Viotti walks out

Posted on June 8th, 2010 by

Giovanni Battista Viotti walks out

Viotti disdained to teach adults and was irked at being obliged to tutor those of bon ton.

Viotti walks out. Lithograph published by Chez Martinet (ca. 1814)

This print was published by the Libraire Martinet/Chez Martinet ,  in 1804. The Martinet Libraire was one of the most popular attractions of fashionable Paris, as shown by Les Musards de la rue de Coq, which shows a crush of window shoppers, idlers and costermongers outside the shop.

Les Musards de la  rue Coq d’Or

The setting of the Cour Complet d’Education is a sparsely furnished room, with just a table and chair, and a door to the left of the picture. From a map hanging on the wall, the event depicted is taking place in Paris.

A young man, clearly of some rank, is in the middle of a violin lesson. He is fashionably dressed, in a blue coat, and a yellow or orange waistcoat. The student/aristo is standing to the right of the frame, clearly perspiring from his efforts.  Two words are escaping from his mouth: “Je Sue (I’m sweating).” His social aspirations, and dissipation, have softened him; his complaint, that he is perspiring, indicates that he is unable to preserve his delicate state whilst working. Hard labour is compromising his carefully nurtured effete image. A long haired, Persian cat is curling itself around his legs.

To the left of the picture, a door is open, leading out into darkness. A bald older man, the young man’s violin teacher, is leaving, hat and stick in hand, outdoor coat on. He does not seem to be in the best of tempers. The lesson is over; for good, it seems. A streamer-like ‘speech bubble’ drifts out of the teacher’s mouth:

“If you get up very late, and go to bed very early, then the day will seem less long.”

The frustrated teacher is clearly Giovanni Battista Viotti, the first famous bald violinist. Every well- known image of him, from the lost ÉlisabethVigée-le Brun portrait of 1803, which only survives in a black and white photograph, to the Peuvrier medal cast in his memory  in 1824, depict Viotti’s spectacular domed pate.

ÉlisabethVigée-le Brun-Self-Portrait-1790

This was the age of physiognomy, of Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801) and Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828). The Francophile playwright and dissenter, Thomas Holcroft, a member of the ‘Society for Constitutional Freedom’, (tried for sedition in 1784) published his translation of Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy, Designed to promote the knowledge and the love of Mankind, in 1789. This included the following passage:

            “Take a man of the commonest understanding to a charnel house, and make him attentive to the differences of skulls. In a short time he will either perceive of himself, or understand when told, here is strength, there weakness; here obstinacy, and there indecision.

If shown the bald head of Caesar, as painted by Reubens (sic) or Titian, or that of Michael Angelo, what man would be dull enough not to discover that impulsive power, that strong rocky sense, by which they were peculiarly characterised; and that more ardour, more action must be expected than from a smooth, round, flat head.”

The German-French anatomist, Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828) elevated this into a new science ‘cranioscopy’, better known by the name ‘phrenology’ coined by his disciples. In 1807, Sir Thomas Brown published Some account of Dr. Gall’s New Theory of Physiognomy founded upon the anatomy and physiology of the Brain and the Form of the Skull. This included:

“Organ of Aptness to learn and retain Music….when this organ is strongly developed, that part of the skull is necessarily enlarged. It is extended either in breadth, (Gall cited the Italian Viotti as an instance) or the forehead becomes high, as was the case in the Emperor Joseph. In Mozart (whom the Germans please to call the Shakespeare of his art) the organ had extended itself in the breadth of the forehead.”

For all of his modesty, Viotti had good reason to be confident about his skull., and sensed that his head revealed him to be possessed of what Lavater described as a ‘strong rocky sense’, and Gall’s ‘strongly developed’ organ.

William Pitt the Younger and Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernatotte, both incognito, seek advice from ‘Docteur Gall’, celebrated inventor of ‘phrenology’.


Chez Martinet published another engraving, sometime after 1807, when Gall had moved to Paris. This depicted the famous doctor with his collection of crania, giving advice to Prime Minister William Pitt (1759-1806) and Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, later Charles XIV, King of Sweden (1763-1844). They both seem sorely troubled. The collection of skulls, illustrated in this picture, like the list of Grands Hommes anciens et modernes hanging in the Cour Complet, is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. As well as Adam, Eve, Methuselah, Noah, Samson, Homer and Virgil all featured, alongside the skull of the Trojan Horse, and Xanthus, the horse of Achilles. Clearly, Gall’s teachings were seen as being best suited to the credulous.

