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CAT 164 Saint-Aubin. Cul-de-lampe. BA 193.jpg

CAT 164. Auguste de Saint-Aubin (artist and engraver). Cul-de-lampe. Tail-piece to Mary M. Heaton, “David Scott,” L’Art 5 (v. 17, pt. 2) 1879: 38. Melville Memorial Room, Berkshire Athenaeum.

The Cul-de-lampe in Melville’s collection is a reproduction from the first volume of the catalog of the Orléans gem collection (Description des Principales Pierres gravées, 1:76; Bocher no. 705; Oresko, 520). This reproduction is the tail-piece in the same 1879 essay in L’Art whose head-piece and initial letter were by A. and G. Mitelli (CAT 114 and 115). It depicts Diana, the chaste goddess of the chase, sounding her horn, accompanied by her dog, inside a crescent. Below the crescent is a medallion from Milet (the ancient Greek city of Miletus) in which Diana, without clothing, holds a stag in one hand and her bow in the other. For adjacent pages of the 1780 Orleans catalog, Saint-Aubin had also reproduced two cameo portraits of Diana from ancient gemstones and designed an image in which five ancient coins bearing her image float on clouds between the horns of her crescent moon. These images are accompanied by a learned discussion of representations of Diana in the writings of Catullus, Horace, Ovid, and Virgil as well as on the ancient coins of Greece, Crete, and Syria (Description, 1:73-80).

In Melville’s print collection, the image of Diana and her dog within the crescent relate most closely to the two engravings after Claude Lorrain in which she and her dog appear with Cephalus and Procris (CAT 129 and 130). The image of Diana in the medallion relates more closely to the depiction of ancient gods and goddesses in Melville’s engraving of Ancient Greek and Persian coins and medals (CAT 1). The commentary that accompanied Saint-Aubin’s engraving in 1780 noted that images Diana in the nude, as in the medallion from Milet, were rare in the ancient world. The page of the 1879 essay that ends with Saint Aubin’s Cul-de-lampe is one of those in which Melville preserved his copies of Bosse’s Four Seasons (CAT 151-154).

That Melville was meditating on representations of Diana to the end of his life is show by the poem “Puzzlement” he left unpublished at his death. Its subtitle relates the puzzlement to “a figure left solitary on a unique fragment of Greek basso-relievo.” The opening lines identify the figure as Diana (Artemis in Greek mythology), deploying the customary attributes that also appear in St. Aubin’s etching: “A crescent bow—a quiver thrown / Behind the shoulder. A huntress own. It needs be Artemis.” The rest of the opening stanza expresses the puzzlement: “But, nay, / It breathes too much of Eve’s sweet way, / And Artemis is high, austere, / Chill as her moon, a goddess mere" (NN BBO 281).

After carefully exploring the posture, expression, and implications of the depicted figure, the poem ends with these further questions:

And Grand Art has it come to this?
Show’st thou the goddess, human yet—
The austere Artemis a coquette?
If so in sooth, some latter age
In faith’s decay begat such art—
Such impudence of sweet persiflage! (281-82).

Certainly these closing lines apply as well to St. Aubin’s cul-de-lampe as to the solitary fragment from a Greek basso relievo.