature in this print bears little resemblance to a hyena and appears more like an outsized wolf. Indeed, the designation of the creature as a hyena may have its roots less in the observation of hyenas, and more in the linguistic turn used in the previous decade to describe an animal believed to be responsible for a number of attacks on humans. In 1756, eight years before the Beast was first believed to be roaming the Languedoc, the Jesuit brother Charles-Pierre Xavier Tolomas published his Dissertation sur l’hyene in Paris, detailing a first-hand account of an animal that had supposedly killed and eaten a number of people in Lyon and its surrounding villages from 1754-6. In the Dissertation, Tolomas’ use of the term ‘hyena’ connotes a more general sense of an unfamiliar and carnivorous mammal and is not connected to any direct observation of the Lyonnaise monster. Tolomas’ narrative had many parallels with the stories of the suffering in the Gévaudan, and the term ‘hyena’, when considered as a linguistic quirk rather than a truly scientific label, may explain how the term was used in prints claiming that the Beast from the Languedoc was such a creature. Only one surviving Parisian print of the Beast truly engages with the visual peculiarities of hyenas in its depiction. Titled Représentation de la bête feroce nommée hiene [Fig. 10], this hand-coloured engraving utilises the application of colour to draw attention to the beast’s lolling tongue and gushing bullet wound, as it lies in a moribund state on the floor between François Antoine and his assistant M. Reinchard, with another male figure approaching from behind. Here, the printmaker has gone to some effort to convey a more zoologically accurate depiction of the creature as a hyena. While HYENNE, Animal féroce… showed the ‘hyena’ to have a bushy tail, the animal in the coloured engraving has a snaking tail, and its coat is covered in a pattern of dark spots with a bristly line of fur running the length of its back. Despite these hyena-like details, the head of the creature, along with the shape of its body, remain extremely lupine in appearance, and the application of a grey wash of pigment over the creature’s body furthers the wolf-like presentation of the animal. As if to suggest this confusion of wolf and hyena further, the animal in the two vignettes in the top corners of the engraving seem to show the Beast as a wolf, with a bushy tail, and lacking the characteristic spots. Another engraving by the printmaker B. Chinon, produced on Paris’ Rue St Jacques at Chez Basset in 1765 shows even more clearly how, even in printed images where the Beast is referred to as a hyena, its ultimate form is the more familiar rural figure of the wolf [Fig. 11]. Titled Description de l’Hiene, the scene shows a landscape with trees on either side of a glade which opens out to reveal two faraway villages in the distance. In the space provided by this break in the trees, the foreground is nearly entirely filled by the lunging, snarling figure of the Beast, pouncing out towards the right of the page as it is pursued by François Antoine’s hunting dogs. Despite the title of Chinon’s engraving, the animal depicted here can only be seen as a wolf, with a thick hairy tail, dark bristly coat, staring eyes, and open jaws.
Indeed, the majority of the Parisian depictions of the Beast of Gévaudan portrayed it not as a hyena, but as a large and ferocious wolf.81 This choice was made even in spite of the Tarasque-like descriptions given to figures such as François Antoine by supposed eyewitnesses of the monster. During his hunt for the Beast, Antoine interviewed two survivors of the creature’s attacks: Marie-Jeanne Valet, and her younger sister Therèse. The two women had fought off the creature in August 1765, piercing it with a bayonet after it had jumped out and attacked them. In their testimony, the Valet sisters remarked that the creature had a wide, flat back which, as with Tardieu de LaBarthe’s reliance on the symbolic form of the Acampa in telling the stroy of Jacques Portefaix, seems like an allusion to the Tarasque’s shell, and another deployment of region-specific iconography in the articulation of the creature’s monstrousness.82 Antoine included the notes of this interview in a letter addressed to the Parisian-born governor based in Montpellier Marie-Joseph-Emmanuel de Guignard de Saint-Priest,83 sent on the 13th of August 1765, which was then further disseminated among its recipient’s circle in both the court and the French capital.84 Despite monstrous descriptions from eyewitnesses such as the Valet sisters, the notion of the creature as a wolf would persist in both the capital and the court, ending ultimately with the king’s assertion that the wolf shot by Antoine was undoubtedly the same creature that had been killing the peasants of Languedoc. As opposed to the hyena hypothesis, which touched on the notion of the exotic to connote strangeness and unfamiliarity, wolves featured in the collective Parisian historical consciousness as a real-life ecological signifier of political and social instability.
