“… an officer, who wishes to be employed in reconnoitrings, should studiously apply himself to figure drawing…” Charles Stanislas de Malortie, A Treatise of Topography, 1815
Banish the image of the ‘life-model’ partially draped in cloth, eyes lowered, pose demur; surrounded and ogled by ‘agitated’ teenage cadets. This is not the scene Malortie was proposing. Rather than bare flesh on display as substitute for the “various and sometimes so graceful curves which the courses of water and the undulations of soil describe”, his recommendation was for officers training to be surveyors and engineers to study ‘antique statues’: the stony equivalent of the scantily clad. This Friday afternoon as part of Rethinking Objects (see Events, or come if you can). I’m offering a lightning reconnoitre of Body Doubles: the body as substitute for landscape, flattened (as drawn object). Malortie eloquently espouses on the ‘striking analogy’ between map making and figure drawing: “Experience has shewn that this kind of drawing is the foundation of all others, and that a Draftman, [sic] who is properly acquainted with it, has no difficulties to apprehend in any other kind.”
Malortie drew on teaching methods in use in France in the early 1800’s, techniques that: “combined mathematical analysis and artistic style.” He was based with the Military Academy in Woolwich, where Charles Hutton taught. In his Treatise, he encouraged use of the body as: “an aid to interpreting the curves of the landscape”. Unfortunately, the only example I currently have of a sketch thus drawn by cadets is the one above (I owe a huge debt of thanks to Yolande Hodson for the loan of a slide of this). It’s not clear if the drawing is from a cast or from another sketch, I assume the latter as it is very prettily done. It is dated somewhat later than Malortie’s Treatise, though the original sculpture depicted was created in 1787. It is possible that the Academy held a replica of it throughout the 1800’s for the drawing practice of cadets. Malortie revels in his descriptions of the “rents, defiles, depressions, and anfractuosities” of mountains, offering “numberless resemblances” one to another, and thus implies the same of the sculpted body; that through its ‘curves’, ‘undulations’, ‘bendings’ and ‘sinuosities’, we grasp the relational nature of ‘hip to spine’, and can conceive of it as stand-in for ‘crest to col’. The body as ‘body double’ for terrain on maps, before the battle for contour lines was fought and won. As advocate of regular drawing practice for the officer cadets, I love the passion – nay ardour – of Malortie’s exhortations: “the habit of handling his pencil with ease and lightness will enable him to express quickly that multiplicity of windings, contours, and curves, indefinitely varied…” Indeed.