A bald professor storming out of the violin lesson of a privileged young man in early nineteenth century Paris is without question, Viotti, whose relationship with those of bon ton was well known to be turbulent. This had, perhaps been born out of his troubled early relationship with his first patron, Prince Alfonso dal Pozzo della Cisterna and not helped by the insistence of the amateur  and instrument collector, the  Baron de Bagge.

The new French institutions offered specialist training exclusive of money, seting the dilettants in sharper relief. The serious students at the conservatoire revealed privileged amateurs in an unflattering like, complaining, like the student in the picture, at having to actually work: “I’m sweating,” he complains. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, a certain disdain for the physical labour associated with the new approach toi music crept into the language of those of bon ton. The new aristocracy was marked out not working; having a talent and ‘refusing’ it, rather akin to not deigning to finish the food on the plate, was a sign of hauteur.

A wooden music stand is placed on the table in the middle of the picture, on which a score is propped. This is partially obscured by the card of a peripatetic perruquier, a wigmaker. The design is typical of book and music stands of the period, and might equally used on top of a fortepiano or harpsichord, played with the lid closed. Thomas Jefferson found a way of improving this design, whilst preserving its space-saving qualities, by designing a free standing table stand for a string quartet, which would also enable, or oblige, the leader to play standing up.

The revolutionary generations in France and America were very agitated by the question of whether or not to wear a wig. Prior to the revolution, members of the National Assembly had been required to wear neatly powdered wigs; the perruquiers or peruke (periwig) makers, had dominated coiffeur. The destruction of the excesses of monarchy had been, in part, symbolised as, Sir Nathaniel Wraxall (1751-1831) wrote in 1815, “…the total abolition of Buckles and Ruffles…the disuse of Hair-powder.” The mere suggestion of patronising a wig-maker, for anything other than exceptionally formal occasions, raised the spectre of the dissipation which the Revolution had over-turned. Our reluctant student is keen to finish his concerto; on the stand, we can see the ‘End of the 6th Concerto’. With that done, he is keen to run to his wigmaker, and betake himself to a ball at the ‘Redoute’. Viotti, of coure, would certainly not patronise a perruquier.

The wigmaker, known in the time-honoured tradition of hairdressers, by just his first name, ‘Armand’, advertises that he will ‘tonder’ anywhere in the city, and offers his services to both sexes. It is not entirely clear whether he is offering to provide or fit wigs, to cut hair, or both. However, the fact that he is offering to work with both sexes, is one of many hints of decadence encoded into this picture. In the context of the many references to the classical world with which the picture is littered, it is natural that hits would call to the memory, the period of greatest dissipation in the Roman Empire, when the baths were frequented by both sexes at the same time. The idealism of republican France had slipped into complacency and the stews of luxury, as further emphasised by the long-haired cat winding herself around the legs of the violinist.. The Libraire Martinet returned frequently to the theme of decadence, also publishing engravings of young men and women of bon ton bathing in tight fitting bathing suits-young people, and of a man sneaking into a female bath house.

The picture alludes repeatedly to the ‘Choice of Hercules’, when the classical hero was forced to make a choice between duty and pleasure. This was regularly referenced in novels, sermons and poetry during the age of revolution and the Napoleonic wars. At the beginning of the 19th century, the work of the 18th century English pastoral poet and landscape gardener, William Shenstone (1714-1763), enjoyed a brief revival in the salons of Paris. Shenstone’s most celebrated poem was his ‘Choice of Hercules’. It was natural that there would be a revival of Shenstone’s work; he had collaborated with Thomas Percy (1729-1811) on his extraordinary ‘Reliques of Ancient Poetry’, a (less fictionalised) collection of early British Ballads not so dissimilar from the work of James Macpherson (1736-1796). However, the 1803 Elegant Preceptor, a collection of ‘instructions in morality’, referenced the version by the Irish Whig and man of letters, Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729). This passage first appeared in the Tatler, which he founded, and was frequently reprinted in ‘popular educators’ at the end of the 18th century, such as Elegant Extracts (1785).