In 1450, during the Hundred Years’ War, France was gripped by one of many terrible famines which had become commonplace in the kingdom for the whole of the previous century, due to a combination of poor environmental conditions and unwanted strain on grain reserves caused by the influx of invading armies.85 In the mid-fifteenth century, just as in the mid-1760s, it could be said that hunger and war were concomitant worries for the population of Paris and the rest of the French kingdom. Due to a lack of healthy livestock in the normally abundant Paris basin, a pack of wolves suffering similarly from hunger found their way through the city’s poorly maintained walls and had begun to attack and eat the inhabitants. The wolves became prolific in their attacks, and were led by a large male who was missing a tail and as a result was referred to as Courtaud.86 After a number of attacks, the people of Paris banded together to drive the wolf pack through the city onto the Île de la Cité, where they proceeded to kill the animals with stones and spears. This brutal culmination of events happened in front of the cathedral of Notre Dame following a mass given to ask for deliverance from the animals,87 bestowing a sense of divine blessing to the slaughter of the famished wolves.88 Paris’ relationship to wolves that had begun to eat humans was not simply a historical fact from the fifteenth century, but something which was also beginning again to plague the outskirts of the city throughout the 1760s.89 A wolf preying upon humans in the Gévaudan was an observable consequence of the failings of royal authority, as war and famine led to a lack of surplus grazing animals which France’s wolves could be expected to prey upon without disturbing the supply of meat and animal products required by human populations. If wolves could not eat sheep, then they ate humans,90 and the Beast appeared as the apogee of this compounded state of political, social, and ecological imbalance.91 The monster in Languedoc was conceived of as a huge wolf beyond normal proportions, whose appetite threatened whole populations, just as Courtaud and his pack had terrorised the famished and war-weary people of Paris three centuries earlier.
In Parisian printed images of the Beast which depicted it in the form of a wolf, the animal is co-opted into wider discourses concerning hunting, order, and the balance of mankind with the natural world. An engraving produced at the Chez Maillet workshop in Paris’ Rue St. Jacques in October 1765 shows the moment when François Antoine fired on the animal as it burst out at him from the woods of Les Chazes the previous month [Fig. 12].92 The wolf leaps out from the right of the composition, lunging towards Antoine and Reinchard, stretching almost the whole width of the foreground in doing so. Antoine appears to concentrate on the precision of his shot while in such close proximity to the massive figure of the animal, whose mouth is open to reveal its large fangs. The print is monochrome apart from the bullet wounds that are highlighted in sanguineous red trickles of ink. In the bottom right corner of the page beneath the caption, it is stated that this engraving was given permission to be produced by Paris’ Lieutenant-Général of police Antoine de Sartine. A second print from October 1765, again bearing the commendation of de Sartine in the lower right corner, also shows the Beast as nothing more than a wolf at the mercy of its hunters [Fig. 13]. Titled Représentation de la Bête féroce qui a été tué le 20 7.bre dans les bois de la réserve de l’Abbaye Royale de Choißé en Auvergne par Mr Antoine 1765, the scene does not show the animal mid-lunge, as with the engraving from Chez Maillet, but instead poses the creature on its back, curled in an angular contortion of pain as it is attacked on both sides by the mounted figures of Antoine and Reinchard. Behind them, a path through the woods is lined with Antoine’s hunting hounds, which peer out from around the trees. In the absence of any documents from the king or his ministers in which the appearance of the creature is discussed,93 the inclusion of de Sartine’s name underneath both of these prints allows us to consider the notion of an ‘official’ or sanctioned representation of the Beast for consumption by the Parisian public.
Alongside the everyday duties required by his role as Paris’ Lieutenant-Général of police, Antoine de Sartine shared a secretive relationship with king Louis XV which revolved around a covert information network called the cabinet noir. The cabinet was an illicit initiative where letters from across all levels of Parisian society would be intercepted and steamed open to read their contents. De Sartine would then discuss the popular rumours he had unearthed in clandestine meetings held with the king in private.94 Through his network of postmen and spies, the Lieutenant-Général of police, and by proxy the king, enjoyed an unfiltered and comprehensive perspective on the nature of popular seditious speech as it travelled through France’s capital city. In this way, public declamations of discontent, such as the sign hung around the neck of Bouchardon’s equestrian statue of Louis XV, were simply the tip of a wider understanding of the forms and nature of subversive thought in Paris. Through this secretive examination of the city’s rumours, de Sartine may have been able to understand the concurrent popular discourses of the Calas affair, the effects of the Seven Years’ war, the widely circulated rumour of the famine plot, and the popularity of the story of the Beast of Gévaudan. By eschewing any kind of supernatural, exotic, or unidentifiable qualities in the depiction of the Beast, de Sartine’s sanctioned engravings show the ‘monster’ to in fact be nothing more than a wolf, albeit a large and particularly savage one. Furthermore, the engravings contrive to give the immediate impression of this creature as a mortal animal. This is achieved in effective and economical means in the Chez Maillet print, as the monochrome page of the engraving is punctuated with just two spots of oozing crimson pigment. These red trickles draw the eye and focus the viewer’s attention on the inescapable fact that the scene represents the death of the animal from the Languedoc. In the second engraving, the taught, uncomfortable position of the wolf as it lays on the ground conveys the discomfort and pain endured by the dying animal.
