dungeon of love, Berlin

Our friend and colleague Dominique Brancher went away from our symposium armed with a set of Dominic Hills’s prints of the Dungeon of Love, to fly-post them around Berlin.

Here we see the Dungeon on display outside the Trinkteufel, a punk bar in Kreuzberg, one of the trendiest districts in Berlin.



And here on a road sign at the intersection of Adalberstrasse and Naunynstrasse (also in Kreuzberg). Another fly-poster has put up the word ‘easy’, as if it were easy to break into (or out of?) the Dungeon.Berlin




And finally at a club on the banks of the Spree, the river which goes across Berlin, Club der Visionäre (The Club of the Visionaries), Treptow. 

BerlinDominic Hills takes inspiration from old French naughtiness, Japanese print-making and revolutionary art from the May ’68 student rebellion in Paris. Japanese print-making also catered for working-class culture, including advertising, while the May ’68 revolutionary posters produced by art students turned Paris into a gallery for strange and rebellious images.

Fly-posting the Dungeon in Berlin is in the same incongruous, rebellious, democratic, immediate, surreal , intrusive, and fun spirit.


Forger sur l’enclume de nature (To forge on nature’s anvil)

Here is Dominic Hills’s latest print inspired by a combination of a Renaissance double-entendre and posters from the May 1968 protests in France.

Forger sur l'enclume de nature © Dominic Hills

The French expression comes from Bruscambille (see previous posts), in a speech of his in praise of night (see subtitles below if needed):

Pour donques vous montrer evidemment que tant s’en faut que la nuict soit pernicieuse & dommageable : mais au contraire, tres-utile & profitable, combien pensez-vous qu’il y en ait en la compagnie qui ont esté faits & forgez du marteau naturel sur l’enclume de la nature en une seule nuict ?

To show you clearly that it is hardly likely that night is pernicious and damaging but that it is instead very useful and profitable, how many do you think of the assembled company were made and forged with the natural hammer on the anvil of nature in a single night?

In addition to the anvil of nature and the natural hammer, there are, among other things, the crossbow, the croissant, the flute, the gutter, the labourer, the library, the pestle, the door, and the tambourine of nature too…

Illustrating and Animating Renaissance Nonsense

In an earlier post, I gave some excerpts from a nonsense love poem from 400 years ago that has survived in a manuscript in a library in Paris. Dom Hills has illustrated and animated two of the nonsensical images from this poem, which you can see here:


This 3D concertina print, known as a Polyorama Panoptique, takes us through a key-hole to show us an anvil looking askance at a hammer, as well as a dozen elephants in a plum stone. Such strange and impossible images that are so characteristic of nonsense oblige the reader to do a mental double-take, perfectly illustrated here by a 3D print that also obliges us to shift perspective, steadily revealing new nonsense, much as the poem does.

Un cul de ménage, il y a à boire et à manger (A household arse, food and drink supplied)

Here is Dominic Hills’s video animation of his print of an old French saying about a big bottom, ‘a household arse, food and drink supplied’ (‘un cul de ménage, il y a à boire et à manger’):

Those with good French will notice some deliberate mistakes in the spelling, to mimic the printers’ errors that are so frequent in early printed books and that annoyed authors, who would complain about their printers in prefaces typset by those same printers.

One such author was Bruscambille (see previous posts) who, at the end of his speech in praise of the pleasure of defecation (‘En faveur de la félicité chiatique’) comments that  ‘escornifleurs’, that is to say, in Cotgrave’s translation, ‘A base pickthanke, or parasite; greedie feeder, or smell-feast; one that carries tales, jeasts, or newes from house to house, thereby to get victualls’, or, in the deflatingly prosaic modern vernacular, a ‘freeloader’, will always find in the loos of great houses ‘some household arse, who will save them something to eat and drink’ (‘quelque Cul de mesnage, qui leur conservera à boire et à manger’).

Bruscambille’s audience would have recognized this expression. As if to demonstrate how widespread it was, modern dictionaries note that the heir to the throne, the not quite three-year-old future Louis XIII, was introduced to it in August 1604. In his journal, Louis’s doctor, Jean Héroard, notes the following exchange between the young prince and one of the courtiers:

“Monsieur, voilà Mama dondon qui a un cul de mesnage où il y a à boire et à manger”. Respond: “Et moy aussy”. “Par où boit-on?” Resp.: “Par là”, monstrant sa guillery. “Par où mange-t-on?’ Resp.: “Pa là”, monstrant de la main son derriere en sousriant. (ed. Foisil, I, 504).

[“Sir, there’s Mama fatty with her household arse, food and drink supplied”. Replies: “Me too”. “Where does one drink from?”. Reply: “From there”, pointing to his willy. “Where does one eat from?”. Reply: “From there”, gesturing towards his bottom and smiling.]

