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Reviewed by:
  • 'Salammbô' dans les arts dir. by Gisèle Séginger
  • Jennifer Yee
'Salammbô' dans les arts. Sous la direction de Gisèle Séginger. (La Revue des lettres modernes; Gustave Flaubert, 8.) Paris: Lettres modernes Minard, 2016. 383 pp., ill.

Under the capable direction of Gisèle Séginger, this well-balanced collection explores the extraordinarily rich response to Flaubert's Salammbô in painting, illustration, graphic [End Page 442] novels, sculpture, caricature, opera, and cinema. In the light of Flaubert's sarcastic comments about the idiocy of attempting to draw a Carthaginian armchair, the sheer breadth of this response in the visual arts arguably gives rise to a certain underlying irony. It might, of course, stand as counter-evidence to his fear that even the weakest picture would devour verbal description, but several contributors suggest that responses to Salammbô constitute a dialogue with each other as much as with the novel itself. Bruno Gallice observes that the 1921 illustrations by Gaston Bussière pay homage to the 1900 illustrations by Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse (both were published, along with illustrated editions of other works by Flaubert, by the Librairie des Amateurs). These illustrations are in turn echoed in the 1925 film by Marodon, as we learn from Loïc Chevalier; the 1960 Italian peplum, in contrast, reduces the historic and exotic specificity of Salammbô in favour of more universal (and cheaper) imagery. The majority of visual responses to the novel focus on the eponymous heroine, frequently shown with her serpent, but others explore the violent crowd scenes, or muscular, dynamic male figures such as the Libyan mercenary Mâtho or the child Hannibal. The popularity of Salammbô as a subject from the 1880s onwards may in part reflect its topicality because of the French protectorate over Tunisia, which dates to 1881. Pierre Sérié argues that it is also part of a more general response to the horrors of 1870–71 that can be seen in the tendency, within the prestigious genre of history painting, towards realistically rendered macabre details. Visual responses to what Flaubert called his 'style cannibale' (quoted on p. 77) are particularly evident in the paintings and illustrations of Salammbô by Rochegrosse, who also illustrated several other orientalist nineteenth-century works in the early twentieth century. Most of the sixteen sculptural responses to Salammbô identified by Nigel Harkness also postdate 1880. Harkness situates these sculptures in relation to the novel's own almost Parnassian references to sculpture, and suggests that its multiple perspectives mean it can be read like a statue, with no fixed viewpoint. The contribution by Bruna Donatelli on Philippe Druillet's extensive roman graphique renderings of Salammbô offers lush ekphrastic descriptions of Druillet's lush visual effects. The contributions on opera by Nathalie Petitbon and Cécile Reynaud escape the irony mentioned above, given Flaubert's enthusiasm for stage performance in general, and desire for an opera adaption of Salammbô. The volume unfortunately includes few visual plates and, even with ample use of internet searches while reading, some nuances are not always evident (for example, Bussière's engraved illustrations for Salammbô seem more stylistically experimental than his soft-porn kitsch paintings of compliant, nude, exotic girls).

Jennifer Yee
Christ Church, Oxford
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 442-443
Launched on MUSE
2018-08-15
Open Access
No
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