Just as Languedoc had served Louis XIV as a space for a display of the Bourbon’s power through the manipulation and controlling of nature, so the prints sanctioned by de Sartine subtly used the Southern region as the setting for a battle between the unruliness of the natural order and the effective power of the king. In both the cases of the Canal Royal du Languedoc and the killing of the Beast of Gévaudan, the monarch’s absolute power was enacted through agents of the king: respectively Pierre-Paul Riquet and François Antoine. The Beast was a monstrous symbol of chaos and danger which emerged at a time when the social and political problems facing France were bringing about a crisis of faith in the monarchy, as well as the feudal and judicial structures that upheld it. By conceiving of the monster as a mortal animal, whether a hyena or a wolf, the print houses of Paris subtly shifted the discourse away from the depictions and descriptions of it which emanated from the Languedoc, and which were couched in the region-specific iconography of the Tarasque. Instead, the prints produced in Paris appeared to prefer a visual discourse where the disorder and savagery of an imbalanced ecology were overcome by the brute force and deadly determination of humankind. Hunting was a particularly beloved pastime of Louis XV, who spent almost every afternoon chasing stags and other animals around the grounds of his various châteaux.95 Through François Antoine’s shooting of the Languedoc wolf, the pastime of hunting which had previously been criticised as a distraction that took the king away from the duties of state became instead the effective show of force which reasserted an anthropocentric natural order. Through the placement of weapons in the prints approved by de Sartine, which can also be seen in the Représentation de la bête feroce nommée hiene engraving, the decidedly masculine character of the huntsmen’s deadly force is also subtly and perhaps humorously evoked. In the print showing the Beast as a spotted hyena, M. Reinchard’s dagger dangles suggestively between his legs as he lunges closer towards the shot animal. Likewise, both of the engravings approved by de Sartine make the phallic nature of the rifle itself even more explicit. In the Chez Maillet print, Reinchard’s lowered weapon pokes suggestively out from the profile of Antoine, while in the Représentation de la Bête féroce approved by de Sartine, Antoine’s rifle is positioned to fire at an angle that places the barrel squarely between his legs. These prints’ phallic contextualisation of Antoine and Reinchard’s weaponry visually asserted the king’s agents as men of direct, violent, and effective action. This emphasis on manhood and the ability to kill implicitly opposed the popular rumours which lingered on the lack of successful military leadership in the Seven Years’ War, as well as the belief that Louis XV’s judgement had been clouded by the influence of his mistress the marquise. de Pompadour. By conceiving of the Beast as a man-eating wolf, itself a real and experienced symbol of social and ecological imbalance, the Parisian representations of the creature lent themselves to a conception of the natural world as something which could be corrected and balanced by the brute force of the king and his servants. This consideration of nature as secondary to the desire of the monarch had precedent in the pageantry of the Bourbon kings and can be understood as the symbolic language used also in poems to describe Pierre-Paul Riquet’s achievements in constructing the Canal Royal for Louis XIV. In addition to their symbolic dimensions, both the killing of the Beast and the construction of the canal (an event still celebrated into the mid-eighteenth century)96 similarly took place amidst and in spite of the harsh natural environment of the Languedoc region.
Across different geographical areas, and between two separate cultural and iconographic traditions, the Beast of Gévaudan sustained some alterations to its visual form that allow us to think more clearly about the role it played in discourses on monstrousness, ecology, and order. Originating between the sphere of influence between the towns of the Rhône waterway and the city of Toulouse, depictions and eyewitness descriptions of the monster in its immediate local context were conditioned largely by the iconography of the Tarasque. The visual form of this monster was not only to be seen in local religious art, as with the rock basalt carving at the Priory of St Anne in Chanteuges, but also in the street processions of models of the Tarasque, which would have weaved through the thoroughfares of towns like Tarascon and Mende just six days before the discovery of Jeanne Boulet’s body in the fields outside of Ubac. A creature specific only to the ceremonial and folkloric imagination of Languedoc and Provence, the correlation between the depictions of the Beast and those of the Tarasque allow us to consider the monster as a product of a localised language of monstrousness. By emphasising the shell, the scales, and the spines down its back, prints produced in the geographical area of the attacks reflected the Beasts’s extra-natural qualities through this reliance on a local iconography which positioned it outside of the ecological order.
By contrast, Parisian depictions of the Beast eschewed a visual discourse of monstrousness in favour of a more zoologically grounded approach. Whether it was a hyena or a wolf, with or without spots, and with varying forms of a tail, Paris’ printing houses made sure to emphasise the mortality of the animal. This was achieved in part through a shift in the focus of the scenes in the story. The Southern French depictions of the monster show it more or less in the moment pertinent to the problems it caused in the region: the killing of peasants like Boulet. By contrast, the Parisian prints largely shift the focus of the scene onto the killing of the animal by Antoine and Reinchard. Along with this change in emphasis provided through presenting a different moment of the overall narrative, the Parisian prints also make sure to employ colour in a manner that focuses the eye on the death of the creature. Instead of the coloured scene of the woodcut, or the monochrome of M. Ray’s print, the Représentation de la bête feroce nommée hiene and the Chez Maillet engraving approved by de Sartine both use pigment sparingly within the uncoloured space of the prints, focussing largely on the bleeding wounds of the animal.