“When Hercules was in that part of his youth, in which it was natural for him to consider what course in life he ought to pursue, he one day retired into a desert, where the silence and solitude of the place very much favoured his meditiations. As he was musing on his present condition, and very much perplexed in himself on the state of life he should choose, he saw two women, of a larger statue than ordinary, approaching towards him.”

One of the women was the soul of modesty, the other of painted vanity. They each suggest different paths; the latter offers luxury:

“…Sumptuous tables, beds of roses, clouds of perfumes concerts of music, crowds of beauties…”

The modest figure offers the life of chastity:

“If you would gain the favour of the Deity, you must be at the painst of worshipping him; if the friendship of good men, you must study to oblige them…if you would be eminent in war or peace, you must become master of all the qualifications that can make you so.”

The Choice of Hercules-Paolo de’ Matteis (1662 – 1728)

There are two references in Martinet’s print, to Hercules’s music tutor, Linus. His name under the original string player, ‘Apollon’, on the wall-hung scroll entitled, “Premiere Leçon d’Histoire et de Mythologie-Nomenclature des grands Hommes anciens et modernes”.  Behind the door which the Viotti figure is opening in order to leave, is a representation of Hercules attacking his teacher, who is begging for mercy.

According to one early nineteenth century guide to classical mythology, Linus was:

 “…a native of Colchis, contemporary with Orpheus, and one of the most ancient poets and musicians of Greece. It is impossible, at this distance of time, to discover whether Linus was the disciple of Orpheus, or Orpheus the disciple of Linus…Diodorus says that he added the string lirhanos to the Mercurian Lyre, and ascribes to him the invention of Rhyme and Harmony, which Suidas, who regards him as the most ancient of lyric poets, confirms. Mr Marpurg tells us, that Linus invented cat-gut strings for the use of the lyre, which, before his time, was strung with thongs of leather, or with different threads of flax strung together. He is said by many writers to have had several disciples of great renown; among whom where Hercules, Thamyris, and according to some, Orpheus. –Hercules, says Diodorus, while learning from Linus to play upon the Lyre, provoked his master to strike him; which so enraged the young hero that instantly seizing the lyre of the musician, he beat out his brains with the instrument.”

Elisabeth Vigée-le Brun Madame de Staël as Corinne

The lyre was represented repeatedly in depictions of amateur musicians at the beginning of the 19th century. Its appearance in pictures such as Elizabeth Vigée-le Brun’s portrait of the Germaine de Staël as her character, ‘Corinne’ reflected a certain tableau-vivant notion of music making, and of the popularity of the Lyre-Guitar. What Hercules is smashing, is the humiliation of being ‘schooled’ in amateur music making, in something so overtly feminine, of the drawing room, as opposed to the virtuoso ‘battlefield.’

Playing the ‘Harpo-Lyre’: The final development of the ‘Lyre-Guitar.


 The death of Linus is represented on the larger of two paintings which have been hung on the wall. Interestingly, Hercules is hitting him with his own instrument. It is clear that this is not the first blow, as the Lyre is already broken, its ‘cat-gut’ strings loose. This enables a visual pun; now the lyre can represents both Hercules’s his club and his bow, which ironically enough, ended up in the hands of a tutor that he did not murder, Philoctetes. Inscribed on the picture is:

“Advice to present and future teachers: Hercules breaks his lyre on the head of this teacher who has reprimanded him.”

Clearly Viotti does not seem to think that he is in any danger from the fop whose rooms he is quitting. However, the painter has implied otherwise; Viotti’s cranium is bare-all that Hercules would need to do in order to land a blow, after despatching Linus, would be to swing hard to his right, and catch the ‘Maître’  before he puts on his hat and leaves.

Despite the fact that Viotti’s erstwhile pupil has his instruments, violin and bow, down by his side, like a sword, they are in his left hand, his weapon hand is being used to mop himself down with a ‘kerchief after the exertions of the ‘6th Concerto’ on the stand. Viotti is in no danger from him.

It is clear which choice this ‘Hercules’ is going to take. The failure of his violin lessons symbolises the inevitable decline of his class, the decadence that results from resisting the necessity of hard work.

