Chartres Cathedral in France is famous perhaps mostly for its stained glass. From the 12th and early 13th centuries, the shimmering beauty of its intact colorful windows is unparalleled. Almost all the windows are “read” from left to right starting at the base and ascending to the top.
Most of the church was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1194 which destroyed much of the extant church and city. Notable exceptions were the mid12th-century west front with its royal doors and two contrasting towers. The rest of the church that is visited today – including, with a few exceptions, its magnificent stained glass windows – was rebuilt and crafted between 1195 and 1220.
These three doors of the West Royal Portal open directly onto the nave. They are an important part of what remains of the original mid12th century church since the rest of it was destroyed in the 1194 blaze. The portal displays a rigorous sculpture program taken from the Bible and Christian apocryphal writings. The precise identity of the column statues on either side of the doors is not certain.
The 12th century artist’s ambition was to concentrate the life of these statues in their faces. While Chartres cathedral’s flying buttresses and its stained glass are rightly world famous, some art historians believe that it is the statuary that is the cathedral’s most interesting aspect. The statuary certainly represents 12th century art at its zenith.
SOURCES: Chartres: Guide of the Cathedral, Étienne Houvet, revised Malcolm B. Miller, Editions Houvet-la Crypte, n.d.
FEATURE Image: Cook/DuPage Cos., Willow Springs, IL. The Worker, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Camp Chicago-Lemont, Company 612, est. June 4, 1933. Author’s photograph, 6/2018 6mb.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was a major program in President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Called “Mr. Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” there were over 50 such camps in Illinois alone and over 1000 special projects in the state between April 1933 and July 1942. The camp at Willow Springs was one of FDR’s first such camps established in spring 1933. The Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy indicates June 4, 1933 as the establishment date for Camp Chicago-Lemont, Company 612 in Willow Springs, Illinois.
The recent statue called The Worker was dedicated on June 3, 2001 to commemorate the dedication and spirit of the young men, aged 17 to 28 years old, who served in the CCC and specifically in Willow Springs, Illinois. The larger-than-life-sized bronze CCC Worker Statue stands at the intersection of Archer Avenue (Route 171) and Willow Boulevard in Willow Springs Woods, and is one of many such similar statues that stand on the American landscape in tribute to the men of the CCC.
The purpose of this government “alphabet” program, one of the New Deal’s most successful, was multi-faceted. The primary motivation was to address staggering unemployment numbers of up to 25% (and higher in certain pockets of the country) caused by the collapse of the private enterprise system in the Great Depression that started on Wall Street in October 1929. The CCC was specifically designed to give jobs to young men and so to relieve their families who had great difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression.
Camps proliferated all over the country in every state. In its nine years and 3 months duration the CCC employed upwards of 3 million young men between 17 and 28 years old. For their manual labor jobs related to conservation and the development of natural resources provided by the federal program, these men received their food, clothing, lodging, medical and dental attention, along with a paycheck of $30 a month (around $600 in today’s dollars), most of which ($25) had to be sent home to their struggling families. The popular program enjoyed wide bi-partisan and public support.
Each camp could house around 200 men and, while the lifestyle was quite simple, it beat panhandling on the streets in the mind of most of the CCC’s young enrollees.
The Emergency Conservation Work (EWC) Act, or CCC, was part of the Emergency Session of the 73rd Congress that FDR called on March 9, 1933, just days after his first inauguration. FDR promised if granted emergency powers he would have 250,000 men in camps by the end of July 1933. Senate Bill S. 598 was introduced on March 27, 1933, passed both houses of Congress and was signed by FDR on March 31, 1933, less than one month into his 4-year term. Though opposed at first by Big Labor who feared that jobs would be filled by this army of non-union workers, the Roosevelt Administration went ahead and mobilized the men, material, transportation and necessary bureaucracy to establish the CCC on a scale never seen before in the United States in peacetime. Dated April l5, 1933, Executive Order 6101 authorized the program, appointed Robert Fechner (1876-1939) as its first director and established an Advisory Council with representatives from the War, Labor, Agriculture and Interior Departments. It was part of “the 100 days” that marked the passage into law of a series of 15 major bills during FDR’s first 100 days as the 32nd U.S. president.
The Federal program provided that these work projects took place mostly on rural lands owned by government entities. CCC workers throughout the country were credited with renewing the nation’s decimated forests by planting an estimated three billion trees between 1933 and 1942. Their work also revived the nation’s crumbling or nonexistent infrastructure.
The CCC was immensely popular, but Pearl Harbor effectively ended it. With the establishment of the draft and industry involved in the war effort, the government no longer needed to subsidize work. In 1942, the last CCC camps were dismantled or repurposed for the army.
With the exception of Social Security and the Rural Electrification Act, no program of the New Deal era has ever had a greater influence on the country. In Illinois alone, the impact was remarkable. Over 92,000 men worked in the CCC in the state. An estimated 60 million trees were planted, 400 bridges built, 1,200 miles of trail made and nearly 5,000 flood-control apparati put in place.
FEATURE image: Capt. A. Lincoln, Illinois Volunteer Militia, Black Hawk War, 1832, bronze, 1930. by Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944), Dixon, Illinois. The large bronze statue was the first prominent public depiction of the 16th U.S. president as a young adult man. Author’s photograph, 6/2017 4.70mb.
Illinois in the early 1830s was the edge of the American frontier and virtually wilderness. The Native American tribes were being expelled from the northern tier of the state established in 1818 by ceding their lands to the U.S Federal Government. Most of the Native Americans were pushed out of the state by treaty by the end of the 1820s. This quickly changed the landscape of a rapidly growing Illinois by way of new arrivals of settlers from the East in the 1840s and 1850s. Settlers were accompanied by ambitious commercial projects such as transportation canals and, even more impressive, the railroads, all of which worked to open up the Middle West of the United States to global markets and industrial prosperity.
Abraham Lincoln, born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1809, was 21 years old when he arrived into Illinois in 1830 with his family from Indiana. During the 1832 Black Hawk War, the 23-year-old Abe Lincoln lived in New Salem, Illinois, and was elected captain in the Illinois National Guard. The bronze statue, cast in 1930, of Lincoln in Dixon, Illinois, depicts for the first time a yet untapped aspect of the 16th president’s life and career for his ever-expanding public iconology – that of the youthful adult Lincoln starting out in his career.
Lincoln enlisted in the Illinois Volunteers on April 21, 1832 near Richland Creek in Sangamon County which was located about halfway between New Salem and Springfield, Illinois. The next day, Lincoln mustered into state service at Beardstown, Illinois, about 40 miles to the west on the Illinois River.
The 6-foot-4-inch Lincoln was elected captain, a position he said he was both surprised and proud to receive.
Lincoln mustered into U.S. service near Janesville, Wisconsin on May 3, 1832. He mustered out on May 27, 1832 in Ottawa, Wisconsin. Lincoln never fired a shot.
On that same day of May 27, 1832 Lincoln re-enlisted as a private in Captain Iles’ company. When that enlistment expired, Lincoln re-enlisted again in Captain Early’s company.
Lincoln finally mustered out of military service on July 10, 1832 at Whitewater, Wisconsin.
Young Lincoln was stationed in Dixon, Illinois, at Fort Dixon on the Rock River where this statue — unveiled in late September 1930 — stands. The sculptor is French-born Leonard Crunelle (1872-1944).
Crunelle’s immigrant family arrived in Illinois in 1889 and settled in Decatur, about 40 miles east of Springfield, Lincoln’s hometown. When Crunelle worked in the local mines, he started making fired clay sculptures. His work was brought to the attention of prominent American sculptor and teacher Lorado Taft (1860-1936) who brought young Crunelle to Chicago to study at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. At the same time, Crunelle began to do decorative work for the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.
The bronze sculpture of Lincoln – who later as a lawyer and politician expressed pride in his brief military service – is one of the first attempts to depict the Great Emancipator in his youth. Though Crunelle had made a statue called Lincoln the Debater for display in a park in Freeport, Illinois, in 1929 the slightly later Capt. A. Lincoln in Dixon, Illinois, depicted Lincoln more than half the great debater’s age.
FEATURE Image: The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, 10915 S. Lemont Road, Lemont IL. Author’s photograph, 7/2017 5.75 mb
Hierotopy derives from two Ancient Greek words meaning “Sacred Space” and in a specifically broad sense.
It is a term developed at the start of the 21st century by Alexei Lidov (b. 1959), a Russian art historian who specializes in Byzantium.
Hierotopy is the study of the creation and frequent re-creation of sacred spaces whose inter-disciplinary application extends to a vast array of media (i.e., images, shrines, architectural spaces, pilgrimage, song, incense, ritual, natural forces, such as light and darkness) as well as spans the areas of art history, archeology, cultural anthropology (diversity in social practice), ethnology (groups and culture), and religious studies.
What hierotopy is not is the study of the phenomenology of the sacred. Rather, it is a look at projects that express the sacred and the relationship of the sacred and the mundane. It is a universal language posited in a nearly infinite number of forms marked by creative human activity and expression.
As such, icons and other sacred artifacts, for example, are not seen only as isolated objects but as part of any wider project to express a wide scope of communication of the sacred and mundane. It is these projects themselves – including both their conceptual and artistic aspects, as well as the historical developments leading to their formation – which are the primary focus of hierotopic study.
In regard to this post of photographs, as hierotopy is the study of the creative direction of projects coordinating artists and specialists in shaping a unified and comprehensive vision of the relation of the sacred and mundane, these photographs are their own hierotopy project. In seeking to capture others’ creative projects in the communication of the sacred and mundane along with those embodied human interactions with or among them, each photographic image is its own original hierotopic project.
Hierotopic projects are not limited to churches and sanctuaries but can be landscapes, architectural compounds, and greater entities such as urban settings. While edifices and other macro-art and architecture are hiertopic, so are individual and simple yet equally powerful components such as the use of light in church architecture as well as sacred (including revealed religious and other) ceremonies, feasts, and folk customs.