This representational shift of the Beast across geographical distance from folkloric monster to mortal animal can be understood more within a consideration of the wider social context of Paris into which the story entered in 1764. The city was the epicentre of discontent towards the monarch, who was perceived as the cause of instability and famine through the recent war and the alterations to the kingdom’s grain trade. The wolf held a particular place in the oral tradition of pre-modern Parisians, as the story of Courtaud served to show how social and political instability could quickly lead to environmental imbalance and the presence of wolves that were driven to eat people. By stressing the mortal, and the specifically lupine character of the creature roaming Languedoc, the printing houses of Paris symbolically reinserted the Beast of Gévaudan into an ecological discourse concerning the role played by humans in the assertion and maintenance of order. In the case of two of these prints, the patronage of Antoine de Sartine can allow us to think about the kinds of official forces operating behind the production of such imagery. As the Lieutenant-Général of Paris’ police, and the lead agent of Louis XV’s cabinet noir, de Sartine would have intimately understood the subversive mood and overall anxiety present in Paris even before stories of the Beast had begun to arrive in the city. By sanctioning the image of the monster as a large wolf, de Sartine promoted a vision of the animal as a symbol of natural order turned to disorder. Nevertheless, this was a natural order that could be dominated and righted by the masculine pursuit of hunting, emphasised in visual form through the subtly phallic emphasis placed on the hunters’ weapons in a number of Parisian engravings. To truly understand the symbolic dimensions of the lupine form given to the Beast in the prints produced of it in Paris, it is crucial to understand that this was not the same iconography used to describe the creature elsewhere and that it was a visual discourse specific to France’s capital city. The bleeding wolf was a visual form that emphasised familiarity and mortality where the Southern French representations of the Beast clustered around its fundamental unknowability, borrowing from the set visual tropes associated with the Tarasque. This distinction between localised cultures and areas of production is critical to understanding the impact which the Beast of Gévaudan held upon its reception outside of its eponymous region. While it may have functioned as a monster in France’s South, it ultimately changed form upon its arrival in Paris to enter into a wider discourse concerning ecology, humanity’s perceived stewardship of the natural world, and the fine line between chaos and the perceived natural order.
1 Jay M. Smith, Monsters of the Gévaudan – The Making of a Beast (Cambridge, Massachusetts & London: Harvard University Press, 2011), p 7.
3 The Gazette said that the creature had been seen in ‘les paroisses et de son diocèse’, referring to the diocese of the Bishop of Mende (who in addition to his ecclesiastical duties was also the feudal landowner in the area of the attacks).
-Michel Louis, La Bête du Gévaudan (Paris: Perrin, 2003), p 45.
4 One of the teams of hunters who followed the orders of Louis XV were the father and son team of Jean-Charles and Jean-François d’Enneval, who hailed from Normandy, and were accompanied by a pack of eight bloodhounds that had been specially trained to catch the scent of wolves.
-Smith, Monsters, pp 137-9.
5 François Fabre, La Bête du Gévaudan – édition complétée par Jean Richard (Paris: De Borée, 2005), 4.
6 Smith, Monsters, pp 196-9.
7 ibid, p 189.
8 ibid, p 206-7.
10 The Gazette de France reported on the 4 October 1765 that, following the royal inspection of the creature at Versailles, a number of huntsmen described the wolf as being ‘nothing extraordinary, neither in its size nor in its composition.’
-Jay M. Smith “Dreadful Enemies: The “Beast,” the Hyena, and Natural History in The Enlightenment,” Modern Intellectual History 13, Issue 1 (April 2016), p 33.
11 Fabre, La Bête, pp 114-5.
12We cannot know for certain which printmaker was tasked with producing this print. However, a few names survive of the men who worked in the printing house, such as: Berthault, Arrivet, Bose, and Coupeau.
-Charles Emile Ouachée, Catalogue de livres illustrés anciens et modernes, éditions originales d’auteurs contemporains, suites de vignettes, composant la bibliothèque de feu M. Charles-Émile Ouachée,… Première partie, (Paris: Librairie Henri Leclerc, 1909), p 12.
-Fabre, La Bête, pp 114-5.
13 In the Gévaudan, however, locals remained unconvinced that Antoine’s wolf really had been the monster which had attacked and killed the local shepherds, and hunts persisted in the area until a local man named Jean Chastel killed another enormous wolf on the 19th of July 1767, largely ending the panic in South-Western France.
-Louis, La Bête, pp 292-3.
14 Smith, Monsters, pp 107-137.
15 Along with areas of North-Eastern Spain facing Languedoc across the Pyrenees.
16 The town is named after the monster that was tamed by Sainte Marthe.
-Gilbert Chalençon and Claude Roux, La Course de la Tarasque (Éditions Équinoxe: La Massin, 2015), p 14.
17 Languedoc became part of the French kingdom in 1271, with Provence following just over two centuries later from 1481-2.
-Fernand Braudel, The Identity of France, Volume One History and Environment, trans. Siân Reynolds (London: Fontana Press, 1989), p 325.
