An extraordinarily rare, interesting and sumptuously decorated allegorical map of the Island of Felicity, produced for one of the first Masonic orders to admit women.
The map was designed and printed for l’Ordre de la Félicité. This short-lived Order was a quasi-Masonic secret society established in France in the early 1740s by Louis-Joseph Scipio La Garde, Marquis de Chambonas (d. 1765), a known Mason who served as its Grandmaster. The Order was unusual for admitting women as well as men, as well as for its idiosyncratic use of maritime terminology (For example, lodge masters were known as “chefs d’escadre,” roughly “commodores.”) The mixed membership and rather risqué character of some its rituals and vocabulary leave scholars divided about the Order’s true character: Was it a genteel society providing conviviality with a gloss of moral improvement, or in fact a haven for libertines given over to debauchery?
Much of what is known about the Order comes from pamphlets by journalist Jean-Pierre Moet (1721-1806), who later rose to great heights in French Masonry but is best remembered today as a translator of Swedenborg. The evidence Moët left is ambiguous. He insisted that the Order was not one “of the bottle and of debauchery,” yet some of his descriptions suggest otherwise.
“Apart from its arcane rites the main activity of the Order seems to have been feasting, with members participating in regular dinners which they financed jointly. They were supposed to converse using coded nautical terms, with fines for non-adherence. Moët was quite happy to reproduce a dictionary of this maritime vocabulary, despite its preoccupation not only with banqueting but with sexual innuendo. There are titillating references to the female anatomy – “promontory” for breasts, “capstan” for thighs, “dry dock” for belly and the like – to say nothing of “reefing the sails” for lifting up a skirt! The hierarchy of the Order was also referred to with special passwords based on acronyms; “felicitas” for the chefs d’escadre [i.e., Masters of local lodges] seems harmless but for patron salé the acronym is of “Fenouil, Orange, Violette, Thym, Renoncule, Épine-vinette” (Spell it out; it is not polite!)” (“Scandalous Societies: The “Order of Felicity,”” at Rodana: A Blog of 18th-century & Revolutionary French trivia)
According to one writer,
“The initiation consisted in a figurative and allegorical voyage to the Island of Felicity, to which the candidate was supposed to go, and in the course of which he met with dangers and difficulties, which produced suitable remarks from the President, and at length he or she arrived at the desired haven.” (A London Brother, “Sketch of the History of the “Loges d’Adoption,”” The Freemason’s Monthly Magazine, vol. 1 no. 7 (May 1, 1842), pp. 203-4)
Though this ceremony is not alluded to in any of the other secondary sources we examined, it may provide the backdrop for this extraordinary allegorical Carte de l’Isle de la Félicité.
The Carte de l’Isle de la Félicité
The map depicts a large Island of Felicity, with the Savage (or Wild) Sea to the north and the Favorable Sea to the South. Dominating the island is the fortified castle of Perfect Happiness. Vessels that successfully avoid the Rocks of Caprice, the Banks of Temptation, the Rocks of Prudery and other navigational hazards can anchor at one of several ports (Wealth, Beauty, Complaisance, Virtue, Equality, and of course Felicity), each with its own route to the castle of Perfect Happiness. Once on land, however, the voyagers are still not entirely safe: From the Port of Beauty, for example, the Path of Coquetry leads to a cesspool deep in the forest surrounding the castle of Perfect Happiness. Likewise, one must take care not to wonder off the Road of Talents, lest one become lost in the Swamp of Pleasures.
The engraving is sumptuously decorated with a decoupage border painted in watercolor and gold and featuring rococo decorative elements as well as symbols specific to Masonry and the Order of Felicity. The temple at lower left may represent the Temple of Solomon, for example; the hourglass and scythe at right represent the passage of time; and the letter “G” superimposed on a star at upper left is the “G” that appears on Masonic aprons, representing either God or Geometry, the latter considered by Masons to be the highest of sciences. For Masons the anchor at lower represented well-grounded hope, but it was also adopted by the Order of Felicity as its symbol (and may also be seen in the cartouche at top center of the printed map). The three figures at lower right—a Roman soldier, a woman and a king—may refer to the Christian slave Felicity, martyred in the 3rd century AD. At bottom center several putti bear a heraldic emblem with a fleur-de-lis surrounded by three shields on a blue ground, which we have yet to identify. The border is signed “Filliette” at lower left, probably a pseudonym as we have been unable to locate any artist by this name.
The date and imprint on our map have been obscured by the decoupage border, but J.-C. Bord’s article on the Order describes a similar map dated 1743 and bearing the imprint “Weis. Arg. [i.e., Strasbourg] Fecit.” As described by Bord, the map accompanied a certificate issued in 1745 by Chambonas to one of his “chefs de escadre.” Bord did not specify the location of that map, but an inventory of the Rothschild Collection of printed board games at Waddesdon Manor lists an example, though with no mention of an accompanying certificate. We have been unable to locate any other examples of the map and find no record of others having appeared on the market.
In all, a beautiful, fascinating and extraordinarily rare allegorical map, offering much opportunity for further research.
Phillippa Plock and Adrian Seville, “The Rothschild Collection of Printed Board Games at Waddesdon Manor,” Proceedings of the XIIIth Board Game Studies Colloquium, Paris, 14-17 April 2010, no. 269.1.18. Not in CCfr, COPAC or OCLC, and we find no other impressions of the map having appeared on the antiquarian market.
For background on l’Ordre de la Félicité, see: J. G. Bord, “Ordre de la Félicité,” L’Intermédiaire des chercheurs et des curieux, no. 1048 (Aug. 10 1904), pp. 169-170. Arthur Dinaux, Histoire des societies badines au XVIII siecle, 1867, vol. II, pp. 301ff. Hugues Plaideux, “Claude Bourrelet la franc-maçonnerie mixte et l’ordre de la félicité,” Bull.soc.fr.hist.méd.sci.vét, 2013, 13, pp. 109-130. A London Brother, “Sketch of the History of the “Loges d’Adoption,”” The Freemason’s Monthly Magazine, vol. 1 no. 7 (May 1, 1842), pp. 203-4. “Scandalous Societies: The “Order of Felicity,”” at Rodana: A Blog of 18th-century & Revolutionary French trivia.
This map is owned in partnership with HS Rare Books of Buenos Aires.
Backed on board, housed in an early gilt molding. Border with some minor abrasions and loss of color, some minor chipping to molding.