While my photographs as a hiertopic project can include original sacred spaces which are those that appear as the result of a theophany (Ancient Greek meaning “appearance of a deity”) or a representative thereof, it can extend to its re-creation elsewhere, such as, popularly, a Lourdes grotto or Hindu prayer pole. Other hierotopic projects can involve less tangible ideas but look to express a higher order so that by way of the hierotopic project a common bond or experience on or towards such higher planes is manifested between the created sacred space and its human participant or beholder, such as, to start, the prayer labyrinth.
(49 seconds). Police in Lourdes, France, interrogate 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous following the 6th apparition (Feb. 21, 1858) at the grotto. From The Song of Bernadette (1943) starring Jennifer Jones for which Jones won the Academy Award that year for Best Actress.
FEATURE Image: Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Self-portrait, c. 1626–1627, Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://www.mba-lyon.fr/fr/article/simon-vouet In Simon Vouet’s self portrait painted in his final years in Rome he displays his signature rapid brushwork and desire for movement in the picture.
Simon Vouet was born into modest circumstances in Paris on January 9, 1590. After stays in England in 1604, Constantinople in 1611 and Venice in 1613 of which little is known, the French painter Simon Vouet (1590-1649) spent nearly 15 years in Rome starting around 1614. In 1624 Vouet was elected to lead the Accademia di San Luca, an artists’ association founded in 1593 by Federico Zuccari (1539-1609).
Most French painters born in the 1590s made a stay in Rome which influenced art in France in the 17th century. Vouet was in Italy, primarily in Rome, between around 1613 until 1627 and received a special privilege from the French crown in 1617. It was this traffic of young French, Flemish and other international artists between Italy and their home countries in the first third of the 17th century that, for France, helped revolutionize French art. This was achieved by way of the contemporary application of ideas and styles influenced by late Renaissance Italian realist artists such as the aesthetic of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and the history painting method of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), among many others, to which French artists were exposed while in Italy. In Rome Vouet, like other French artists such as Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), was patronized by Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) and Cavaliere del Pozzo (1588-1657), among others. In 1624 Vouet was commissioned to paint the fresco to accompany Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s and while greatly admired it was destroyed in the 18th century.
In addition to Rome, Vouet traveled to Naples, Genoa in 1620 and 1621, and, in 1627, Modena, Florence, Parma, Milan, Piancenza, Bologna and again Venice where he copied Titian (1488-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). During these visits Vouet studied the chief art collections that informed Vouet’s own style which amounted to a free form of temperate, classicized Baroque. This is the style, along with the latest Venetian-influenced brighter colors, vivid light, and painterly execution that Vouet returned and introduced to France in the 1630s. In France, Vouet had taken to himself as a painter his particular appreciation for the classicized compositions of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and the cool colors of Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674).
In 1627, King Louis XIII (1601-1643) called Vouet back to Paris to be his court painter. Vouet refined Caravaggio’s innovations into a style that would become the French school of painting starting in the 1630s and extending into the middle of the 18th century. Until about 1630 it was Late Mannerism which dominated in French painting and included unnatural physiognomy, strained poses, and untenable draperies. This changed with Vouet’s return who brought back from Italy a style with classical, realist, and Baroque painting components that was unknown in France until then and which Vouet stamped with his own style.
This painting entered the Louvre as a work of the Neapolitan school. It was recent scholarship that attributed it to Vouet which would make it one of his earliest portraits in Rome. Building on the premise, scholars have proposed Francesco Maria Maringhi (1593-1653), a Florentine patrician and lover and protector of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), as the model.
Vouet married twice. His first wife was a young Italian woman he met in 1625 – Virginia da Vezzo (1600–1638). In France Vouet’s wife, who bore him 4 children, was well received by the French court. After Virginia died in 1638, Vouet married Radegonde Béranger (b. 1615), a young beauty from Paris, in July 1640. Radegonde bore Vouet another 3 children (one died in infancy), and survived him.
The Birth of the Virgin was one of many paintings in a somber palette that Vouet produced in Rome influenced by Caravaggio though its mood is more vibrant. The composition is broad, low and somewhat setback from the picture plane. Amidst the swirling movement and vitality of the drawing and figures, including sumptuous draperies, it is observed that the head of the maid servant in the middle of the composition is modeled on one by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). These early qualities that Vouet had taken from Italian painting were, when he returned to France, taken over by a heightened decorative style in the 1630s and 1640s.
As Vouet stayed in Italy he increasingly turned to a Baroque style of which The Crucifixion with Mary and John in Genoa is an early example. The Appearance of the Virgin to St. Bruno in the Carthusian monastery of San Martino in Naples is a later and more fully realized Baroque style example. The atmosphere of each showing saints in ecstasy is a clear element in Baroque’s intensified and elaborated religious representation. In Italy Vouet’s paintings are more restrained than the full contemporary Baroque art of Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669) and his followers such that the French painter’s figure of the Virgin in his Naples’ picture tends towards a classical Renaissance tradition that would be an important part of the expression of French taste in the 1630s and 1640s.
The painting by Vouet towards the end of his Roman period, the identity of the young man above is unknown though speculation by modern scholars is impressive (i.e., St. Thomas Aquinas, among others). The painting’s copies are numerous which points to the composition’s success. These copies can be found in major museums throughout Europe.
In 1627 Vouet painted Saint Jerome and the Angel featuring an elderly bearded saint and a winged curly-haired angel holding a trumpet that signifies the Last Judgment. While the composition is Caravaggesque in its naturalistic depiction of half figures, stark lighting, and dark-brown palette, Vouet’s painting features brighter colors in the robes and clothes which was a departure from the Caravaggesque tradition and, among some contemporary artists in Rome in the late 1620s, an aesthetic innovation. The painting demonstrates Vouet’s superb fluid handling of paint which he brought back to and deployed in France starting in the 1630s.
Vouet was a leading French artist in Rome when asked to return to France by the king in 1627. At his arrival, though embraced by King Louis XIII and his mother, Marie de’ Medici, Vouet was kept at a distance by Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) who viewed the ambitious artist as a social climber. Though modest compared to the great collections in London and Madrid, Cardinal Richelieu collected about 272 pictures, the canvasses listed in an inventory compiled by Vouet and his student, Laurent de la Hyre. Though Richelieu succeeded in getting Poussin to return to France from Rome in 1641and as “First Painter,” this direct competition to Vouet was short-lived. Richelieu died in 1642 and Poussin left for Italy the same year.
The king set Vouet to the task of painting portraits of the court nobility though just one survives today – that of Richelieu’s secretary. In 1648, when the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was established – an organization that held monopoly power over the arts in France for the next 150 years – Vouet was not invited to join. Vouet understood that the academy, which included his pupils Le Brun and Le Sueur, was established in part as a generational shift that challenged his influence and authority. Vouet countered by modernizing the old painter’s guild but did not live to see the battle joined. He died of exhaustion in June 1649. The Academy went on to school artists, provide access to prestigious commissions, and hosted the Salon to exhibit their work. After Vouet’s death, the Académie soon rose to prominence with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, First Minister of State from 1661 until his death in 1683 under Louis XIV, as its protector and Charles Le Brun as First Painter and the Académie’s director.
Upon Vouet’s return to France in late November 1627, his French style set to work mainly on religious subjects which were admired by the public, particularly in diocesan and religious orders’ churches of Paris. As late as 1630, the eye of the Paris art consumer was used to prevailing late 16th century mannerism. It took time for the French to better accept Vouet’s new Caravaggesque naturalism. Further, while France was a so-called eldest daughter of the Catholic Church, Parisians did not share the intense religious enthusiasm that was the art expression in the papal states. Parisians did not fully accept the swirling heavenly masses found in Italian Baroque. In France Vouet had to temper his stylistic synthesis of classicism, naturalism and baroque as the French expression of and contribution to a great international style.
Vouet’s new and tempered French style is exquisitely represented in Madonna and Child (1633). During the religious reformation period in the 16th century one of the Catholic Church’s responses was the renewal of devotion to the Virgin Mary. This cult of the Virgin, once blossomed in the 12th century, was in renewed full maturity in the 1630s and even inspired the French king to dedicate his North American empire to her in 1638. Vouet painted more than a dozen compositions of the Virgin and her son at half-length. While the blank background and figurative monumentality remain from his Roman days, Vouet’s mastery of light and use of bright colors signal the realization of the new French style. The monumental figure of the seated Virgin depicted in a Mannerist and Classical synthesis holds her son on her lap and looks at him with drooping eyes.Her arm supported by the foundation of a classical column, Mary’s dark hair is held back by a fabric band as her neck and shoulder are exposed. The Christ child reaches up to kiss his mother, his body in a Baroque twist as he caresses her face. The brilliantly executed moment expresses intimacy and tenderness while maintaining religious seriousness.
The Bible story of depravity that Vouet depicts is that of Lot and his daughters found in Genesis 19. The angels have warned Lot who is an upright man that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed for its sins. As Lot’s family escapes, they are warned not to look back on the Divine destruction. Lot’s wife disobeys and is turned into a pillar of salt. Despairing of finding husbands where they are going and so carry on their own people, Lot’s daughters devise to get their father drunk and lie with him. Both daughters become pregnant in this way.
Vouet depicts Lot of the Old Testament story as they break the taboo of incest to carry on the race in desperate times using Renaissance artistic language of a god from pagan mythology. In place of moralizing, Vouet composes a sensual scene showing Lot, a male figure of late middle age, tasting the company of two nymph-like young women in a canvas filled with the attraction of the flesh and drunken debauchery. The lines and forms of Vouet’s new painting give priority to its narrative power which will be the manner of his artwork following his return to France. It is noted that Vouet used a contemporary engraving of an ancient relief to model the figure of the seated daughter.
Commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu for his Palais Royal’s Gallery of Illustrious Men the painting ofGaucher de Châtillon was set into one of its bays. The portrait was greatly admired in that generation for the figure’s resolute pose as well as the execution of Vouet’s drawing and painting. Critics assessed that since the pose and head were so artistically beautiful Vouet’s subject was not modeled from life but inspired by Carracci. Seeing the subject turned and from behind was in the Mannerist tradition that Vouet loved and adopted for this historical figure of Gaucher de Châtillon (1250-1328), a constable of France and advisor to Capet kings, Philip IV the Fair (1268-1314), and then to his sons, Louis X the Quarreler (1289-1316), Philip V the Tall (1293-1322) and Charles IV the Bald (1294-1328). The Louvre’s picture has been restored.