18 This interconnection did not stop official quarreling between the two provinces over rights and ownership of the river, which persisted until 1760. These disputes, however, were economic and legal distinctions, and do not reflect the wider system of the flow of cultural and material exchange which occurred constantly between the two regions.
–ibid, pp 281-4.
19 The words oc and oïl both mean ‘yes’ in their respective dialects, with oïl as the etymological precursor of the modern French word oui.
–ibid, p 86.
20 For a more comprehensive and in-depth discussion of the geography of the langue d’oc/langue d’oïl isogloss, consult: Charles de Tourtoulon and Octavien Bringuier, Étude sur la limite géographique de la langue d’oc et de la langue d’oil (avec une carte) (Paris: Imprimerie national, 1876).
21 Furthermore, the Rhȏne waterway and its surrounding area often operated according to political and social patterns which existed before its Medieval subsumption into the French kingdom. This balance between the social and political desires of the French crown and regional patterns of life existed well into the mid-eighteenth century. One almost comical example of this ever-shifting balance can be demonstrated when the Rhône burst its banks and flooded the area around Tarascon and Avignon in 1734. As the river was the direct property of the king, Louis XV ordered locals to erect fleur-de-lys: the symbol of the house of Bourbon, at the water’s new edges, taking the swollen river as an opportunity to symbolically assert royal authority in the form of the water which had claimed the surrounding land.
-Braudel, The Identity of France, p 284.
22 Chalençon and Roux, La Course de la Tarasque, p 105.
23 Louis Renard, La Tarasque – Les temps retrouvé (Éditions de l’Équinoxe: Marguerittes, 1991), pp 42-3.
24 Writing about the Beast in the nineteenth century, the Languedoc-based priest François Fabre specifically used the word Tarasque in his account of the monster, furthering the assumption that the perception of this creature was couched in a textual and visual language rooted in the local folklore and customary life of the region’s communities.
-François Fabre, La Bête, p 176.
25Chalençon and Roux, La Course, p 107.
26 Renard, La Tarasque, p 5.
27 The Tarasque, however, was not solely an image from popular street culture. A large canvas, commissioned for an unknown reason for the residence of a noble family in Avignon called the Hôtel Baroncelli-Javon shows that the monster was also known to the upper echelons of society along the Rhône, functioning perhaps as a localised heraldic device?
-Renard, La Tarasque.
28 The Tarasque, however, was an iconography formed in relation to that of Sainte Marthe. In having an accompanying monster, Tarascon’s patron saint took a place alongside a number of locally significant (mostly female) saints across France who also tamed, killed, or banished dragons for the good of the communities which they eventually came to patronise. Other monsters in this tradition include the Mâchecroûte of Lyon, the Chair Saléeof Troyes, the Vouivre of the Jura, the Herensuge of the Basque region, and the Corsican Biscia. Many of these creatures not only look alike in their iconography, but also participate as the personification of sin in similar stories. The Corsican Biscia, for instance, was a large dragon-like serpent which killed members of a church’s congregation as it was summoned by the ringing of the bells. Sainte Marthe’s story is similar to that of Sainte Radegunde of Poitiers, who banished the dragon known as the Grand Goule’s after it terrorised the city’s nunnery. Like the townsfolk of Tarascon, Medieval and Early Modern Poitevins commemorated the event with a procession on the saint’s feast day. In 1677, a local sculptor named Jean Gargot was commissioned to create a large, painted wooden statue of the snarling dragon, which terrorised the nuns in Radegund’s convent. Gargot’s sculpture was, like the parade float depicted in Mouren’s ink and watercolour sketch, made to be processed through the town’s winding Medieval streets on Radegund’s feast day, bobbing through the crowd to inject a sense of drama into the solemn religious procession. In addition to the veneration of Sainte Radegund and the Grand’ Goule in the West of France, the citizens of Metz also performed an annual procession to mark St Clement’s battle with the Graoully: another dragon-like demon which was believed to have plagued the city in the Medieval period, and a processional model of the Graoully from 1697 survives in Metz’s St Stephen cathedral. Predating the popular feast day celebrations commemorating either Sainte Marthe or Sainte Redegunde, the first procession of the Graoully occurred in 1105, and continued until the early nineteenth century.
-Chalençon and Roux, La Course, p 7.
-Dorothy Carrington and Leslie Grinsell, “The Folklore of someArchaeological Sites in Corsica,” Folklore 93, no. 1 (1982), p 63.
-Jennifer C. Edwards, Superior Women: Medieval Female Authority in Poitiers’ Abbey of Sainte-Croix (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), p 220.
-André Bellard, “Le Graoully de Metz à la lumière de la paléontologie,” Mémoires de l’Académie de Metz (1965-66), p 140.
29 Fabre, La Bête, pp 103-4.
30 Louis, La Bête, p 45.
31 Fabre, La Bête, p 176.
32 Smith, Monsters, p 78.
33 ibid, p 40.
34 In recognition of his heroic actions, the parlement of Toulouse bestowed Jacques Portefaix with a title, making him Jacques Portefaix de villeret.
-Smith, Monsters, pp 159-67.
