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Laurent and Victor Franconi, prestigious equestrians

About Laurent Franconi and his son Victor, prominent and famous equestrians in the 19th century, there is no hagiographer, no biographer, no book dedicated to their lives or their works. It is then necessary to cross the readings, press clippings and chapters or mentions in books. Among these readings, there are the pages of Baron de Vaux, man of letters from the 19th century, fond of horse riding and sports. He wrote about 20 books, numerous articles and chronicles. He was himself an excellent rider and also a fervent defender of the Baucher method. A lively relai  in the Parisian society, he is at the heart of literary, equestrian and sporting circles.  As a witness of his time and assiduously sharing his views and opinions, his works are extremely interesting to caprure anecdotes, exchanges and opinions about his contemporaries.

His book, Les Hommes de cheval depuis Baucher : les grands maîtres, les écuyers, les hommes de cheval, les cavaliers, 1888, draws the portrait of about forty horsemen, key actors of the equestrian world in the 19th century. The horse and horsemanship irrigating the military, economic, sporting and artistic worlds, the description of these characters and their relationships with their peers, allows us to better understand their role and their reputation.

Among the Equestrians mentioned by the Baron de Vaux, three have been retained by History as entertainment equestrians : Laurent Franconi, his son Victor Franconi, and Ernest Molier- who had a riding school and an armory which were the rendez-vous for elective evenings in the eponymous Molier Circus  dedicated exclusively to equestrian exercises.

What is striking, in the book and when Vaux compares the 3 equestrians he much admires, is how much the Baron dwells on equestrian culture and how the Franconis mastered Haute école references and practices, describing them as topnotch experts, influencers and references in the history of horsemanship that was going through a real turning point in the 1830' and 1840's.

Above all, Laurent Franconi as his son Victor Franconi - Charles, son of Victor is also mentioned briefly -  are depicted in the section devoted "Equitation savante" (horsemanship) alongside prestigious names such as Raabe, Lunel, Gaussen, Guérin, Lhotte ; Ernest Molier, alone, occupies the "Circus riding" part.

The Baron de Vaux published his work in 1888. Half a century earlier, during the 1830s, Laurent Franconi like François Baucher, were  both considered by the keenest critics of the equestrian world as equestrian-acrobats because they presented their know-how in the circle.Equestiran showmen being more and more numerous, at the end of the 19th century, the hierarchy of skills and types of recognition by the equestrian community no longer oppose riding school and showmanship but rather the implications and the contribution of each to equestrian knowledge. There, at top of the pyramid of influences stood the Franconi.

While the historical mentions of Laurent and Victor Franconi retain their role as circus directors, admittedly equestrians, presenting the pages that Baron de Vaux devotes to them lets us grasp their impact on equestrian art along with their contemporaries' consideration and the value attributed to their contributions to horse riding. Their influence has been as great and decisive for the history of horse riding as it has been for the circus.

On the subject of the distinction between entertainment horsemen and riding school horsemen, see DuThéâtre équestre au Cirque , p.280 et sq.)

About Laurent Franconi, by Baron de Vaux

Laurent Franconi (1776-1849)  was reputed to be an excellent equestrian. Already as a young man, in 1795, he trained Eugène de Beauharnais before becoming the professor of the princes of the Orleans family, for which the king delivered him a certificate several decades later, in 1847. In the meantime, his classes trained several generations, among the famous, the gentry and whole battalions of the army. 

General Lhotte writes of him that "he was a magnificent horseman, a majesty on horseback ". However, the remarks about his excellence, his influence and especially the respect devoted to his qualities as a horseman are scattered. So this extract from the work of Baron de Vaux has the interest -  through the anecdote it describes -  to refer to a particularly reverent exchange when Laurent Franconi was invited to the Saumur riding school in 1843. The Commander-in-Chief of Novital (1796-1856), a profoundly Baucherist who had trained his horse Ourphaly according to this method, offered his mount to his guest and admired the mastery of Laurent Franconi whom he considered an admirable and undisputed master. Nevertheless, it is necessary to cross this text with other testimonies to know what Laurent Franconi really thinks of the Baucher method (see below).

Baron de Vaux Les Hommes de Cheval depui
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba

About Victor Franconi, by Baron de Vaux

About Victor Franconi (1811-1897), Baron de Vaux develops more extensively his contributions to horsemanship, no less brilliant than that of his father. From the author's point of view, Victor Franconi's made significant additions to equestrian art and horsemanship.

If Victor Franconi's treatises on horsemanship were notoriously successful  ( Le Cavalier , 1855 and L'Ecuyer , 1860) and met several editions plus the reunion of the 2 volumes in 1891, Baron de Vaux - besides using once again the experience of one of its protagonists to promote the Baucher method - clearly describes the work conditions of Franconi. He shows how much daily practice in varied and constrained conditions make Victor Franconi not only a powerful master of the classical methods but also a supporter of pragmatic riding, capable of to crossing and intertwining the influences of equestrian art according to horses and riding circumstances. 