Back in France Vouet had a successful career as the painter of large decorations and religious and allegorical paintings. His studio was the largest international workshop and school in Paris. Vouet was a most sought-after and beloved teacher and his art collaborators were numerous (Le Brun, Le Sueur, Mignard, Du Fresnoy, Le Nostre, among others). Per usual practice among professional artists in Europe, those with talent were encouraged to marry into the master’s family so to keep the training, skill and social connections “in house.”
The 1630’s began an age of cultural realignment and reorientation in France that would remain until about the French Revolution. In 1634 the Académie Française was founded under Cardinal Richelieu. In 1637 René Descartes published in French his Discourse on Method (“Je pense, donc je suis” “I think, therefore I am”) ushering in radical subjectivity in philosophical thought. That same year Peter Corneille’s Le Cid was produced, the first great stage play. In 1640 the Imprimerie Royale was founded to publish scholarly books and improve societal erudition. The decade’s innovations continued to transform culture over the next 30 years. By the 1660s French artists, writers and others in France viewed their language, thought, and artistic culture as the world’s most refined and unparalleled in history. Vouet’s return in 1627 was well situated for him to contribute to this prolonged period of interest in artistic matters in France.
In the mid17th century, wealthy French patrons began to collect Italian and Italian-inspired art. This included Louis Phélypeaux de La Vrillière (1599-1681) who collected 240 major paintings for his house in Paris. Critics have observed about Vouet that as he played the role of art functionary by importing and translating Italian art tradition into France, he remained less of a truly profound original artist.
In the 1630s, classical understanding of Carraci from Domenichino (1581-1641) was giving way to a different understanding of history painting from Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). Lanfranco viewed Caracci’s legacy as decoration in search of vitality more than a spatial or formal articulation which extended to include figures in action. Vouet worked rapidly to populate the churches, monasteries and abbeys, royal palaces and private mansions, many newly built, of Paris, with his artwork. Vouet also produced large public commissions, all of which expressed a prevailing Baroque potpourri.
Vouet’s most significant contribution to French painting is his innovations in decorative painting whose influence was felt in France into the mid18th century. Vouet’s influence may be out sized to his intellectual quality and artistic originality but he made a tremendous impression on his contemporaries and was the artist, in a city of intense competition, who was the leading figure of the new Italian art manner for the French public and in many different projects for over 20 years. Vouet’s position as painter is on par with architects Jacques Lemercier (c.1585-1654) and Louis Le Vau (1612-1660) as part of that same generation in France who formed the classicizing French Baroque. They used French art practice since King Francis I (1494-1547) and solid current Roman practice forged into a French synthesis associated with Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII. Vouet’s pupils, Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668). Le Sueur (1617-1655), and François Perrier (1590–1650) carried on the tradition of Vouet’s artwork.
For his decorative work Vouet collaborated with artists in other media such as sculptor Jacques Sarrazin (1592-1660). Vouet painted large-scale decorations for royal patrons such as Anne of Austria (1601-1666), wife and mother of French Kings, at Fontainebleau in 1644 and at the Palais Royal between 1643 and 1647. Vouet did a decorative series at the Arsenal. At Hôtel Séguier (no. 16 rue Séguier) in Paris for the chancellor of France, Pierre Séguier (1588-1572), Vouet painted the chapel, library, and lower gallery. In these projects, Vouet reintroduced forgotten French painting traditions of illusionism practiced by Italian artists at Fontainebleau in the 1530s. Vouet synthesized it with the new Italian style in the 1630s, including imitating the use of gold mosaic and big oval designs derived from Venice. Today these decorations survive only by others’ engravings of them.
Some of Vouet’s decorative schemes survive at the Château de Wideville west of Paris. The castle was originally built in the late 16th century and sold to King Louis XIII’s minister of finances, Claude de Bullion (1569-1640), in 1630. Starting in 1632, the new owner set about building and expanding the castle in the Louis XIII style, with red bricks, white quoins and a pair of chimneys. Bullion involved the best decorators including Vouet for painting as well as Jacques Sarrazin (1591-1660) and Philippe de Buyster (1595-1653) for sculpture. Château de Wideville later became base for Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710), maitresse d’amour of King Louis XIV.
Vouet completed a later decorative panel, Muses Urania and Calliope in or around 1640, with the help of his studio. Likely commissioned as an altarpiece for the private chapel of a wealthy Parisian, the painting depicts porcelain skin women, bejeweled drapery, and putti in a classical architecture setting.
With his patrons Vouet was an amenable creator and he was a facile painter. His wealthy and powerful patrons wanted showy decorative artwork painted in the modern Italian manner without very serious religious or political messages for their often newly-acquired or built residences. The Toilet of Venus is exuberant and intriguing though based on the latest Italian art of the day – the theme is inspired by a treatment of Francesco Albani (1578-1660) while the figure of Venus is derived from Annibale Carracci. Though the figures remain weighty in the mode of Italian Naturalism, Vouet transforms the group into curvaceous polished and floating interlocking forms.
As many of Vouet’s large-scale decorative and other works were virtually systematically destroyed in the Revolution so that the connoisseur must assess Vouet’s artistic merit by way of surviving decorative schemes more than individual canvases or fragments, The Presentation in the Temple is an important extant painting by the hand of Vouet that allows qualitative comparisons to other 17th century French artists such as Laurent de La Hyre (1606-1656), Eustache Le Sueur, Charles Le Brun, and Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1644-1717). Commissioned for the Jesuits by Richelieu in 1641 for what is today’s Saint-Paul-Saint Louis in Paris’s Marais it was part of a rich ensemble of artifacts whose overall artistic scheme was dedicated to Christ and the French monarchy. Vouet’s presentation theme evokes the birth of Louis XIV and the painting was flanked by sculptures of Jesuit saints and French political figures.
There remains some similarity to what Vouet had produced in Italy in the mid1620s, particularly in The Appearance of the Virgin to St Bruno in Naples, such as his use of diagonals. Yet 15 years later in France Vouet’s composition is more classical in orientation including a rational not emotional or supernatural treatment of the subject more in the style of Nicolas Poussin who was called back to France from Italy the year before.
To give the illusion of grandeur, Vouet provides a very low position at the bottom of the stairs surrounded by gigantic religious architecture of which he paints a fragmentary synecdoche. For depth, Vouet interposes firmly-modeled foreground figures that partly mask more distant such figures in statuesque draping. Vouet’s cool colors reflect the influence of Philippe de Champaigne and the Baroque turning movement extends into the entablature of the architecture of the temple of Jerusalem, as well as the inclined position of the two angels painted in the upper portion.
By 1762, 20 years after Vouet painted The Presentation, politics changed unpleasantly for the Jesuits as they were suppressed by the Pope and their Paris flagship church’s high altar ensemble was dismantled. The painting was housed in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and later transferred to the Louvre during the French Revolution.
In 1651, two years after the death of Vouet, the painting above was inscribed in Latin to state that Vouet had painted the artwork and in the house of “very noble lord” Louis de Hesselin, one of the king’s advisors. The inscription also gives the meaning of the palm branch the Virgin holds – it is a sign of the means of her effectual assistance to the afflicted. Sieur Hesselin was a confident to the artist who was both godfather to Vouet’s eldest son in 1638 and witness to the marriage of Vouet’s daughter 10 years later. Two other known versions of the painting are found in the United States and in England. X-rays revealed that Vouet fully completed the neckline of the virgin before he added the painted golden robe upon it.
Louis XIV owned this painting of Christ being scourged by Roman soldiers at the pillar during his Passion. In the 18th century the painting was attributed to Eustache Le Sueur which still has its defenders today. Attribution to Simon Vouet began in the 20th century among scholars. In the 21st century scholars have proposed Charles le Brun (1619-1690) and the “Workshop of Simon Vouet” which the Louvre has settled upon. Preparatory drawings for the painting exist at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich and at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon. The artwork may have come from a chapel of the Château in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The painting was restored twice in the 18th century and in the 1960s.
Preparation drawing for a Last Supper picture.
At the same time that Vouet was painting religious subjects for churches in Paris he was painting allegorical and poetical artwork. For these paintings Vouet’s designs are freer, modeling looser and, in the Venetian style, the composition determined more by color and light.
Vouet painted this artwork and two other allegorical paintings for the decoration of the châteauneuf of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In the 17th century the painting was known as “Seated Victory.” The female figure holds a flaming heart in her right hand and palm leaf in her left hand as a Cupid-like figure of love places a laurel wreath on her head. Later, the allegorical figure was called “Faith.” The painting was heavily restored in the mid1960s.
The painting was made for the decoration of the Château Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In the 18th century the female figure wearing a laurel was described as “Victory” and holding Louis XIV in her arms. In the 19th century the female figure was viewed as an allegory for “Wealth” though other attributes such as the main figure’s foot resting on a cornerstone and strewn open books point to a figure representing “Christian Faith.” The standing cherub who offers her sparkling necklaces and the child on her lap have been interpreted as figures representing earthly and heavenly love, respectively.
Vouet depicts a scene on the standing silver vase of the nymph Daphne being pursued by Apollo, god of the arts. It is a classical mythological story which, despite aid from Cupid, the god of love, relates the vanity of earthly goods and pleasures. The scholarly theory of what is depicted in Vouet’s painting adds up to “Christian Faith” holding onto the figure of heavenly love as she is being tempted by baubles and pleasures of earthly love. The painting was restored in the 1950s and 1980s.
Beyond the thoughtful allegorical presentation, Vouet’s innovative style and reliance on lyrical emotion and sentiment more than ordered arrangement is in evidence as he presents a sensual winged goddess with healthy, chubby children in a fantasia of rich draperies and elegant linear architecture amid a metallic treasure hoard, all of which together enlivens the picture. Its languorous elegance derives from the Italian Baroque. Though a dictatorial teacher, unrivaled ambitious artist, and living in Paris during the grim era of the Thirty Years’ War, in Vouet’s painting for the French nobility there is no sense of unease and any subject’s forthrightness is tempered by superficiality.
