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Pets and their Couples

Chardin, Charrière, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and Marivaux


Servanne Woodward

Baroque novels focus on the psychology of love, while love in the context of nature is the subject of the pastoral genre. Introducing animals to such texts proves unexpectedly challenging. The inclusion of pets in the artistic representation involves a reversal of scale and various modes of comedy, including socio-political satire. At a time when some writers fantasize that children can be born of a human-animal couple, or question the degree of free will and physiological determinism influencing human or animal actions, scientific and philosophical enquiries threaten to reduce the whole animated world to a physiology akin to one of automatons. It is a criticism levied by the sentimentaires against the libertines. Eventually, the study must be initiated with the monitoring of the modulated and variable conceptions of the persons constituting a «couple» and the status of the «pet».
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Chapter One


1.   “The Bird-Organ” (“La Serinette”) 1751–1753, by Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699–1779)

In the stream of light coming from the window, Chardin’s second wife, while all dressed in white, activates a bird-organ to encourage her caged canary (serin) to imitate the tune. The piece is small, much like the two other genre paintings Chardin had previously given to Louis XV: “La Mère laborieuse” (“Mother Working”, 1740, 39 x 49 cm), and “Le Bénédicité” (“Grace”, 1740, 49 x 38 cm). Their diminutive size is expected in the subaltern genre depicting scenes from everyday life, and it is in fact one of the characteristics of genre painting. Chardin painted his second wife and their pet bird, a canary, and it is not properly a portrait either because of the diminutive scale. There is some doubt as to the identity of the model, although the lady appears to dwell in Chardin’s living room, and the yellow spot of paint must be a canary since it is in a large heavy cage set up in that room.

As for owning a singing canary (or perhaps a European serin) in his household, it must have been popular enough, since a machine was invented for that purpose.41 Monsieur Bernard is credited for designing and constructing the first serinette to “save the effort of puffing on pipes and flageolets” and his machine became an important status symbol.42 Apparently, among other birds, canaries were encouraged to...

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