Also listed on the wall-scroll, under ‘Orphée’ (Orpheus) who was seen by some, as the inventor of the violin, is the musician, Amphion according to an 1822 classical dictionary:

“…the son of Jupiter, by Antiope, daughter of Nycteus…When Amphion grew up, he cultivated poetry and made such an uncommon progress in music that he is said to have been the inventor of it, and to have built the walls of Thebes at the sound of his lyre. Mercury taught him music, and gave him the lyre. He was the first who raised an altar to this god…The fable of Amphion moving stones and raising the walls of Thebes at the sound of his Lyre has been explained by supposing that he persuaded, by his eloquence, a wild and uncivilised people to unite together and build a town to protect themselves against the attacks of their enemies.”

Amphion inspired the famous line of William Congreve (1670-1729): “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak…” The caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) mocked these gentle powers, in his ‘Musical Family’, which suggested that domestic music-making could induce madness. Congreve’s work was admired in France; the chess player composer François-André Danican Philidor set his ‘Hymn to Harmony’ in 1754. 

Music at Home, as seen by Thomas Rowlandson in 1802. Domestic music making clearly did not always bring the balm, whatever the classical pretensions of its executants.

  Further down the list of names on the wall is that of a dancer ‘Vestris’. Gaetano Vestris (1729-1808) reformed the Ballet after the Revolution, using the model, like the new instrumental Méthodes, of the ideals of the classical world. His innovations established the ‘French School’ of Ballet. This Méthode was carried to Denmark, by a child of émigrés, Auguste Bournonville (1805-1879), where much of its purity is uniquely preserved to this day.

Gaetano Vestris

Vestris famously incurred the wrath of the royal family by refusing to dance the role of ‘Armide’ for the court:

“Some time ago the younger Vestris was sent to confinement in Fort-l’Eveque, for having obstinately refused to perform in a ballet called Armide. Nothing could be more affecting than the parting scene of the father and son. “Go, it is the most glorious day in your Life; take my carriage, and demand the apartment of my friend the King of Poland: I will pay for all.”

The poet and rambler, William Cowper (1731-1800) recalled the incident wryly:

“The paper indeed tells us, that the queen of France has clapped this king of capers up in prison, for declining to dance before her, on a pretence of sickness, when in fact he was in perfect health.”


This was reported in 1808:

“On another occasion, the god of the dance himself was confined for a similar refusal to obey the orders of the Queen. Not only the whole family of Vestris, but all Paris were in consternation at this severity. ‘This is the first time,’ said one of that illustrious name, ‘that the house of the Vestries (sic) has ever been on ill terms with that of the B (o) urbons’.”

Vestris was, like Viotti, an ideal figure, used in this picture as a reminder of the revolutionary ideal, standing up to tyranny. Much of the Cour Complet  comments on how quickly the rigour of revolution had morphed into the decadence, the very behaviour that had caused such resentment of the ancien regime.

The question of ‘being on ill terms with the B(o)urbons’ is amplified  in a picture revealed on the left hand page of a book lying on the chair at the front of the picture. The caption reads:

“Mars and Venus, surprised by Vulcan-the Result.

Warning to ‘barbons’ who marry Venuses.”

‘Barbons’, or ‘greybeards’, also refers to both ‘Barbarians’ and ‘Bourbons’. The obvious reference of the book is to the assumed infidelity of the late queen, a ‘Venus’ married to a ‘Barbon’, who was widely assumed to have been unfaithful, which in the context of the behaviour in the salons  of the pre-revolutionary court, was bizarre. Any man or woman who was actually in love, or devoted to their partner, was regarded as recherché in the extreme, yet the queen, the centre of every jeu d’esprit, was held to a different standard. The opprobrium experienced by Marie Antoinette in real life was the inverse of that situation described in the painting, where the cuckolded husband, Vulkan/Hephaistos, was hoist by his own petard, and found himself the butt of the gods’ ridicule.

Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638) Mars and Venus surprised by Vulcan, 1611

The ‘ridicule’ to which Vulcan is subjected, was a remainder how fickle popularity could be, whether in the royal or imperial courts, or the fear of exclusion from the more fashionable salons.