A chasm of space between the two angels holding up the shroud and the three women at the tomb before dawn on the third day delineates the heavenly from the earthly although these figures are linked by vibrant colors and a reflective animation of spirals. Detailed drawing is forgone for conventional pose and vague, mannered forms. Vouet seems not to be interested in the Biblical story or its meaning per se but the vivacity of the narrative by way of its stylistic elements. In contrast to Poussin’s statuesque figures or Le Valentin’s introspective art, Vouet introduced Baroque lyricism and fancy into French art.
Saturn who represents Time in Roman mythology has tumbled next to a scythe and hourglass, his attributes. Holding him by the hair the bare breasted figure has been identified as Beauty but also Truth and is likely a portrait of Vouet’s Italian wife. Virginia da Vezzo. She holds a lance over him. To the left is Hope who holds out a hook, her symbol, as a trio of cupids pluck feathers from Time’s wings. The allegorical message may be that Love defies Time.
In another allegorical painting of the same theme, Saturn is Father Time. The old man is overcome by Love (Cupid), Beauty or Truth (a bare breasted figure, perhaps Venus), and Hope (holding an anchor, her traditional symbol). Above these in colorful robes is Fama, the figure of fame, who announces herself blowing her trumpet. Fama embraces Occasio, her hair traditionally blowing forward, holding an emblem of wealth, and signifying the fortunate occasion. In Vouet’s picture which synthesizes classical elements such as statuesque figures in the style of Poussin and swirling masses and vibrant colors of the international Baroque style, Time is the victim of what he usually despoils. The large painting originally hung in the Hôtel de Bretonvilliers in Paris.
In the collection of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans (1725-1785) in the Palais-Royal in Paris before 1785, it entered the collection of Louis Philippe Joseph d’Orléans (1747-1793), known as Philippe Égalité afterwards, and was sold in 1800. In 1961 Friends of the Louvre acquired it in New York City and donated it to the Louvre that same year.
The young woman seated on an elevated throne wearing armor is, according to the influential Iconologia of 1593 by Cesare Ripa (1555-1622), the allegory for Reason. The pair of young women, one offering an olive branch and the other a palm branch, are allegories for Peace and Prosperity. The golden vase is decorated with a bacchanalia. Above the main scene are two cherubs bringing a palm frond and laurel with a twisted column wrapped with a vine that symbolizes Friendship.
Vouet painted this allegory of good government about Anne of Austria as she cooperated with Cardinal Mazarin’s peace policies. The painting was probably commissioned for the decoration of Anne of Austria’s apartment at the Palais-Royal around 1645. It was kept in the collection of the Dukes of Orleans at the Palais-Royal in the 18th century. and moved to London after the death of Philippe Égalité. It was purchased in New York by the Société des Amis du Louvre in 1961. The work was re-oiled with glue by Jacques Joyerot and restored in a pictorial layer by Jeanine Roussel-Nazat between 1979 and 1981.
Simon Vouet died in Paris on June 30, 1649 at 59 years old. His burial details are unknown.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
French Painting in the Golden Age, Christopher Allen, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003.
17th and 18th Century Art Baroque Painting Sculpture Architecture, Julius S. Held, Donald Posner, H.W. Janson, editor, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. and New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1972.
French Painting in the Seventeenth Century, Alain Mérot, trans. by Caroline Beamish, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
Kings & Connoisseurs Collecting Art in Seventeenth-Century Europe, Jonathan Brown, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Mannerism: The Painting and Style of The Late Renaissance, Jacques Bousquet, trans, by Simon Watson Taylor, Braziller, 1964.
Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio, Annick Lemoine, Keith Christiansen, Patrizia Cavazzini, Jean Pierre Cuzin, Gianni Pappi, Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2016.
FEATURE IMAGE: Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Allegory of Rome, 1628, oil on canvas, 330 x 245 cm, Villa Lante (Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation). Villa Lante in Rome is an example of the work of the 16th century Raphael school in the reign of the Medici popes. The Renaissance villa, which was a residence for Roman aristocracy, was purchased in 1950 by the Finnish state. The Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation started operating there in April 1954.
Le Valentin de Boulogne (c.1591/1594-1632), sometimes called Jean Valentin, Jean de Boulogne Valentin, or simply Le Valentin, was a French painter. Born in Coulommiers-en-Brie about 35 miles east of Paris, Le Valentin may have been at least half Italian. His artwork was certainly influenced by Italian painting more than any other though he was familiar with Northern or Flemish painting. Le Valentin may have been in Rome as early as 1612 – German painter and art-historian Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) remarked in 1675 that Valentin reached Rome before Simon Vouet (1590-1649) who had arrived around 1614. Whether in 1612 or definitely by 1620 (Le Valentin appears in the census), Le Valentin spent the rest of his life In Rome. In the Eternal City Le Valentin was greatly influenced by Simon Vouet (French, 1590-1649) and Bartolomeo Manfredi (Italian, 1581-1622), a leading Caravaggiste or follower of Carravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610).
Le Valentin’s oeuvre is today around 55-60 paintings, most of them identified by modern scholarship (i.e., Jacques Bousquet; Roberto Longhi). Le Valentin’s major commissions date from the last seven years of his life. Opportunities to acquire his artwork was rare, though avid collectors such as Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) and Louis XIV collected them.
In Rome Le Valentin forged close ties with other French artists and lived with many of them in and around the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza di Spagna. Most French painters born in the 1590s made a stay in Rome – and influenced art in France in the 17th century. Reasons young painters fled to Italy in the early 17th century included depletion of opportunity in Paris due to the professionalization of artistic practice in and outside the capital although establishment French art was no longer flourishing. Conversely, Roman art – and not only the schools of Michelangelo and Raphael but new horizons afforded by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Caravaggio (1571-1610) -was at an apex. The Eternal City was drawing international artists from Paris and elsewhere and, between 1610 and 1630, the Roman style became internationalized. The dialogue among artists in Rome in this period was exciting – and its outcomes often unpredictable. The culture of Rome (and the papacy) could actually be liberating for foreign, usually destitute, often libertine talented young artists who had great ambitions for a prominent commission as they were exposed to Rome’s virtue and vice almost equally. Many of these young artists, even ones whose artworks survive, exist today virtually anonymously. Le Valentin de Boulogne is one of the better-known artists of the period, although his precise name is uncertain and his artwork requires connoisseurship based on modern scholarship.
In 1626 Valentin, in Rome several years, was invited by Vouet to organize with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) the festival of the Accademia di San Luca ‘s patron saint. Around the same age, Vouet led the academy whose artists’ association was founded in 1593 by Federico Zuccari (1539-1609). This appointment signaled that Valentin was an active and respected rising French artist in Rome in these years. Though Caravaggio died in 1610 his influence was still felt very strongly in Rome in the 1620s.
Two of Caravaggio’s masterpieces—The Martyrdom of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul—hung in the neighboring church of Santa Maria del Popolo which Le Valentin certainly had opportunity to study. In Italy, Valentin took swift, direct, and enduring inspiration from Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro and realistic depiction of characters drawn from Roman street life, including extensive use of half figures. As one of the young Caravaggisti, Valentin applies these elements to his artwork, whether genre or, later, Biblical subjects.
None of the works from Le Valentin’s earliest Roman years is documented, but it is believed he produced his Card Sharps (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), The Fortune Teller (Toledo Museum of Art), and Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats) (NGA) – and probably in this order – between 1615 and 1620.
In Le Valentin’s compositions which often contain several actors in a scene, the French artist’s realism and Caravaggio-inspired technique is often imbued with energetic rhythm in which diagonals and geometric concurrences play a role. This schematic suggests animation in the subject matter while retaining the human figures’ inner reserve and mystery. This creates a psychological quality in his artwork that is unique whichever drama is unfolding in the picture. Louis XIV who was an admirer of le Valentin acquired and hung several of his paintings in his bedroom at Versailles. Cardinal Mazarin, another art collector with a keen eye, acquired works by Valentin, some of which today are in the Louvre.
By way of Le Valentin’s important young patron, Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) – made a cardinal in 1624 by his uncle, Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) – Valentin became a competitor to his artist friend Nicholas Poussin. Le Valentin’s first documented work commissioned in May 1629 and completed in the spring of 1630 called Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian is a compendium to a slightly earlier work by Poussin–both in the Vatican (Poussin’s was a different stylistic statement called Martyrdom of S. Erasmus). Valentin had further won the patronage of Cavaliere del Pozzo (1588-1657), the secretary of Cardinal Francesco Barberini and one of Rome’s leading art patrons. Paid the handsome sum of 350 crowns for Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian , after 1630 Valentin’s artwork continued to command high prices and prestige.
Though SS. Processus and Martinian is Le Valentin’s most important public work, he also produced many pictures for private commissions. There are several pictures by, or today attributed to, Le Valentin in many of the world’s leading art museums. Le Valentin produced artwork especially for the ruling Barberini family and their circle.
How Le Valentin died in 1632 is not certain though it was sudden and of natural causes. The professional artist who is admired in today’s major art institutions reportedly left no money to pay for a funeral. Identified as a “Pictor famosus” on his death certificate, Le Valentin was buried at Santa Maria de Popolo on August 20, 1632 paid for by Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).
SELECTION OF PAINTINGS BY LE VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE.
One of the most moving and beautiful stories in the Bible is the judgment of King Solomon in the case involving two disputing harlots over who was the mother of a living child (I Kings).
Both had had a child, though one died and the other lived. To have an offspring was considered a blessing. One harlot claimed that her living child had been taken from her bosom at night by the other harlot. She replaced the child with her dead child after “she had smothered him by lying on him” (I Kings 3:19).
Since this was a case of one harlot’s word against another’s Solomon had no simple and fair resolution at hand. King Solomon said: “Cut the child in two and give half to one woman and half to the other” (I Kings 3:25). Le Valentin shows the viewer what is at stake – a real flesh and blood child. The import of Solomon’s judgment could not be missed. Le Valentin’s women are modeled on those mothers and others the artist observed along Via Margutta.
When one harlot said, “Divide it! it shall be neither mine nor yours!” and the other harlot said, “Please, my lord, give her the living child. Please do not kill it!”, the king’s judgement changed.
Solomon spoke again and said, “Give her the child alive, and let no one kill him, for she is his mother” (1 Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon knew a woman privileged to be a mother would seek to see the child live most of all.