Cotgrave translates ‘dondon’ as ‘A short, fat, and grosse woman; a femall bundle of farts’. Indeed, the household arse is not to be confused with the household fart (‘pet de ménage’), which is found in Rabelais among others, although the household fart also comes with food and drink supplied…

Nonsense love poetry (a dozen elephants playing the violin in a plum stone)

One of the great things about working on a project like this is to find in a library in Paris a nonsense love poem that has been lying around for a few centuries and which turns out to be a rather lovely thing from the past. Here is a sample:

Mais quand douze Elephans dans un noyau de prune

Joueront du Violon aux rayons de la Lune

On verra dans vos beaux yeux reluire Cupidon

Car si vostre merite avoit pris ses lunettes

Tous les quatre Elemens danseroient les sonnettes

Et se feroient la barbe avec un Espadon.


But when twelve elephants in a plum stone

Will play the violin in the moonbeams

Cupid will be seen shining in your beautiful eyes

Because if your merit had worn its glasses

All four elements would dance like little bells

And would shave with a short sword.

The last stanza rhymes liberty with fantasy, true freedom found in the imagination…:

Depuis que la vertu habite en l’Univers

L’Enclume a regardé le Marteau de travers

A cause que les Dieux boivent de l’Ambrosie

On a tant recherché dans l’antiquité

Qu’en fin on a treuvé que nostre liberté

Gist en la fantaisie.


Since virtue has lived in the universe

The anvil has looked askance at the hammer

Because the gods drink ambrosia

We have searched so much in antiquity

That in the end we have found that our liberty

Lies in fantasy.

Jus d’andouille (sausage juice)

In 1640, in his French Curiosities, the royal interpreter, Antoine Oudin, helpfully defines an old expression, ‘jus d’andouille’ (sausage juice) as ‘sperm’. In our more innocent times, should you search for ‘jus d’andouille’ on google you will find that it’s the name of an aperitif or even a by-product used as a substitute for petrol. Here Dominic Hills re-animates the old meaning. Anyone interested in pursuing the role of pork products in French Renaissance literature should of course consult Rabelais’s Fourth Book (1552), in which Friar John leads a regiment of cooks to battle fiendish female sausages, led by their queen, Niphleseth (‘Penis’ in Hebrew).

Pescher des estrons au clair de la lune (To fish for turds in the moonlight)

Pescher des estrons

In a speech on the creation of women by Bruscambille, various characters, including a fool and a midget, put forward different versions of the origin of the fairer sex. The midget claims that the first woman was created from a cart. At the request of the man driving the cart, it was turned into something nicer, namely a woman, its shafts becoming her thighs, which is why women are still so keen to be shafted. Yet the others reject the midget’s version of events and send him off to Montmartre to fish for turds in the moonlight (‘pescher des estrons au clair de la lune’). A sign perhaps that Montmartre, then a village outside of Paris, was a place where men would go to … fish for turds in the moonlight.

‘Crache-moy au cul, je te chieray au nez’/The dungeon of love

In a speech in praise of spit, the comedian Bruscambille refers to the French proverb ‘Crache-moy au cul, je te chieray au nez’, that is to say ‘Spit in my arse and I’ll shit in your face’. The proverb doesn’t appear to feature in any dictionary from the seventeenth century or more modern times. Could this be an example of the oral tradition, the kind of thing people were saying to one another in France four hundred years ago? Proverbial lore? It’s certainly a striking image and you can see an animated illustration of it by Dominic Hills.

The same speech refers to newlyweds breaking open the doors of the dungeon of love with a rocket greased with spit. In an earlier speech, in praise of the pubic louse, the louse was held up as the guardian of the dungeon of love. Here is that same dungeon, as re-imagined by Dominic Hills.

Taking things to excess?

In 1647, the grammarian and prime mover in the emasculation of the French language, Claude Favre de Vaugelas, remarked in his Remarks on the French Language of his pride in knowing a man who never pronounced the word ‘thing’ (‘chose’) because it was a word with which people make dirty jokes.

Here is a poem from the Satyres bastardes or Bastard Satyrs of 1615 of which Vaugelas would not have approved:

Mon chose veut choser vostre chose : mais chose
Garde que je ne puis enchoser vostre chose
Or si chose à la fin ne vous laisse enchoser
Je le choseray tant qu’il s’en ira choser.

My thing wants to thing your thing: but thingy
Make sure I can’t in-thing your thing
But if in the end thingy doesn’t let you in-thing
I’ll thing him until he things off.

Jeu du bilboquet sans chandelle (Cup and ball game with the lights off)


Jeu du bilboquet [print]

This is Dominic Hills’s first print illustration of a Renaissance double-entendre (see Gallery for other examples). The phrase ‘Jeu du bilboquet sans chandelle’ (literally, cup and ball game without a candle) comes from a speech by the early seventeenth-century French stand-up Bruscambille, when he describes intervening in an argument between the king of the gods, Jupiter, and his long-suffering wife, Juno, about which sex gains most pleasure from … the cup and ball game with the lights off.

The gods initially turned to Tiresias, who was born a man but became a woman for seven years, to settle their dispute. Bruscambille goes to the heavens to support Tiresias’s judgement that women gain more sexual gratification than men. Indeed, he says that if any man in his audience is arguing with his wife on this very topic they should send her along to him, so he can prove that she can gain more pleasure in under fifteen minutes than a man could get in an entire day…