The book on the chair is labelled ‘Mythology’. It is turned towards Viotti; presumably, might be one of the barbons (‘greybeards’) who are being thus advised. If the departing ‘Maître’ is, indeed Viotti, perhaps his complicated emotional life was being targeted. He enjoyed intricate entanglements with Madame Nervode Montegéroult, the Cherubinis, and certainly the Chinnery family. It is not clear whether Viotti’s complex private life was the subject of gossip in Napoleonic Paris.

But what did the ‘Mars and Venus’ story signify at the end of the Paix d’Amiens? Venus offered the God of War the blandishments of peace, a seduction, that complicates the ‘swords-into-ploughshares’ aspect of this engraving. Perhaps one of its many messages is that the peace had to end, as it had rendered the France’s resolute revolutionaries soft. No wonder the Viotti was walking out.

A flip side these allusions is provided by the juxtaposition of Venus and the singer/actress ‘Phillis’, whose name appears on the list at the right sight of the Cour. ‘Phillis’ was another name for Syphilis. A letter written two years before this picture was published described Jenny Phillis-Bertin:

            “She is an attractive pupil of the famous GARAT. She has a clear tone, a charming face, lively eyes, an agreeable personality and some taste. She possesses as much merit as an actress as a singer.”

Phillis’s teacher, the singer, Pierre Garat, is also listed with the scroll of notables at the right of the picture. Before the revolution, Garat had been member of the Masonic Loge Olympique with Viotti.  In 1795 he fled to Hamburg, where he renewed his association with the violinist:

“At that time, there were a great number of French émigrés in that city; the celebrated singer, Garat, had been based there for several months; the two of them united their respective talents and inspired the delight of the amateurs in that city for more than a year.”

Garat’s presence and huge range made him a favourite with the Emperor, along with the castrato, Girolamo Crescentini (1766-1846), the ‘Italian Orpheus’. Garat created the title role in Gasparo Spontini’s Fernand Cortez, which was premiered, to Napoleon’s delight, in 1809

The Duke of Wellington attends the Paris Opéra. After the battle of Waterloo, the triumphant ‘Iron’ Duke watches Spontini’s piece about another conqueror, Fernand Cortes

In 1826, Phillis, who had been widowed since 1804, married the composer Francoise-Adrien Boieldieu, who had spent years at the Russian court with Pierre Rode. They had waited decades for his wife, the ballerina Clotilde-Augustine Malfleurai (1776-1826), from whom he had been estranged since 1803, to die. She was remembered as a fashion icon; when Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) came to write Madame Bovary (1857), his heroine arrived at ‘Yonville’ with her hair done ‘à la Clotilde’.

Not for nothing was the scourge of syphilis known as the ‘labyrinth of Venus’; the ‘venereal’ diseases were all hers, the punishment for decadence. Our violinist is complaining that he is sweating, another hint at the disease. Like blood-letting, sweating was still a popular treatment for various forms of infection.  Sweating, combined with destructive Mercury treatment was long been the preferred treatment for Syphilis. A popular joke ran, “A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.” Any reference to a wastrel complaining about sweating implied that he was ‘paying’ for his ‘night with Venus.’

One other actress is included on the list, Mlle. Pingenet, one of two sisters. One commentator, two years before the publication of this picture, was not been impressed;

“These two sisters have no distinction as actresses, but apparently aspire to be singers, especially the eldest, who has begun to distinguish herself.”

The ‘eldest’ Mlle Pingenet became Madame Moreau, married to a distinguished member of the Feydau Theatre, where she first appeared in 1810. In that year, the Annales Dramatiques reported:

“She is pretty, and has a striking voice. She has been reproached for a measure of timidity … but we believe we can assure that she is one of the most delightful actresses in the Opera Comique.”

For all of her timidity, Mlle Pingenet distinguished herself as an amateur pianist. The singer Chenard (also on the violinist’s list), famously depicted as a Sans Culottes (1792), by Leopold-Louis Boilly (1761-1845), was an accomplished cellist.