It is this final pronouncement that Solomon appears to give in Le Valentin’s painting, as the complete biblical episode can be readily seen in the gestures and expressions of its characters.
Acquired by Louis XIV at Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1661, The Judgment of Solomon has long been presented as a counterpart to The Judgment of Daniel. These canvases, which may actually be pendants, share the same format and show examples of just judgment in the Bible. The Judgment of Solomon is dated later than The Judgment of Daniel. There is a variant of it by Le Valentin in Rome at the Barberini Gallery in the same format and oil medium. The Louvre painting was restored in 1966.
The subject is taken from chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel, the book’s addendum. In Babylon, a pair of wicked elders covet Suzanne, “a very beautiful and God-fearing woman” who was the wife of the “very rich” and “most respected” Joachim. After these wicked elders surprised Suzanne in her bath, she refuses their advances and they denounce her for adultery with the intent to put her to death.
Daniel condemns these wicked elders for “growing evil with age” including their past sins of “passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty.” Daniel interrogates them and, by their own words, shows the assembly they are lying. The painting depicts that moment of judgment.
Le Valentin depicts Daniel in the painting instead of Suzanne in her bath which was a more popular subject. Suzanne is at right, her hands across her chest, “As she wept, she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (Daniel 13:35). A guard seizes one of the wicked elders as the other shows surprise and incredulity. Young Daniel, at left, is seated on a throne under a red canopy and stretches out his hand in judgment over the scene for their sin. For each judgment by Le Valentin the artist was inspired in some of its details by Raphael’s artwork in Rome. Louis XIV acquired the painting in 1662.
Within iconography that is cyclonic, two Roman soldiers are placed on the rack to be tortured after they refused their commander’s orders to sacrifice to an idol. The soldiers had been converted to Christianity by Saints Peter and Paul when they guarded them in prison. The altar to Jupiter is on the upper left while, at right, the commander clutches his eye with his left hand after God blinded him in retribution for the idolatry. The foreground figures build on 16th century Franco Italian Mannerist style. One has his back to the viewer; another grinds the wheel of the rack; and, a third bends down with his arm outstretched. All are advanced expressions of realistic figural development and rendered in spatial perspective correctly.
Le Valentin’s powerful painting is an artwork with a psychological dimension. To the left, a hooded figure, Lucina, is a Christian woman who encourages the martyrs to be steadfast as an angel out of heaven extends a palm of martyrdom. To the right, realistically portrayed, is a Roman soldier indifferent to another brutal slaying by the authoritarian government in the face of nascent, meddling, heroic, and expanding Christians in their pagan global empire.
With his attention to detail, Le Valentin’s picture accomplishes an exciting imagined drama based on Renaissance-inspired natural world observation and by way of colorful contemporary 17th century formulations that give a viewer visionary immersion into a complex and significant Bible scene.
Some of Le Valentin’s great ambition as an artist is demonstrated by this large format canvas whose composition includes eight realistically delineated figures including 5 musicians and 3 singing youths. The five instruments are depicted accurately as well as the demeanors of the musicians and singers. Instruments have been identified by others as a polyphonic spinet, an alto, a chitarrone, a bass viol and a cornetto.
The painting had been dated at around 1626, though more recent connoisseurship dates it to around 1628 or 1630. It was restored in 1940. It was owned by that avid art collector, Cardinal Mazarin.
Le Valentin painted seven figures gathered around a classical bas-relief. There are a pair of drinkers, one in the foreground, the other in the background; two singers; and three musicians – a violinist, guitarist and lutenist.
The painting, filled with mystery and gravity, is Caravaggesque and not merely telling a story or depicting a genre scene of performance. The painting has been dated to as early as 1622 by some connoisseurs. It was owned by Cardinal Mazarin and restored in 1959. It entered the collection of the Louvre in 1742.
Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings as attested by Concert with Eight Figures and Fortune Teller (both Musée du Louvre, c. 1628), and what is thought to be his very last painting, the Gathering with a Fortune Teller (Vienna, Liechtenstein Collection) in 1632.
This is a tavern scene with impromptu music-making among transitory musicians. They are playing for a pair of drinking soldiers. Le Valentin’s painting is Caravaggesque with its interplay of shadows and light, dark palette, and depiction of realistic figures, and a psychological vivacity that is imbued by Le Valentin. It is by his passion and energy for Caravaggio that Le Valentin helped revolutionize art in 17th century Europe.
In Matthew’s Gospel the Pharisees were plotting to entrap Jesus by his own words. They sent some of their followers along with local government types (“Herodians”) to flatter Jesus as a truthful and humble man. They asked him to reply to a question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17).
Jesus, knowing their motivation, responded hardly very nicely, by calling them “hypocrites.” He asked them to show the coin that paid Caesar’s tax.
Le Valentin’s painting depicts the moment when the Pharisee’s henchmen show Jesus the coin with Caesar’s image and inscription on it. Jesus tells them: ”Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22: 21).
Owned by Louis XIV it was put in his dressing room at Versailles in 1680. The Louvre acquired it during the French Revolution in 1793.
This painting is inspired by Caravaggio’s The Cheats in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Le Valentin’s painting, only discovered in 1989, shows a group of soldiers idling in Rome and identifiable by their piecemeal armor and other livery. The crowding of the figures into the picture space adds to the scene’s tension.
In this early painting in Rome, Le Valentin presents a scene of its contemporary street life. These figures are seriously gaming at a table where two players (center and right) roll dice and two others (left and center) play cards. A fifth figure in the background signals to his accomplice what is in the hand of the card player in a feathered hat. It is an early artwork that Le Valentin gives a psychological dimension.
As had been Caravaggio’s practice, the artwork is painted alla prima, that is, directly onto the prepared canvas without under-drawing or any preliminary work which works to give it greater spontaneity. The painting is indebted to Caravaggio not only for its subject, but for its vivid sense of actuality with which Le Valentin invested his protagonists as well as for the chiaroscuro, and a thinly and rapidly-applied brushed execution.
This painting is one of the first genre pictures Le Valentin painted in Rome. It is a pair of figures to which Le Valentin would soon numerically expand in his pictures. The composition is simple and sturdy.
Erminia, the king’s daughter, escapes her persecutors and asks a peaceful shepherd family for shelter. The scene is based on a contemporary (1576) epic poem The Liberated Jerusalem by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). The picture was a private commission whose patron was likely a Roman art collector and cognoscente. Valentin’s painting combines Caravaggesque chiaroscuro with exquisite coloring. In this realistic depiction of a human encounter between characters who represent contrasting social experiences, the subject matter is rendered psychologically sensitively.
One of the great artworks of Le Valentin’s early phase in Rome, biblical subjects painted before 1620 such as The Crowning of Thorns of Christ were interpreted in the street-life idiom, with expressive protagonists and bystanders resembling the cast of characters in his genre paintings. Although the painting was earlier believed to be by Caravaggio, it may have been a pendant to Le Valentin’s much-later Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (c. 1629) in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
This is Le Valentin’s most ambitious of 3 such “crowning with thorns” pictures. The artist in horizontal-format depicts Jesus before his going to Calvary. Christ is mocked and tormented; a crown of thorns is pressed onto his head (Matthew 27: 27-31; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:11; John 19: 1-3). With its dramatic lighting and shadows, the naturalistic depiction of Christ’s body and soldiers in contemporary costume is Caravaggesque.
Le Valentin’s scene adheres to the Bible episode: a whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Jesus, stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak on him. Henchmen have weaved a crown out of thorns and are placing it on Jesus’s head. Another puts a reed as a faux scepter into Jesus’s right hand. To mock him they kneel before him and say: “Hail, King of the Jews!” The soldiers spit on Jesus and then take the reed away and strike him repeatedly with it. When they were done with these violent actions, the soldiers stripped Jesus of the military cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to be crucified.
Le Valentin’s Passion theme is a later vertical-format picture of a subject he had painted masterly before. In these last years the subject matter had gained in classical beauty as well as psychological involvement compared to Le Valentin’s earlier artwork. The painting covers over a discarded portrait of Cardinal Barberini which suggests Valentin’s close relationship with the ecclesial prince, very likely being in his employ. What caused the artist to revisit the subject of a brutalized Christ is unclear though it may have been based on the artist’s own struggles or that of his employer whose portrait he painted over.
St. Laurence (d. 258) became a popular early Roman martyr. Laurence has been continually honored by the church since the 4th century and is a patron of Rome.
In the mid 3rd century, Laurence was a deacon to a new pope, Sixtus II (257-258). Sixtus II was martyred along with his seven deacons, including Laurence, during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian (199-264).
Following the pope’s martyrdom, Laurence was arrested and ordered to collect and hand over church treasures to the secular authority. Instead, Laurence distributed any goods to Rome’s poor which infuriated the emperor against him. These paupers appeared in Le Valentin’s painting to the left.
The emperor ordered the Catholic deacon to sacrifice to Rome’s gods which Laurence refused to do (in prison Laurence converted his guard). Laurence was martyred after being tortured and then roasted alive over a fire on a spit. The saint is famously quoted as telling his executioners: “One side is roasted, so you can turn me over and roast the other side.”
In the Prado Le Valentin gives orderly arrangement to a complex scene of 15 figures and a horse. It shows the saint during his martyrdom isolated in the center of the composition. As with Caravaggio’s figures, the soldiers are in modern costume, use of chiaroscuro is evident, and further drama is added by the use of diagonals whose construction suggest movement that add to the tension of the naturally rendered figures. However, Le Valentin uses these derived elements unconventionally.
Dating from the years 1624-1626, le Valentin painted all four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) for the same religious order in Rome whose name is unknown. They entered the collections of the Sun King in 1670.
For his The Last Supper, Le Valentin was, at least through engravings, aware of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1495–1498) in Milan and Raphael’s Last Supper (1518-1519) in Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. Le Valentin explores the 12 apostles’ reactions. Commissioned by Asdrubale Mattei (d. 1638), one of Rome’s nobili, to decorate a gallery in his family’s palace, the picture depicts a central event presented in the gospels. The moment that is depicted in these Last Supper paintings is when Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him. Judas, in the foreground left, was treasurer for Jesus’s disciples and betrayed Jesus for a bribe payment of 30 pieces of silver. The picture, with its simple and monumental composition, so impressed Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) in 1779 that he copied it and sent it from Rome to Paris.