35 Robert A. Schneider, The Ceremonial City, Toulouse Observed 1738-1780 (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1995), p 64.
37 This kind of symbolic and performative community-wide subversion of cultural and societal norms was often referred to as a charivari.Charivaris were a form of procession or collective event which took place in towns throughout Medieval and Early Modern Europe. At their core, these celebrations represented the staged upturning of the social order for a day or perhaps sometimes even more.
-Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot: Scholar Press, 1994), p 200.
38 For further discussion of the ceremonial life of eighteenth century Paris, consult: Moshe. Shluhovsky, Patroness of Paris: Rituals of Devotion in Early Modern France (Amsterdam: BRILL, 1998).
39 Ariane Devanthéry, “The Swiss as European Savages?,” in Exotic Switzerland? Looking Outward in the Age of Enlightenment, eds. by Noémie Étienne, Claire Brizon, Chonja Lee and Étienne Wismer (Zurich: DIAPHANES, 2020), p 273.
40 Jean-Jacques Abraham Ruchat, Les Delices de la Suisse, une des principales Républiques de l’Europe ; où l’on peut voir tout ce qu’il y a de plus rémarquable dans son pays & dans celui de ses alliez, qui composent avec elle le louable corps Helvetique. Volume 2 / ; Comme la description des villes, bourgs, châteaux ; les antiquitez du pays & les raretez de la nature la qualité de l’air & du terroir; le naturel, les moeurs, & la religion des habitans ; leurs gouvernemens différens ; leurs alliances mutuelles; & leurs intérêts communs. Le tout enrichi de figures en taille douce, dessinées sur les lieux mêmes. Avec un mémoire instructif sur les causes de la guerre arrivée en Suisse l’an 1712. Par le Sr. Gottlieb Kypseler de Munster. Divisées en quatre tomes. Tome quatrieme (Leiden: Pierre Vander, 1714), p 281.
41 Devanthéry, “The Swiss as European Savages?,” p 273.
42 Shaun Regan and Frans de Bruyn, ‘Introduction’, in Frans de Bruyn and Shaun Regan (eds.), The culture of the Seven Years’ War – Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (Toronto, Buffalo, and New York: University of Toronto Press, 2014) p 3.
44 Christine Pevitt Algrant, Madame de Pompadour – Mistress of France (London: Harper-Collins, 2003), pp 245-291.
45 To further compound the popular sense of bathos surrounding the recently ended hostilities, the Treaty of Hubertusburg, signed in 1763 as one of the many treaties ending the conflict, reverted the borders of the European powers back to the state they were before the fighting had begun. As a result, the suffering of the French people had cost the kingdom its status and achieved no tangible victories. In addition to this, the Treaty of Paris signed at the ending of the war in 1763 lost many of France’s colonial territories to Great Britain, including most of the French-controlled areas of the Caribbean, India, and Canada.
– Walter Oppenheim, Habsburgs and Hohenzollerns 1713-1786 (London, Sydney & Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1993), pp 72 & 77.
46 It was Bouchardon;s deathbed wish that Pigalle should succeed him in the execution of the equestrian statue.
-Thomas W. Gaehtgens and Jaques Lugand, Joseph-Marie Vien, Peintre du Roi (1716-1809) (Paris: Arthena, 1988), p 184.
-Marc Jordan, “Paris, Pigalle at the Louvre,” The Burlington Magazine 128, no. 996 (March 1986), 236.
47 Following the Revolution, the Place Louis XV was renamed the Place de la Concorde.
48 After the inauguration of the statue on the 20th of July, Vien’s contract was drafted and signed just over a month later on the 23rd of August. After first confirming the design and layout of the work based on the submission of an oil sketch to the Hôtel de Ville’s painting committee, the artist agreed to produce two canvases of the scene (one now being lost), along with eight individual portraits of the dignitaries depicted in the larger work, with each portrait being valued at an additional 30 sols. This contract was agreed upon in 1763, but was not completed until 1769, when the painting was unveiled in the salon of that year and received mixed critical reception.
-Gaehtgens and Lugand, Joseph-Marie Vien, pp 185-186.
-Jean-Marie Bruson and Christophe Leribault, Peintures du Musée Carnavalet – Catalog Sommaire (Paris: PAris Musées, 1999), p 411.
49 The men represented in the work are J.B.E. Camus de Pontcarré de Viarmes, and the ducs de Mercier, de Babillé, de Varenne, de Chevreuse, de Vannes, and de Taitbout.
-Gaehtgens and Lugand, Joseph-Marie Vien, p 186.
50 Jane Graham, If The King Only Knew: Seditious Speech in the Reign of Louis XV, (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000), p 213.
51 Pevitt-Algrant, Madame de Pompadour, p 278.
52 In fact, many of the most prominent critics of Louis XV were educated members of the middle classes, such as Pierre Denis de Rivoire, a Parisian barrister who was arrested in 1770 for sending a letter to the king which, among other things, stated that ‘it is justice that makes kings; without it they are nothing but tyrants, usurpers, and oppressors, whose power, founded on violence, finishes with their force and never passes on to posterity’.