Louis Léopold Boilly-Chenard as a ‘Sans Culottes’

One of Viotti’s disciples is referenced in this picture. The list of exemplars includes ‘Rhodes/for concertos’. This of course, is Pierre Rode. The implication if this artful misspelling is that Rode, the most international of all the revolutionary violinists, bestrides the musical world ‘like a colossus’.  Indeed, in 1804, he was at the Russian Court, alongside the composer, Francoise-Adrien Boieldieu.The ‘Colossus of Rhodes’, one of the ‘Seven Wonders’ of the ancient world, had been erected over the entrance to the port of Rhodes at the end of a great siege in BC 304. It represented the Sun-God, Apollo also the inventor of music, how is top of the list on the right side list of this engraving. The Colossus was a symbol of peace; like most of the ancient wonders, it had collapsed, just as the Paix d’Amiens, perhaps, would collapse, which it did after 14 months. ‘Rhodes’ (sic) was certainly a better bet for concertos!

The bottom of this list also misattributes an artist’s qualities. It finishes with ‘Verri/for gourmands’. The second volume Alessandro Verri’s (1741-1816) Notti Romani al sepolcro degli Scipioni was published in 1804. Perhaps Verris was listed ‘for gourmands’ was his involvement with the periodical, ‘Il Caffé’ at the beginning of his working life. However, his ‘Roman nights…’ contrasted the bracing world of ancient Rome, with the supposedly softer Christian world. Surely there is not a little irony in his appearance here.

The list of ‘great men and women’ pinned on the wall, includes “Julien/pour les contredanses”.  ‘Julien’ (Louis Julien Clarchies) (Dates uncertain) was ‘king of the Contredanse’ in Paris, at the time of the Paix d’Amiens. He published an eighteen-volume ‘Receuil de Contredanses, Waltzer et Anglaises’ capitalising on his popularity. These were scored for two violins; their harmonic simplicity allowing for easy expansion into larger ensembles as the need arose. His collection offered a large selection of these colourful titles, including ‘le Tambourin, le Malet’ etc, but also more topically named examples, such as ‘la Josephine’. Along with the music, each dance offered the steps. Perhaps one such step caught the artist’s attention; the ‘Demie-Queue de Chat’ might be reflected in the cat’s tail curled around the feet of the reluctant student. This dance step required a promenade about the floor, no more, that the dancers should strut, which would certainly come naturally to this preening musician…

The long-haired Persian cat under the violinist’s feet reflects some of the more libidinous depictions of Madame de Pompadour, the most notorious famous mistress of Louis XV, who had built the original Hameau de Chantilly. Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) notoriously for painting young girls playing erotically with just such cats; the animal, is a not-so-subtle insinuation about the lazy violinist’s sexual continence. In the previous century, the long-haired cat had been a prevalent image of luxuria, its allure and deceitfulness overtly feminine. The ‘original’ choice of Hercules was Adam and Eve in the Garden, offered the apple, just like Paris and the three Goddesses. Our cat has wound herself around the violinist like Lukas Cranach’s serpent entwined in l’Arbre des Songes.

In 1815 Chez Martinet published a series ridiculing the soldiers of the victorious armies that flooded Paris after the Restoration. One of these print was entitled Le repas du Chat, ou Honi Soit Qui Mal y pense (The cat’s repast, or, Evil to he that Evil thinks). The subtitle, of course is an acidic reference to the motto of highest English order of knighthood, the ‘Order of the Garter’. This depicts a number of Scottish soldiers, being ridiculed for their kilts, a source of bewildered amusement, event even two hundred years ago. In the centre of the painting, a Highlander is buying cherries from a costermonger, which he is collecting in his kilt. He is mercifully unaware of an enthusiastic feline leaping up between his legs to claw his genitals.


Le Repas du Chat. The Allied Soldiers that arrived in Paris with the Paix d’Amiens were the object of much amusement


 A number of the attractions of Paris listed on the Cours Complet were compared by British visitors to their venues and star performers in London. One of these was the Italian equestrian, Antonio Franconi (1738-1836), who had begun working with the horse rider, Philip Astley (1742-1814), the inventor of the modern circus ring. Thomas Holcroft remarked, about Franconi, that he:

“…taught horses to dance almost as miraculously graceful as Mr Astley himself, and employs his faculties with scarcely less benefit to the public.”