An Old Testament Judge, Samson was born in a miraculous fashion and with an angel telling his mother and father, “No razor shall touch his head” (Judges 13:5). Samson is often depicted with his locks unshorn. As a youth Samson displayed an incredible physical strength attributed to “the spirit of the Lord rushing upon him” (Judges 14:6).
Le Valentin’s picture presents Samson’s legendary strength by showing the solid demeanor of his physical body as well as objects which hold symbolic value of his strength. These include that he killed a lion with his bare hands and liberated the Israelites by slaughtering a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15: 15-16). The strength of his arm is displayed as his fingers curl under his jaw as his wandering gaze looks off with intense interiority. One contemporary allusion in the painting is Samson’s breastplate which is joined at the shoulder by a clasp in the form of a bee which was the emblem of the Barberini family who commissioned the painting. It is speculated that the facial features of Samson in a picture before his fateful meeting with Delilah (Judges 16), may be a self-portrait of Le Valentin.
The story of Judith in the Old Testament relates of a woman of great beauty and reverence to the God of Israel who is highly respected by her people and its leaders. The nation, desperate for survival, turns to Judith who is given the opportunity to kill their enemy’s military leader which she believes she can and must do and that all believed impossible as Israel’s military defeat by their enemies was a foregone conclusion.
The story has a femme fatale aspect as Holofernes was captivated by Judith’s physical appearance, but the Biblical episode of the execution, while a climax of her mission, pales in comparison with the relating of Judith’s overall dedication to her people and her God, a femme forte, which carries on into her long life of blessedness to her natural death. Le Valentin chooses that sacred element of the Bible book when he shows an iconic Judith, triumphant woman of Israel, holding in her hands the decapitated head of one of Israel’s once-formidable mortal enemies. Judith is shown as a heroic woman with her hand raised as she admonishes: “But the Almighty Lord hath disappointed them by the hand of a woman.”
For Le Valentin’s artwork, Judith is an icon of God’s justice to his obedient people. Purchased for French King Louis XIV from German banker Everhard Jabach, the picture was installed in the king’s bedroom at Versailles to be especially admired.
The picture belongs to Le Valentin’s period of maturity for it displays the artist’s full interpretation of the realism of Caravaggio and Manfredi though, as expressed here, with a new appreciation for colors. The pretext of a Judith who, according to the Bible, had adorned herself in her best finery so not to dissuade Holofernes’s gaze (Judith, 13, 14), allows le Valentin to illuminate the dress’s rich fabrics with monochrome refractions, while the jewels and hair are bathed in ethereal light.
The Four Ages of Man is a painting commissioned by Cardinal Barberini. It is an allegorical work whose human figures are painted by Le Valentin in natural poses. Groups of figures around a table were common in the work of Caravaggio and his northern followers. The allegory of the ages of man was a common subject for paintings during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, though its quantity of ages varied.
The allegory presents humanity in four categories of age – childhood (holding an empty bird trap); youth (playing a lute); adulthood (with a book and victor’s laurel); old age (with coins of wealth and delicate glassware).
The theme had its origin in classical literature: Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’s Inferno acknowledged the stages of human life according to physical growth and decline. Contemporary poems were written on the subject that Le Valentin may have known.
In the 17th century, the painting was owned by Michel Particelli, seigneur d’Emery (1596–1650) in Paris. In the 18th century it was in the Orléans collection at the Palais Royal. During the French Revolution and the dispersal of the collection in 1791, the painting was brought to England where it is today.
Le Valentin painted many half- or three-quarter-length figures of saints, prophets and narrative scenes including this painting. The scene of Christ expelling the moneychangers from the Temple of Jerusalem is told in all four gospels of the New Testament. Le Valentin adapted the method of half-length, full size street figures depicted in dark, precisely lighted spaces and emerging in relief from the shadows from the Caravaggistes.
Gospel readers would recognize that the cleansing of the temple was prophesied in the Old Testament as a sign of the ushering in of the Messianic Age (Zechariah 14:21). In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the episode appears at the close of Jesus’s public ministry and in John’s gospel at the start (2:13-17). The chronology of the episode in Jesus‘ ministry is generally not considered its most important element.
Le Valentin shows the “whip of cords” held by Christ, a detail mentioned only in John (Jn 2:15). There are overturned tables, a bench, and scattered coins. Le Valentin depicts the gestures, movements and emotions of the characters involved, focused on a wrathful Christ and fear of the unrighteous.
While in Synoptics the point of the episode appears to be the dishonesty of the Temple money changers, in John’s gospel Jesus’s wrath is directed to the Temple institution itself. In John’s Gospel Jesus declares the Temple is to be “My Father’s house.” Though not a term unique to John, he uses it more than any other Gospel writer (27 times).
Derived from Caravaggio are the types of ordinary people, distinct contrasts of light and shade and the natural plasticity of the figures involved in the composition.
The painting entered the Hermitage collection in 1772.
The painting’s structural asymmetry lends energy to the scene. With Christ’s raised arm, he is a menace to the money changers. Le Valentin, taking inspiration from Caravaggio, unabashedly renders a scene in grand format of violence in the gospels. The painting was rediscovered in Rome in the mid19th century.
The oil painting called Allegoria d’Italia by Le Valentin was originally called Historia d’Italia. Its massive volumes imbued with inner life are rendered using a brown palette and highlights that retained the Caravaggiste tradition. Le Valentin’s redoubling his commitment to Caravaggio in the late 1620s was on display in this painting as other leading painters, such as Vouet, Poussin, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647) and Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669), were deploying brighter “modern” colors.
In March 1628 Cardinal Barberini gave Le Valentin the commission for the Extraordinary Jubilee of 1628 and paid 113 crowns for it. This major painting which renewed Caravaggio-inspired technique in the late 1620s attracted greater attention to Le Valentin’s artwork not only by Caravaggeschi but the broader Roman art circles.
A young Roman girl wears an emperor’s cuirass, holds a spear and shield, as the personification of Italy. At her feet are the fruit and nuts of the land’s bounty. Below her image are two male figures, naked and bearded, who represent the Tiber and the Arno, Italy’s great rivers. The figure of the Tiber is joined by Romulus and Remus and the suckling wolf who founded Rome and the later Papal States. The Arno that runs through Florence is joined by its symbol of the lion. In the top left corner, a tree stump with a bee swarm symbolizes the Barberini.
The gospel story that Le Valentin depicts using the typical Caravaggiste method (half-length, full size street figures in shadow and light) is from John 8. The story had been painted by the Flemish and the Venetians. The plump young woman in a torn garment exposing her shoulders and full-formed breasts is taken into custody by soldiers in armor to Jesus. According to the law the woman should be publicly stoned for adultery. The Pharisees lay verbal and other traps repeatedly in the gospels for Jesus to say or do something that is expungable. Jesus’s response moves past their premise. Whereas Jesus will soon be arrested, tried, and condemned by the authorities for his “transgressions,” the focus of le Valentin’s artwork is Jesus showing mercy to the sinful woman. From a theological viewpoint, Jesus’s innovative teaching is again based on the appeal to an extant biblical tradition of God’s anger towards, and forgiveness of, harlotry or unfaithfulness when such sin is repented (Hosea 5:4). Jesus tells her: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). While the woman’s disheveled look suggests the nature of her sin, she represents humankind and points to Christ, the God-Man and prophesied suffering servant (Isaiah 53). Christ takes the harlot’s place as the arrested agitator and manhandled by soldiers along the Via Dolorosa. In that episode, Christ goes to the cross to shed his blood in the new covenant whose outcome for “adulterous” humankind is eternal forgiveness of sins and rising to new life.
The image of a young soldier singing in armor breastplate a love madrigal is unique in Valentin’s oeuvre. The painting was part of the collection of Cardinal Mazarin, minister to Louis XIV.
One of Jesus’s most famous parables, The Prodigal Son tells the story of a young man who demanded his “full share of [his father’s] estate that should come to [him],” and departed to waste it “on a life of dissipation” (Luke 15). When the lost son falls on hard times, he seeks his father’s house though “only as a hired servant.” The forgiving father who has been on the look-out for his lost son (dressed in rags) since the day of his departure welcomes him back as a son “who was dead and has come back to life.” Which of the other figures may be the older brother who is unhappy about his dissolute brother’s return is not clear. Le Valentin treats the parable as a human story of repentance, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
The attribution to Le Valentin and its dating for this artwork is the result of modern scholarship. Art historians can thereby draw conclusions and make conjectures about the development of Le Valentin’s early artwork in Rome -he uses a larger format, growing complexity of compositional qualities and its subject matter, and the retention of low-life characters and stylistic indebtedness to Caravaggio as he moves beyond him.
A dark tavern filled with low-life characters provides the setting for a scene of fortune and deceit. As a gypsy fortuneteller reads the palm of a young soldier he is looking pensively as she speaks his fate, there are carousers and thieves in the scene. The picture is emblematic of Le Valentin – the techniques of a somber palette and dramatic lighting and tabletop groupings but also a mysterious mood and psychological depth to the complex interplay among its characters.
The prelate is dressed in the robes of a papal chamberlain. Modern scholarship has proposed various individuals as the sitter from cardinals to lawyers.
Moses led the Israelites out the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land during the Exodus. The event is told and retold in the Old Testament and Moses as Liberator and Law Giver is its most significant figure. Le Valentin shows him holding a miraculous rod that he used to open the Red Sea (Exodus 14), struck the rock to produce water (Numbers 20) and, after its transformation into an iron snake, healed the ill (Numbers 21). Moses points to the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments of God (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). This late work by Valentin is characteristic in its dark and pensive tone that is reminiscent of Caravaggio.
The picture is one of Valentin’s last paintings before his death in 1632. Prince Hans Adam Il von und zu Liechtenstein (b. 1945) acquired the work in 2004. Throughout his painting career, Le Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collection of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Philip Conisbee and Frances Gage, Washington, D.C., 2009 pp, 413-414.
Art for the Nation, text by Philip Conisbee, National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, 2000.
French Painting From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Chatâlet and Jacques Thuillier, trans. from French by Stuart Gilbert, Skira, 1963.
