Blasons and Contreblasons

Tangent du jour … like the previous one on the codpiece, herewith another Medieval or Renaissance thing that, in your adminstratrix’s old-fashioned and reactionary opinion, is due a revival.

Another Internet Top Ten on this French peculiarity; reminding us that the observation of and commentary on passers-by was a fine leisurely pass-time even before the invention of the café … This fashion is first identifiable as such with Clément Marot’s 1534 “Blason du beau tétin”, followed by assorted other significant body parts, the mode/mode is picked up by assorted other writers (such as Maurice Scève), and we have the supplementary delights of the accompanying contreblasons – such as Marot’s own “Laid tétin” (own poem, that is, not his own  – never mind, I digress). The craze spreads like wildfire through Europe. Well, amongst the sorts of people who like and indulge in that sort of competitive poetry-thing – bearing in mind the previous century’s vogue for Puys (mariales and other). If even Shakespeare (cf. sonnet 130) and Spencer do it, it must be properly de bon ton (as it were) but I still hold the French – Marot and, later, Baudelaire –  responsible for it being chic.

For those of a sensitive disposition: it gets much, much worse than tétins …

1. The University of Virginia’s Gordon Library provides some useful information, as well as a digital facsimile of Gordon 1543.B53.

2. Stanford University offers some splendours of the anatomical blason (from whence this post’s images), courtesy of the wondrous current Renaissance Body Project at their Department of French and Italian (see also the project’s main home page)

3. A pdf of the 1554 edition of the Blasons/contreblasons (A Paris: De la bouticque de Nicolas Chrestien…, 1554) is available on the Gallica server of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

4. Our friends also turn up in the Legman Bibliography of Drinking Songs.

5. In thir infinite wisdom, categorise them as HEALTH & FITNESS > BEAUTY & GROOMING > PERSONAL BEAUTY.

6. The marvelous Bibliographie : Libertinage, libre pensée, irréligion, athéisme, anticléricalisme at the Dossiers du GRIHL (Groupe de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur l’Histoire du Littéraire, at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales).

7. Musical setting: Régis Campo (2000: first performed 3 July 2000, Villa Medici, Rome; a state commission, no less, and sans commentaire … )

8. And another, as “Nature ornant la dame”, by the Ensemble Clément Janequin

9. Blasons, a novel by Georges Zaragoza: middle-aged man on holiday takes sneaky photos of mysterious naked lady. [And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I avoid writing book reviews.]

10. Last but not least,’s pages on the two main (readily available and cheap paperback) editions are most revealing as to what the good people looking at such books were also looking at, what they subsequently bought, and what else the fine folks of Amazon think you might be interested in if you like this sort of smutty frivolity: Louise Labé, Œuvres poétiques; Pernette du Guillet, Rymes; choix de Blasons du corps féminin (ed. Charpentier); Blasons anatomiques du corps féminin (ed. Lainé & Quignard): the latter is sinfully underappreciated in France. And no. 181,939 in sales: but beating the dodgy novel (no. 9 above), which is at 316,891; and both are soundly trounced by the Labé et al, at 83,929.

Grand Conclusions: I am of the opinion that this sort of thing ought to come back into fashion, and perhaps this literary form  – epigrammatic as it is – updated to fit the pithiness of mobile phone texts.

The Challenge: 21st c. Blasons and/or Contre-blasons: revived, renewed, refreshed, reinvented, reinvigorated, refashioned, revamped, and hopefully vamped up too.

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