One of the most successful shows in London was to be found at ‘Astley’s Amphitheatre’, founded in 1773. Nine years later, he opened, his first circus in Paris, was the Amphitheatre Anglais and later, the Cirque Olympique.  Astley’s star rider was Andrew Ducrow (1793-1842), whose performance in Astley’s version of Byron’s Mazeppa later so impressed Franz Liszt in the 1820’s

A.Testard-Amphitheatre Anglais

The Tivoli Gardens, also listed on the violinist’s map, was often compared to Vauxhall Gardens in London, which was long distinguished by its tableaux presentations, and incorporation of music into its large scale productions. A star attraction at the Tivoli Gardens was the tightrope artist, ‘Forioso’ also listed here. One witness remembered:

“Rope dancing was greatly favoured under the Empire…The rival talents of two rope dancers, Forioso and Ravel, caused the greatest uproar. They attracted the mob to the Tivoli Gardens. The fans of these two illustrious acrobats were divided into two camps. One of these favoured the grace of Ravel; the other vaunted the power of Forioso. The discussions and quarrels of these recalled the war between the ‘Gluckistes’ and ‘Piccinistes’.”

‘Forioso’ was so successful, that his troupe was able to fill a Paris theatre,  Des Troubadours, for some weeks. In 1807, “…this theatre was nearly exclusively occupied by the troupe of Forioso, the famous dancer.” It seems that the reason for his abrupt departure from the Tivoli was a spectacular fall, upon which, his place was taken by the brilliant young ‘Madame Saqui’, who became a favourite performer of Napoleon’s.  

‘Battledore and shuttlecock’ near one of the rustically thatched buildings of the Hameau Chantilly

Hameau de Chantill[y] is shown on the student’s map. Le Goût de Jour No. 2, also published by Chez Martinet, shows a young and fashionable couple playing ‘battledore and shuttlecock’ near one of the rustically thatched buildings of this mock village. A nearby picnicker is so distracted by the ample physique of the young woman, that he pours his glass of wine into his own lap-hardly the subtlest of humour. The reluctant violinist would certainly prefer to spend his afternoons thus, rather locked up practising. Viotti, is clearly dressed for a good walk, identically to the revellers at the Hameau. The two of them might well have found something in common, had they stayed as far away from the violin as possible, and gone outside for a little badminton.

The Palais Royal is the most prominent location marked on the map. In June 1778, Mozart had enjoyed a sorbet there, but recent years, its reputation had become increasingly seedy, the haunt of courtesans and prostitutes. Chez Martinet published two prints at the time of the restoration, spelling out the dangers for the unsuspecting soldiery of the victorious armies. The first of these is entitled, Le Premier Pas d’un jeune Officier Cosaque au Palais Royal. A young soldier, ignoring the advice of his adjutant, is entertaining the advances of two courtesans in by the distinctive colonnades of the Palais. One English visitor recalled: “A martial air reigns through the town. Soldiers parade most of the principal streets and keep the peace; the utmost respect is paid to everything military.”


Le Premier Pas d’un jeune Officier Cosaque au Palais Royale


 The second engraving, Les Adieux au Palais Royal, ou Les Suites du Premier Pas, depicts the ‘morning after’. A group of soldiers of all nationalities, including the Cossack officer, are leaving the Palais, having bid farewell to their female companions. They are buying various remedies for the infections that they have picked up on the premier pas from a quack and his assistant, who presumably made a healthy profit from the daily trade of sickening neophytes. “A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury,” indeed. The reluctant violinist clearly is planning on frequenting the same locale. He will doubtless suffer the same fate as the Cosaque.




The Terasse de Feuillans is indicated on the student’s map. In 1790, the first ‘Liberty Trees’ were ‘planted’ in Villages and Towns across France, erected on village greens and parks where the maypoles previously stood. The first of these was planted on the Terrasse was where the original ‘Tree of Liberty’ was planted.   On June 1792, the planting of a large liberty tree on the Terrasse in the Tuileries Gardens, faintly sketched here, was the occasion of Louis XVI’s greatest humiliation, forced to drink toast to the people, whilst a calf’s heart was waved in his face as ‘the heart of an aristocrat’.  The composer and Haydn-fanatic André Erneste Modeste Grétry (1741-1813) wrote a hymn specifically for planting such trees, which, according to Felix Clément later remarked., failed to add “…any luster to the reputation of [the] author.” A decade later, much of the idealistic fervour of the locale  had been lost, the Terrasse was reduced to yet another pleasure garden, yet another indication of how the revolutionary idealism had been betrayed, seduced by the blandishments of luxury.