-Graham, If the King Only Knew, p 213.
53 Pierre Goubert, Louis XIV and Twenty Million Frenchmen (New York: Pantheon Books, 1970), p 24
55 Jean Meuvret, “Le commerce des grains et des farines a Paris et les marchands parisiens a l’époque de Louis XIV,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 3, no. 3 (July-September 1956), pp 169-203.
56 Steven Laurence Kaplan, Provisioning Paris: Merchants and Millers in the Grain and Flour Trade During the Eighteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), p 422.
57 Steven Laurence Kaplan, The Bakers of Paris and the Bread Question, 1700-1775 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1996), pp 28-30.
58 Anne Muratori-Philip, Parmentier (Paris: Plon, 1995), pp 82-3.
59 These rumours were not just reserved to the lower classes most affected by the grain shortages, and were considered to be true by wealthy and educated members of French society. In 1771, a retired lawyer called Pierre Denis de Rivoire was arrested for sending Louis XV letters saying that the monarch had tried to starve his people.
-Lisa Jane Graham, If the King Only Knew – Seditious Speech in the Reign of Louis XV (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2000), p 221.
60 Kaplan, The Bakers of Paris, pp 28-30.
61 In 1685, Louis XIV had revoked the Edict of Nantes. The Edict had been signed in 1598 by Louis XIV’s grandfather Henri IV: the first of the Bourbon monarchs. The proclamation ended the religious conflicts which had violently impacted France throughout the sixteenth century, allowing the lawful and peaceable coexistence of Catholics and Protestants. Louis XIV wished to have a pure Catholic kingdom, so revoked the Edict, forcing huge numbers of French Protestants to emigrate abroad to England, Holland, Germany, and other religiously tolerant or majority Protestant European countries.
-Elizabeth Israels Perry, From Theology to History: French Religious Controversy and the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer Science and Business Media, 2012).
62 The winnowing of Protestant officials from positions of power was a common thing in the reign of Louis XIV, and had occurred all over France. One example of this occurring in Toulouse is the case of the Protestant official Pierre Magnol, who in 1667 was denied both the position of chancellor, and a seat on the council because of his faith. Catholic churchmen were a fixture of the political life of the region, and can even be seen sitting in a serid row wearing pink shawls and berettas on the right-hand side of the speaker in Toulouse’s parlement in a 1760 print titled Assemblée Général des Etâts du Languedoc (assembly of the Estates General of Languedoc).
-James Gerard Livesey, Provincializing Global History: Money, Ideas, and Things in the Languedoc, 1680-1830 (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020), p 69.
-William Beik, Absolutism and Society in Seventeenth Century France: State Power and Provincial Aristocracy in Languedoc (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).
-Stephen S. Miller, “Lords, Peasant Communities, and the State in Eighteenth-Century Languedoc,” French Historical Studies 26, no. 1 (Winter 2003), pp 55-85.
63 Kegan, Paul C, “IV — The Story of Jean Calas,” The Theological Review: A Journal of Religious Thought and Life 7, issue 30 (July 1870), pp 378-409.
64 In addition to the story of Calas’ trial and execution as it was published in the Traité sur la tolerance, printed images were also produced and widely distributed which depicted Calas’ fate. The Traité and prints contributed to a popular feeling of sympathy for the poor Toulousain trader whom the people of France increasingly believed had been wrongly executed in the name of religious zealotry. After many appeals led by Voltaire’s legal council on behalf of the Calas family, Louis XV met with the Calas family in 1764, and officially gave a posthumous pardon to Calas the following year.
65 Ian Davidson, Voltaire in Exile – The Final Years, 1753-1778 (Grove Press: New York, 2004), p 94.
66 Being in exile at the time, Voltaire was unable to personally carry out an investigation in Toulouse, so he sent an investigator called Jean Ribote-Charron.
–ibid, p 100.
68 These factions included the four brotherhoods of Catholic penitents in the Languedoc region: ‘la blanche, la bleue, la grise, & la noire.’
-Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet), Traité sur la tolérance, 1763, p 6.
69 The canal linked the ports of Narbonne and Cette on the Mediterranean to Toulouse, where the Narbonne river took the waterway out to the Atlantic at Bordeaux.
-Joseph J. Ermenc, “The Great Languedoc Canal,” The French Review 34, no. 5 (April 1961), p 455.
70 With a local opening ceremony held at Toulouse.
-Chandra Mukerji, Impossible Engineering: Technology and Territoriality on the Canal du Midi (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), p 78.
71 René Gast, The Canal du Midi and the Navigable Waterways from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean (Rennes: Editions Ouest-France, 2000), p 18.
72 The project was eventually finished and opened for boats to go down the waterway in 1684.
-Michel Cotte, Canal du Midi – Marvel of Europe (Paris: Belin, 2003), p 53.
73 Jean-Denis Bergasse, Pierre-Paul Riquet et la Canal du Midi dans les arts et la littérature (Paris: Imprimeries MAURY, 1982), pp 135-6.