Baron de Vaux Les Hommes de Cheval depui
Baron de Vaux Les Hommes de Cheval depui
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba
Baron de Vaux Hommes de Cheval depuis Ba

Laurent Franconi on the Baucher method

A letter from Jules Pételard, a military veterinarian in Saumur, gives an account of Laurent Franconi's opinion of François Baucher's method. Franconi knew Baucher all the better because they had not only frequented each other assiduously for several years, but they had collaborated together, especially during their experiment to launch a Circus at Le Pecq with Jules Pellier in 1837.

Present during the few weeks when Laurent Franconi settled at the Saumur cavalry school in 1843, Pételard reports a year later, the effect of the écuyer's performances on the audience and his exchanges with the experts gathered around his demonstrations.

This summer of 1843 - like the summer of 1844 for that matter - was a crucial moment in the debates that have agitated the equestrian sphere since 1840: indisputed maître écuyer, François Baucher developed an admired method for "bending" the horses  (see Du Théâtre équestre au cirque, pp. 315 and sq). But is this method of dressage able to serve the instruction of the military cavalry compared to that of the Count d'Aure who privileges an equitation which follows the natural dash of the horses?

Laurent Franconi's answer is a valuable point of view for military professionals and experts. Admired for his qualities as a rider, respected for his practice as well as for his activity as a teacher, all of his abilities embody his knowledge of horses and dressage. His opinion on the applications of the Baucher method is therefore nourished by his experience and makes his remarks all the more valuable for his interlocutors.

Also when Laurent Franconi recognizes the indisputable qualities of the Baucher method for riding in the manège but opposes its application " to war horses in cavalry corps " his opinion is all the more determining and implacable as it is based on circumstance pragmatism which places at the forefront the conditions and the context of application of the method. Franconi recalls that only riders of very high level are able to know and master  the horse according to the Baucher method, explicitly meaning the level of qualification required as, implicitly the conditions of such a practice: the riding school. The needs of the army, the training often conducted by young soldiers do not offer the conditions to train the mounts following the Baucher method: the inexperience of the trainers, as well as the quantity of mounts to train would make the appropriation of the method potentially harmful  even detrimental for mounts, as for the objectives of the Army.

Friend and collaborator of Baucher, real advocate of his method, Laurent Franconi would have openly declared, according to Jules Pételard, that he does not recommend the transposition to the Army. Four years later, in 1847, the Viscount of Aure was appointed head of the cavalry school of Saumur.  

See below,  "Lettre de Jules Pételard" in Journal des Haras, chasses, des courses de chevaux, d'agriculture appliquée à l'élève du cheval et des bestiaux en général. recueil périodique, Tome I, 4e série. Au Bureau du Journal, des Haras, rue Duphot, 1844 (pp. 70-72)

Petelard 1844 Franconi Saumur Baucher Co
Petelard 1844 Franconi Saumur Baucher 0.
Petelard 1844 Franconi Saumur Baucher 1.
Petelard 1844 Franconi Saumur Baucher 2.

François Baucher au sujet de Laurent Franconi...

Dans son Dictionnaire raisonné d'équitation (1833), François Baucher consacre un paragraphe au sujet de la voltige. Paragraphe déterminant car il pose, au-delà de la définition du "voltigeur", la distinction entre l'écuyer et le saltimbanque (sans pour autant associer piste, cheval , spectacles ou cirque). L'incarnation de sa définition est justement Laurent Franconi miroir inversé en quelque sorte de l'homme-de-cheval-écuyer-qui-se présente-en-piste, qu'est Baucher lui-même. La mise en spectacle apparaît comme l'hybridation entre la maitrise des grands principes et la démonstration de performances à cheval au grand public. Par l'exemple de Laurent Franconi et par l'effet du trait d'union, naissent à la fois une distinction et une profession: l'écuyer-voltigeur. Cependant si Laurent Franconi maîtrise les deux dimensions, Baucher entre en piste sans voltiger.

"VOLTIGER c'est l'action de sauter sur le cheval soit qu'il reste en place, soit qu'il galope.

On confond souvent sous le même titre les écuyers et les voltigeurs, quoiqu'il n'y ait entre eux aucun rapport, les études de l'équitation et de la voltige étant entièrement différentes. Il est vrai que le voltigeur est toujours à cheval, ce qui, jusqu'à un certain point et aux yeux du vulgaire, l'assimile à l'écuyer ; mais le plus souvent, il néglige et ignore les principes de l'équitation. Soit que la voltige captive toute son attention, soit que l'habitude de ses mouvements de corps et de jambes l'empêche de se fixer dans une même position, toujours est-il que les voltigeurs, sauf quelques exceptions rares, sont loin d'être de bons écuyers. M. Laurent Franconi, dont je me plais à reconnaître la haute capacité, était nécessairement dans l'exception. Il pouvait à bon droit revendiquer le titre d'écuyer. On devrait donc, pour distinguer les voltigeurs, des danseurs de corde et des écuyers, ajouter un trait d'union entre ces deux titres, et dire écuyers-voltigeurs." François Baucher, 1833.

Also about the Franconi...

The Franconi Dynasty
The Franconi
on the
Opera stage
at the circus:
the secret is
in the saddle
Equestrian theaters and circuses in Paris
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