 At the top of the student’s map, the Boulevard Italien is marked. In the same year that this print was published, a travelogue by the activist, playwright, and music-lover, Thomas Holcroft appeared in London. He wrote tartly of the Parisians:

“If contrasted with various of the nations of Europe, the French are an active and industrious people; but compared to the English, they are great idlers: and for the class of idlers, the Boulevard is one of the principal places of resort. The consequence of this is that numbers of those, who make it their trade to amuse the idle, here take their stations.”

‘Mrs Dixon’s’ coffee house was one of the most famous hostelries on the Boulevard. According to an 1818 travel guide, here“…every accommodation for sleeping &c. may be found with all the advantages of the above, except low charges.” A primary objective of many of the establishments in Paris was the separation of visitors from their money. Clearly, Mrs Dixon’s establishment was no exception.

The most famous, or rather infamous, casino in Paris, ‘Frascati’s’ , is one of the ‘places which the well educated young man must  attend every day except Sundays’, marked just to the  South of the Boulevard Italien. ‘Frascati’, as the casino it is labelled on the ‘Carte’, was primary destination of moneyed British visitors from the moment the Paix d’Amiens was signed. The fashionable world gathered at Frascati’s to dance, gamble and enjoy ices.  British luminaries who later gambled away fortunes there included William Makepeace Thackeray and the Duke of Wellington.


Suite Effrayante de la Pafsion du Jeux: Gambling was ruination of many families, and by implication, ruinious for the Spiriti of France


 In 1802, Chez Martinet published Suite Effrayante de la Pafsion de Jeux (The horrifying consequence of the passion for cards), which is clearly linked to the Cour Complet. The scene is a gambling house maybe ‘Frascati’s’.

A young man is sits at a table, about to shoot himself in the head with a small pistol. He is gazing at a letter, which he has just written judging by the quill and ink on the table in front of him. Presumably this is his suicide note. On the floor around him, lies his ruinous last had of cards. His pose, gun to his head,  is more or less that of the ‘Jeune Homme bien né qui a perdu tout son argent au jeu’ , hanging on the wall behind the young fop in the Cour Complet, . This engraving shows the Suite effrayante, awaiting Viotti’s reluctant student. Through a door, three men, who have probably just won the young man’s fortune, continue to gamble in an ante-room, unconcerned at the tragedy being enacted next to them. .But there is another aspect, not even hinted at in the Cour Complet. Just as the unfortunate gambler is shooting himself, his wife dashes thought the door to the right. Her hair is flying, and she is not dressed for outdoors, suggesting that she has dashed from their home at the moment that heard what her husband was about to do. Her face is pointedly classical, and the pose, brandishing the child towards her husband, in an appeal to his conscience, pointedly references one of the central figures in Jacques Louis David’s (1748-1825) iconic Intervention of the Sabine Women. David’s painting was exhibited at the end of 1799 at the Louvre. It was seen as symbolising, according to one of David’s contemporaries:

“…Frenchman of opposing parties ready to slaughter one another, with Mother Country running between them, crying ‘Stop!’””

Jacques Louis David-The Intervention of the Sabine Women

In 1794, the women who took part in David’s Festival of the Supreme Being, on the Champs de Mars had all ‘raised their children to heaven’ at a given signal, invoking divine favour for their nation. Of course, there is an intended irony that the mother figure holding up her child in the Martinet is pleading with her husband to not kill himself over gambling debts, whilst the mother behind the figure of Tatius in David’s epoch-defining picture is preventing genocide.

The end of Viotti’s student, and of this gambler, would presumably be equally dismal. They would not die for glory nor country, but over something as petty and selfish as gambling. Thus, it is implied, the Youth of France, making the wrong ‘Choice of Hercules’, had given up the spirit and classical heritage of Revolution for dissipation.

Hercules, on the other had, had chosen duty, chastity and the love of his country. As the Elegant Preceptor reminded its readers in 1803:

            “We know, by the life of this venerable hero, to which of these two ladies he gave up his heart; and I believe everyone, who reads this, will do him the justice to approve the choice.”