74 For further research regarding the classicising pageantry attached to the opening of the canal, consult: Chandra Mukerji, “The New Rome: Infrastructure and National Identity on the Canal du Midi,” Osiris 24, no. 1 (2009).
75 At the same time, the writer and poet Nicolas Boileau penned a short couplet which read ‘J’entends déja frémir les deux mers étonnées; de voir leurs flots unis au pié des Pyrenées’ (I can already hear the two astonished seas quivering; to see their waves united to the foot of the Pyrenees).
-Bergasse, Pierre-Paul Riquet, p 133.
76 ibid, p 134.
78 Even among Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire, who discussed the monster in his correspondence.
79 Louis, La bête, p 273.
80 This mode of depicting an animal in side-profile, stood motionless on a clod of its habitat against the blank page surrounding it is borrowed from the plates of the comte du Buffon’s Histoire naturelle, which was serialised to huge acclaim in Paris from 1749-67.
-Thierry Hoquet, Buffon illustré – les gravures de l’histoire naturelle (1749-1767), (Paris: French National Museum of Natural History, 2007).
81 An elaboration on this conception of the beast was that it may have been the hybrid of a wolf and a dog.
-Louis, La bête, pp 266-272.
82 Smith, Monsters, p 205.
83 ibid, p 9.
84 ibid, p 205.
85 Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, The French Peasantry, 1450-1660 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p 9.
-Philip T. Hoffman, Growth in a Traditional Society: The French Countryside, 1450-1815 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p 135.
86 In many ways, Courtaud was the prototype for the Bête du Gévaudan: a ferocious man-eating wolf, which was the symbol of the king’s failure to reign peacefully and to provide for the needs of his people.
-Albert J. Guerard, “The Rabbit and the Tapes,” in The Sewanee Review 80, no. 2 (Spring 1972), p 316.
87 Daniel P. Mannix, The Wolves of Paris (Lake Oswego: eNet Press, 1978), p 201.
88 Alongside the city’s historic relationship to hungry wolves, the threat of these animals was reiterated closer to Paris in April 1765. At this high point in the popular interest in the Beast of Gévaudan, a large and deadly wolf attacked and killed a number of peasants in the town of Soissons between the capital and Versailles. The wolf was killed shortly after, but the incidents in Soissons only further ignited a popular feeling of fear, as the vastly decreased geographical distance to the capital made the problem of man-eating wolves ever more present.
-Jean-Marc Moriceau, Histoire du méchant loup: 3000 attaques sur l’homme en France (XVe-XXe siècle) (Paris: Fayard, 2007), p 463.
89 The problem persisted, and in 1768 a cavalry captain named Nicolas de Lisle de Moncel published his book Méthodes et projets pour parvenir à la destruction des loups dans le royaume in Paris.
-Nicolas de Lisle de Moncel published his Méthodes et projets pour parvenir à la destruction des loups dans le royaume (Imprimerie Royale: Paris, 1768).
90 Val Plumwood has written about how the consideration of humans as prey animals within a larger non-anthropocentric conception of ecology has the ability to subvert notions that humans hold over their perceived mastery of nature.
-Val Plumwood, “Meeting the Predator,” in The Eye of the Crocodile, edited by Lorraine Shannon (Canberra: Australian National University E Press, 2012), pp 9-22.
91 For further discussion concerning the Beast and its relationship to the ecology of wolves and humans in eighteenth-century France, consult: Meret. Fehlmann, ‘The Beast of Gévaudan as a History of the Changing Perceptions of Fatal Human-Wolf Interaction,’ in Michaela Fenske and Bernhard Tschofen (eds.), Managing the Return of the Wild – Human Encounters with Wolves in Europe (London: Routledge, 2020) pp 12-29.
92 Smith, Monsters, pp 206-7.
93 Louis XV himself never made any verbal or written comments concerning his own opinions as to the nature of the monster, however we can read his readiness to believe the credibility of Antoine’s dead wolf as perhaps an indication that the king believed the monster to be a wolf, a belief no doubt compounded by the convenient ending of the popular panic which the specimen provided.
94 The cabinet had begun in the 1740s during the intendancy of Nicolas-Réné Berryer as Lieutenant-Général of Paris’ police. One of the earliest rumours which the interception of the capital’s mail had brought to Louis XV’s attention was the popular belief in 1749 that street children were being abducted and murdered to provide blood for a Bourbon prince to bathe in as a cure for leprosy.
-Pevitt-Algrant, Madame de Pompadour,p 95.
-Charles de Mazade, “Les misères du pouvoir absolu – La politique secrète de Louis XV,” in Revue des Deux Mondes 67, no. 2 (1867), p 385.
95 Louis XV’s favourite places to hunt were Compiègne, Versailles – which originally built as a hunting lodge by Louis XIII, and Fontainebleau.
-F. Hamilton Hazlehurst, “The Wild Beasts Pursued: The Petite Galerie of Louis XV at Versailles,” in The Art Bulletin 66, no. 2 (June 1984), p 224.
96 Bergasse, Pierre-Paul Riquet, p 134.