Chicagoan Richard Hunt has over 150 large-scale installations around the world. Since 2005, Richard Hunt’s We Will has stood proudly on the sidewalk by the intersection of Randolph Street and Garland Court near Chicago’s Cultural Center and Millennium Park. We Will stands 35 feet tall and is made of welded stainless steel. The public art is a sculpture of scale that is impressive on its downtown Chicago streets.
“I Will” is the long-time mantra of Chicago. Its roots trace to the Great Fire of 1871, and the dogged resiliency of its citizens to rebuild, to reinvent, and to grow to new heights. The sculpture evokes the licks of flame from that devastating event in the 19th century from which the city built back bigger, better, faster, and stronger – and whose title We Will indicates that Chicagoans in the 21st century continue this tradition of resilience and resolve by looking to do so together.
We Will was commissioned by the Mesa Development Company, the developers of a condominium and mixed-use building in Chicago. Hunt has his artwork installed for viewing across the city of Chicago including, in 2021, his Light of Truth Monument to Ida B. Wells in Bronzeville, Jacob’s Ladder in the Carter Woodson Regional Library, Farmer’s Dream at the MCA, and Flightforms at Midway Airport, among others.
“There are a range of possibilities for art on public buildings or in public places. To commemorate, to inspire. I think art can enliven and set certain standards for what is going on in and around it.” – Richard Hunt, sculptor.
Among these celebrated works by Richard Hunt is included the first artwork commissioned for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. Titled Book Bird, Hunt’s sculpture will be placed outdoors in the Library Reading Garden of the new Chicago Public Library branch at the Obama Presidential Center campus. The former 44th U.S. president in a Zoom call with the artist recently observed about Richard Hunt and his artwork: “[Hunt’s] personal story embodies what is hoped to be the experience at the center. To have one of the greatest artists Chicago ever produced and to participate in what we hope is an important cultural institution for the city and the South Side …it feels like a pretty good fit to me.”
Richard Hunt was born in 1935 in the Woodlawn neighborhood and lived at 63rd and Eberhart on the South Side of Chicago. His family moved to Englewood when Hunt was 4 years old. Hunt attended public schools and his family was very involved in visiting the city’s cultural institutions, particularly The Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum. Hunt received a B.A.E. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1957 and, afterwards, studied and traveled in Europe as well as served in the U.S. Army.
In the artist’s long career Hunt has received more than a dozen honorary degrees from leading educational institutions of higher learning across the country. He has also served at several prestigious universities as professor and artist in residence. Hunt made history when he became the first African-American artist to have a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern art (MoMA) in New York City.
“There are a range of possibilities for art on public buildings or in public places,“ Hunt said recently in the context of his Obama Center work, “To commemorate, to inspire. I think art can enliven and set certain standards for what is going on in and around it.”
FEATURE Image: Flamingo by Alexander Calder is a masterwork stabile in Chicago’s downtown. It was unveiled on October 25, 1974 in a dedication ceremony with the artist. It is one of Chicago’s iconic outdoor public artworks. 6/2022 7.73 mb
In downtown Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza on South Dearborn Street between Adams Street and Jackson Boulevard is Alexander Calder’s 53-foot-tall painted steel plate “stabile object” entitled Flamingo. The Chicago Federal Center was completed in 1974 with Calder’s artwork. The design project began in 1958 and included three International-style government buildings by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) within a public plaza design that was completed in 1974. Flamingo, commissioned after Mies’ death for $250,000 by the Government Services Administration, was unveiled on October 25, 1974 with the 76-year-old Calder present for its dedication ceremonies and festivities. With the commission Calder understood the significant impact of his artwork for the Federal Center Plaza in Chicago.
Calder’s prolific and impressive art career started in the early 1920s. Fifty years later, Flamingo (a.k.a., “the Calder”) in Chicago’s historic Federal Center Plaza is a later work, whose maquette Calder made before it was intended for Chicago.
During his artistic career’s many decades and years, Calder never stopped developing in his art. The 1974 steel sculpture painted red-orange is four stories tall and makes a powerful impact on the streetscape where it is an integral part. Along with Chicago’s Picasso in 1967 and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (“the Bean”) in 2004, Calder’s Flamingo in 1974 has taken its well-deserved place among Chicago’s most iconic outdoor public artworks.
From the inventor of the mobile, Calder turned later to the development of the stabile of which Flamingo is a masterwork. Starting in the mid1950s and into the 1970’s, Calder produced scores of stabiles in many shapes and sizes for display around the world.
“Most architects and city planners want to put my objects in front of trees or greenery. They make a huge error. My mobiles and stabiles ought to be placed in free spaces, like public squares, or in front of modern buildings, and that is true of all contemporary sculpture.” – Alexander Calder.
Titled Flamingo, the towering abstracted “Calder red” painted stabile object can evoke reactions to it that are unexpected. Calder’s stabile masterwork was unveiled in October 1974 which was the same year the Sears Tower (in the background) was completed and which was at that time the world’s tallest building (today it is ranked no. 26). From Federal Center Plaza, Chicago’s 20th century architectural history is readily on display in its downtown buildings in a range of shapes, sizes, textures and design styles. 6/2022 7.24 mb
Flamingo can be intimidating because of its monumental size. Actual flamingo shorebirds vary in size, but are usually no more than 3 to 5 feet tall, and weighing about 5 to 7 pounds. At 53 feet tall, Calder’s immense stabile in Chicago is about the size of a giant sauropod dinosaur which could weigh around 60 tons. 5/2014 3.28 mb
Alexander Calder trained and worked as a mechanical engineer before he became an artist. The graceful design and construction of Flamingo is expressed by nearly one-inch-thick steel plates buttressed by ribs and gussets joined overhead by lofty arches and resting on three legs as if it is nearly weightless. Even his largest stabiles (of which Flamingo is one) are made so they can be easily unbolted, and taken apart to be transported and assembled at the place of destination. 11/2015 260kb 25%
In Federal Center Plaza is a complex of three buildings of varying scales by Mies van der Rohe: the broad 30-floor Everett McKinley Dirksen Building at 219 S. Dearborn Street completed in 1964 (at right), the lean 45-floor John C. Kluczynski Building at 230 S. Dearborn Street completed in 1974 (not pictured), and the single-story U.S. Post Office building at 219 S. Clark Street (not pictured). Calder’s Flamingo sits on its three pillars like a lunar lander that reflects the arcaded bases of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings that surround it as well as provide a sweeping contrast of curves and bright stand-out color against the surrounding modernist buildings’ monochrome glass-and-steel grid appearance. Calder’s artwork achieved more than the sum of these parts – it transformed Mies’ overall somber architectural trio into a more dramatic and complex quartet that included Calder’s art. The 30-story Dirksen Building is across Dearborn Street. 5/2014 4.82 mb
Calder’s Flamingo after dark with the one-story Post Office illumined within behind it. 11/2015 484 kb 25%
Calder’s stabile is one of the most monumental public art commissions in Chicago. Flamingo’s height and breadth (it fills a space of about 1440 square feet) achieves a largesse that does not forgo a human scale as it allows pedestrians to freely walk around, under and through it. The 45-story Kluczynski Building is at left. 6/2022 6.87 mb
Flamingo lighted at night in late November where there is already a snow pile on the sidewalk in Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza presaging the Chicago winter. In summer months there is a regular farmer’s market on the Federal Center Plaza. It is also the location for a variety of political gatherings year-round.The Kluczynski Building is behind.11/2015 3.77 mb
In October 1974 Alexander Calder was in Chicago for a “Calder Festival” where two of his major works were being dedicated – Flamingo for Federal Center Plaza (depicted above with the Kluczynski Building) and Universe, a motorized mural for the Sears Tower. Reflecting the artist’s lifetime interest in circuses, Calder joined in the city’s circus-themed parade in his honor. In another major cultural event in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art held a large retrospective exhibition of Calder’s art from October to December of 1974. 6/2022 6.20 mb
FEATURE image: Eugène Boudin, The Beach at Villerville, 1864, Oil on canvas, 18 × 30 1/16 in. (45.7 × 76.4 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
In 1893, in the last years of his long and successful art career, 69-year-old Eugène Boudin returned to the Normandy coast for which this French painter of skies and beaches is rightly associated. It was at this time that he painted Sunset on the Beach (below) in a private collection. After Boudin began to be widely collected in the 1870’s and 1880’s he traveled and lived and worked far away from the region where he was born and grew up and had embarked on a career as an artist. Yet, as soon as the mid-to-late 1850’s, important artists and writers were already appreciating the sensitivity to which Boudin painted artwork in nature. Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) believed he could identify with precision the season and hour of Boudin’s subject matter. Realist painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) who once said “show me an angel and I will paint him” called Boudin a “seraph.” Remarkably, Barbizon painter Camille Corot (1796-1875) exclaimed: “Boudin, you are king of the skies!”
Throughout the mid-to-late nineteenth century, Boudin’s subject matter was timeless land, sea and skyscapes which he sometimes populated with contemporary human figures in modern bourgeois costume and dress. Often, the landscapes are devoid of human presence excepting the artist’s gaze.
Boudin was a friend of the Impressionists and exhibited in their first exhibition in Paris in 1874. Claude Monet (1840-1926), born in Paris, also grew up in Normandy. Boudin and Monet painted together en plein aire as each sought, discovered, and honed their artistic styles.
Boudin did not think of himself primarily as an avant-garde artist and did not exhibit in the Impressionist exhibitions after 1874. Yet, with these Impressionists, Boudin’s artwork depicted light and its reflections, especially its darker filaments, in preference to volumes and forms.
In addition to beach scenes, skies, sea, and countryside, Boudin painted still life, animals, and a few portraits. In the 1870s Boudin painted harbors and ships. In his subject matter his pictures presented a complete and even-handed depiction, evocative of eighteenth-century genre paintings.
Slightly older Dutch painter Johan Jongkind (1819-1891) had encouraged Boudin to paint outdoors. Boudin, now surrounded by nature, became increasingly spontaneous in his artwork and used brighter colors.1
In 1859, 35-year-old Eugène Boudin, the painter of seascapes and beaches, made his debut at the Salon. The annual Salon began in the late 17th century (1667). It was sponsored by the monarchy and highlighted artwork of members of the Academie royale de peinture et de sculpture. The all-important Salon operated in this basic form for almost 200 years. It was held irregularly at first (frequently there would be no exhibition held for years) though between 1774 to 1792 the Salon was held biennially.
