Alain-René Lesage & Gil Blas de Santillane
Alain-Rene Lesage (1668-1767) was a French novelist and playwright. His novel The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane is considered a masterpiece of the picaresque genre. It was published as a succession of serials between 1715 and 1735.
The story of Gil Blas:
Gil Blas is the son of a stableman and a chambermaid. He is born in Oviedo and raised by his uncle, who does his best to educate him. As soon as Gil Blas is seventeen, his uncle decides to send him to the University of Salamanca, so he can get on in the world. But on his way to Salamanca, Gil Blas is captured by robbers and is forced to help them, which threatens his brilliant future. From there on, he goes from adventure to adventure, but manages, thanks to his wit and resourcefulness, to raise himself within the social system. In the process he reveals, in a satirical vein, many negative aspects of the different classes of society he is confronted with, making him the epitome of the picaresque hero.
This illustration is a good example of the specificity of the prints in Gil Blas: unlike the other works displayed, which mostly focus on eroticism, the artists here chose to emphasize the novel’s satirical aspect. For example, in the scene which this print illustrates, Gil Blas is introduced to an old canon, described in the text merely as being in poor physical condition. But the image suggests a lot more than this: it uses the common stereotype of the fat churchman, living in luxury thanks to his profits, and we understand that his bad health is mainly due to his excesses of food and drink.