The Sorcerer and Gallant Ladies

Pierre de Bourdeille, seigneur de Brantôme (c. 1540 – 1614) is described as one of the most famous of French writers of memoirs. Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) calls him “a doubtful witness” admitting that “he has moreover, no sense of morality, in the modern meaning of the word.” René Doumic, the author of the article on Brantôme, concludes that he “is an uneven, incorrect, and rambling writer, but his works contain clever witticisms, imagination, and unexpected turns.”

Recently turning over the pages of his “Lives of fair and gallant ladies”, I’ve found the following notable paragraph in which Brantôme praises the beauty of the ladies who attended the Courts of French Kings of the previous generations (Henry II was the son of Francis I. He is famous due to one of the Nostradamus’ quatrains (CI, Q 35) in which, as is often said, the King’s death was predicted). Brantôme mentioned a witness who told him that once in a private company King Francis ordered a certain Master Gonnin to use all his witchcrafts and enchantments to show all that ladies undressed and stript naked.

No further details unfortunately. It could be an entertaining story. Imagine a King in his private circle. The King calls the sorcerer. The sorcerer arrives and hears an order given to him. He must show all the Ladies of the Court naked to the King… It’s incredible, what people were dreaming about!

Here is original hardly readable text (translation by A. R. Allinson).

Kings, Francis I., Henri II., and other Sovereigns his sons, will freely allow, whosoever he be and though he have seen all the world, he hath never beheld aught so fair and admirable as the ladies which did frequent their Court and that of the Queens and Princesses, their wives, mothers and sisters. Yet a still fairer sight would he have seen, say some, if only the grandsire of Master Gonnin had yet been alive, who by dint of his contrivances, illusions, witchcrafts and enchantments could have shown the same all undressed and stript naked, as they say he did once in a private company at the behest of King Francis. For indeed he was a man very expert and subtile in his art of sorcery ; whose grandson, the which we have ourselves seen, knew naught at all in this sort to be compared with him.

As to Brantôme, nakedness might be more honest than dressing. He writes (what standards of beauty!): “Many women there be whose pretty, chubby faces make men fain to enjoy them yet when they do come to it, they find them so fleshless the pleasure and temptation be right soon done away.” He refers to some dames who used to employ little cushions or pads, very soft and very delicately made in order to deceive men. He also gives favorable review about men and women in Switzerland who “meet promiscuously in the baths, hot and cold, without doing any dishonest deed, but are satisfied with putting a linen cloth in front of them. If this be pretty loose, well! we may see something, mayhap agreeable or mayhap not, according as our companion is fair or foul.

So, Brantôme may definitely be mentioned as one of the first who promoted nudism in Renaissance Europe. 🙂

Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1636, National Gallery, London

Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1636, National Gallery, London

P.S. I’ve chosen the painting by Peter Paul Rubens as an illustration for the post, since he may be considered almost as Brantôme’s contemporary and seemingly 🙂 shared the same standards of beauty.

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