Variations: Chiche-face, Chiche Face, Chichefache, Chechiface, Chincheface, Chiche; Chichevache, Chichivache (erroneously), Thingut, Pinch-Belly (English)
Chicheface is as starved as its counterpart Bigorne is satisfied. This etiolated creature was said to feed solely on wives who obeyed their husbands, and as such was skeletal and malnourished. Of French origin, it featured in a number of facetious works from the 15th century and on. Both Bigorne and Chicheface are notably represented in frescoes at the Chateau de Villeneuve, in Auvergne, by Rigault d’Aurelle.
Some confusion has resulted over the name. Chiche face means “thin face”, possibly derived from the Spanish chico, “small” (although Chapoulaud suggests a separate derivation from the patois chichou, “puppy”). Corruption of this word through intermediaries like chichefache has led to the alternate spelling of chichevache, “thin cow”, popularized in English.
There is very little of the bovine in Chicheface. It is somewhat like a terrifyingly thin werewolf, barely skin and bones. Its head and body are those of a wolf, its forelegs are clawed and its hindlegs are hooved.
Satire featuring Chicheface revolves around the lack of good and submissive women, and usually begs wives to remain independent and willful. Le dit de Chicheface (“The say of Chicheface”), preserved in the Auvergne mural, depicts Chicheface with its prey in its mouth. Chicheface laments its lot in life – Moy que lon appelle Chiche Face / Très maigre de coleur et de face (“I who am called Chiche Face / Very thin of color and face”). The woman held in its jaws is the only thing it’s found to eat in ten thousand years. Des ans il y a plus de deux cens / Que ceste tiens entre mes dens / Et sy ne lose avaler / De peur de trop longtemps jeuner (“For more than two hundred years / I’ve been holding her between my teeth / And I dare not swallow her / For fear of fasting too long”). As for the long-suffering woman, she regrets her decisions in life, having done everything her husband told her to do, and begs wives not to do the same – Vous qui vivez au demourant / Ne veulez pas come moi faire (“You who live at home / Do not do as I did”).
Jubinal’s satirical poem on the life of Saint Genevieve mentions Chicheface in a warning addressed to the saint: Gardez-vous de la Chicheface / El vous mordra, s’el vous rencontre (“Beware of the Chicheface / It will bite you, if it meets you”). In the Life of Saint Christoffle, we are given the curse Va, que tu soys confondu / Orde, sanglante chiche face! (“Go, may you be confounded / Vile, bloody chiche face!”). Chaucer mentions “Chichevache” but not its plump companion. In the Clerk’s Tale, “noble wives full of high prudence” are warned not to imitate the good and patient Griselda “lest Chichevache you swallow in her entrail”. In Lydgate’s Of Bycorne and Chichevache it is “Bycorne” who eats submissive wives, inverting the roles.
The skinnier Chicheface has proven more enduring than its rotund companion. Various carved grotesques have been described as the Chiche without further elaboration. In all likelihood Chicheface’s existence may have preceded the misogynistic legend attached to it, and it continued to exist in the popular mind as a sort of hideous bogey.
Allou, C. N. (1821) Description des Monumens des Differens Ages. F. Chapoulaud, Limoges.
Barber, R. and Riches, A. (1971) A Dictionary of Fabulous Beasts. The Boydell Press, Ipswich.
Jannet, P. (1849) Bigorne et Chicheface. Journal de L’Amateur de Livres, t. I, P. Jannet, Paris.
Jubinal, A. (1837) Mystères Inédits du Quinzième Siècle, t. II. Téchener, Paris.
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de Montaiglon, A. (1855) Recueil de poésies francoises des XVe et XVIe siécles, t. II. P. Jannet, Paris.
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