DELAFOSSE, Jean-Charles
(b 1734, Paris, d. 1789, Paris)


French decorative designer, engraver and architect. In 1747 he was apprenticed to the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Poullet (d. 1775), but he seems not to have completed his apprenticeship. By 1767 he styled himself 'architecte et professeur pour le dessin'. In 1768 he published the first volume of his most important work, the Nouvelle iconologie historique. It contains 110 plates, nearly all engraved by Delafosse himself, with designs for furniture, decorative objects and architectural ornament in the heavy, classicising, Louis XVI style. In addition, each design bears a particular, usually complex, symbolic or iconological meaning, pertaining to an almost encyclopedic range of subject-matter.

In some of his designs Delafosse manipulated abstract shapes in new ways, using such forms as truncated columns, cones, pyramids, spheres, discs and rectangles, sometimes carefully shaded to appear simultaneously three-dimensional and flat. His compositional methods were characteristic of the most revolutionary architectural designs of the period, such as those of Étienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. In these images he used discrepancies of size, employing Piranesi's device of juxtaposing tiny human figures with immense architectural elements, sometimes heavily rusticated to emphasize the contrast further; reversals of weight and balance; and spatial ambiguities, playing off three-dimensional objects against two-dimensional shapes. He divorced familiar architectural elements - the base of a column, a pediment, a single Ionic volute - from their usual functions and placed them in new and witty contexts.

Delafosse was responsible for two houses (1776-83) in the Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, Paris: the Hôtel Titon and the Hôtel Goix. They show little structural innovation, but their ornamentation reveals characteristic touches: at the Hôtel Titon there are lions' heads decorating the main entrance, laurel branches above the doors, friezes of classical arabesques between the floor levels in the inner courtyard and two large classical urns in niches in the vestibule.

In 1780 Delafosse was in Bordeaux, where in 1781 he became a member of the Académie de Peinture. In 1789 he joined the Garde National, Paris, and he is known to have played an active role in the Revolution.