This elite Salon was a competitive platform for artists to display their work where the goal was to gain public and private commissions. The Salon was the sole venue in France for contemporary fine art and was popular to visit by a cross-section of society where many purchased the livret, the Salon’s official catalogue. In 1795 during the French Revolution the historically royal venue was opened to all artists. This more inclusive Salon experience led to the extension of official French art’s influence throughout Europe. In the Salon of 1800, American artists exhibited for the first time.2
Between 1864 and 1879 Boudin exhibited in the Salon every year.3 However, important critics, such as the influential Albert Wolff (1835-1891), ignored Boudin for much of this time. It was in 1881, 22 years after Boudin’s Salon debut, that M. Wolff published an article in Le Figaro that led to Boudin’s greater official recognition.4
In the last decades of the 19th century, Boudin exhibited yearly from 1880 to 1889 at the Salon des Société des Artistes Français5 and, with a single exception, from 1890 to 1897 at the Société National des Beaux-Arts.6 Some of Boudin’s works were bought by the State in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s.7 Ernest Chesneau (1833-1890) had written on Boudin in Paris-Journal that while the painter was ignored by official art world critics he was a “real talent” among the Salon’s “latest banalties.”
In 1881 control of the Salon was ceded to the Société des Artistes Français. In the 1880’s and 1890’s there were several groups outside the Salon who mounted exhibitions. These included the one-time Salon des Refusés in 1863, the Société des Artistes Indépendants or Salon des Indépendants, beginning in summer 1884, and the salons of the Société nationale des beaux-arts, from 1890. These types of independent, unofficial exhibitions, continued into the 20th century with the Salon d’automne in 1903.8
In 1859 Boudin met Gustave Courbet who introduced Boudin to the poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire. Courbet, painting at Boudin’s side, exclaimed: “Mon Dieu, you are a seraph, Boudin! You are the only one of us who really knows the sky!” In 1861 Boudin met Camille Corot who called Boudin the “king of the skies.”
Charles Baudelaire noted in 1859 that he had seen in Boudin’s studio “hundreds of pastel studies improvised before the sea and the sky.” Baudelaire described these artworks as “the prodigious magic of air and water.”9 The economy of Boudin’s artwork with its summary figures of modern life attracted Baudelaire’s praise during the 1859 Salon. Baudelaire became convinced, when looking at a Boudin painting, that he could identify the season, hour and wind direction of the subject matter depicted in pastel or paint.10
At the Impressionist Exhibition of 1874, the critic Castagnary (1830-1888), author of “The Triumph of Naturalism” in 1868, wrote on Boudin in Le Siècle. He cited “the very high prices” that Boudin was experiencing as collectors “fought over” his beach scenes and seascapes. Castagnary concluded in 1874 that the 50-year-old Boudin had “commanded respect for years.”11 In 1868 Boudin’s auction of 40 paintings and 100 watercolors and pastels at the Hôtel Drouot had been quite successful. That same year Boudin won a silver medal at the Exposition maritime international exhibiting with Courbet, Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), Monet and Édouard Manet (1832-1883).
In 1874, Marc de Montifaud (Marie Amélie Chartroule, 1850-c.1912), art critic for L’Artiste and soon to found L’Art modern magazine in 1875 (and which merged with Les Beaux-Arts in 1877) cited the titles of a few paintings by Boudin out of the 13 works he exhibited which included watercolors and pastels. Yet De Montifaud’s placement of Boudin’s work under the category of “marine paintings,” did little to elucidate exact canvasses when the time came later to identify such.12
In the 1860’s Paris dealers such as Martin, Hagerman and Gauchez were regularly buying his work. Boudin’s growing reputation and financial security enabled him to travel extensively in the 1870s and 1880s. Boudin, who married Marie-Ane Guédès in 1863, painted in Belgium, the Netherlands and southern France in that period. From 1892 to 1895 he regularly visited Italy, traveling to Venice. In addition to being awarded medals at the Salon, the Exposition Universelle in 1889, and other exhibitions, Boudin, in 1881, became represented by Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).
In the late 1870s Boudin, then without dealer representation, held several auctions of his artwork which produced varying sales results. In 1881, Durand-Ruel bought all of Boudin’s studio inventory. In 1883 Boudin had a solo exhibition at Durand-Ruel’s that featured 150 paintings, and pastels and watercolors and in 1886 an exhibition of 23 works at Durand-Ruel’s in New York City. From July 8 to August 14, 1889 – the year Boudin’s wife died – the artist staged a one-man exhibition in Paris at Durand-Ruel’s featuring 98 pictures.13 In 1890 Boudin held an exhibition at Durand Ruel’s in Boston featuring 13 paintings and a solo exhibition in Paris at Durand-Ruel’s with 34 paintings, and as many pastels and several drawings in 1891.
As a refuge for his ill-health, Boudin lived in the south of France for many years but finally returned to Deauville. In 1898 Boudin died at 74 years old under the skies of La Manche which he had been inspired to paint often.
In 1892 Eugène Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d’honneur which recognized the artist’s talent and influence on the art of his contemporaries. Today, the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts gives the Eugène Boudin Prize.
After Boudin’s death, his artistic reputation continued to grow. In 1899, The École des Beaux Arts held a major retrospective with 457 works (including 364 paintings, 73 pastels, and 20 watercolors). Boudin was praised by art critics Roger Marx (1859-1913), Arsène Alexandre (1859-1937), and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), among others,
Despite the artist’s modest consideration for his art, Boudin was viewed in retrospect by 20th century’s critics as an initiator of the avant-garde, though he did not quite ascend to the turbulent aesthetic heights of Manet and Monet.14.
In 1872, art critic Louis Duranty (1833 -1880) published a short story that included fictional and historical characters including artists such as Boudin, Manet, Corot, Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), and Courbet. Of Boudin, Duranty wrote: “Here is a simple, sagacious, conscientious mind who puts forward (the artwork’s) feeling in gray, fine, fair notes.”
FEATURE image: Ulysses and Penelope, Francesco Primaticcio called Le Primatice (1504-1570), Toledo Museum of Art, c. 1560, oil on canvas, 44 3/4 x 48 3/4 in. (113.6 x 123.8 cm).
Jean Perréal’s most important attribution is this portrait of Louis XII who was King of France from 1498 to 1515. Louis XII was married three times – the first annulled; the second leaving the king a widower, and, in his last three months of life, to Mary Tudor (1496-1533), the favorite sister of King Henry VIII of England. Despite these wives, the king had no living sons. The Salic Law prohibited his line to continue on the French throne through his daughters. When Louis died in 1515, his throne eventually passed to his cousin, Francis I.
Jean Perréal (c.1455-1530) was Court painter to the Bourbons and later worked for the kings of France starting with Charles VII. Perréal journeyed to Italy several times. In 1514 he went to London to paint Mary Tudor’s portrait and supervise her new dresses as Mary, aged 18 years, sister of the English king, married the 52-year-old King Louis XII of France.
The Master of Saint Giles was a Flemish or Flemish-trained painter who was active in France. He is named after artworks in London attributed to the artist called Scenes from the Legend of St. Giles. As the artist’s identity is obscure, the saint depicted in his artwork is shrouded in legend.
St. Giles is possibly an 8th century hermit in France who became the patron saint of beggars, the handicapped, and blacksmiths which was an important trade in the Middle Ages. In one work, the artist depicts a famous story about St. Giles. Before King Flavius’s hunting party, he protected a deer from their bows and arrows. The king was apologetic and Giles persuaded him to establish a Provençal monastery in which St. Giles served as its first abbot.
France conducted wars in Italy starting in 1494 that continued into the 16th century. By this pugilistic means, many of the Italian Renaissance’s ideas and practices were brought back to France. It had been just the opposite in the 12th century when French ideas, particularly that of troubadours and chivalry, were brought back to Italy following trade expeditions by merchants.
After fighting ceased, King Francis I invited Italian artists into France, most famously Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in 1516. Following more war in Spain, Francis I began in earnest a revolution in art in France in 1526. The king made the Château de Fontainebleau one of the most active artistic centers in Europe, attracting many Italian artists such as Le Rosso (1495-1540) and Primaticcio or Primatice (c. 1504-1570). The French Renaissance, under the influence of these Italian masters, synthesized French and Italian art whose style was later described as the School of Fontainebleau.
Le Rosso or Rosso Fiorentino was a friend of Pontormo (1494-1557) and worked under Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), a founder of Italian Mannerism. He first worked in Florence (1513-1523) and then in Rome (1524-1527). With the sack of Rome in 1527 by German troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), Rosso wandered about Italy for a while. In 1530 he was in Venice and, in that same year, went to France.
Rosso arrived to Fontainebleau and, with Primaticcio, became one of the founders of the Fontainebleau style which had a tremendous influence on French painting. Reputedly a neurotic person, Rosso’s death was accounted a suicide by Vasari though that is unconfirmed. The classic style found in Rosso’s The Fountain of Youth was increasingly replaced by his later emotionally charged style.
Primaticcio (c.1504-1570) was a founder of the Fontainebleau School in France with his fellow Italian artist Le Rosso in the 1530s. Primaticcio was a talented artist of universal range – from painting and interior decoration to sculpture and architecture.
From the mid1520s to 1532 Primiticcio trained in Mantua under Giulio Romano (c. 1499-1546). He was called to France by King Francis I in 1532 where he worked at Fontainebleau with Le Rosso. Between 1540 and 1542 the artist represented the king in Italy on an art buying expedition. In that time when he was away Rosso died, and Primiticcio, upon his return to France, began working with Niccolò dell’Abbate (c. 1509-1571) at Fontainebleau. It was in this period that he produced decorations in the galerie d’Ulysses that have been lost. In 1546, and again in 1563, Primaticcio went to Italy where on one trip he made casts of Michelangelo’s sculpture and in the other met Vasari.
The style of the painting is Mannerist which predominated in the 16th century. Mannerists went beyond the depiction of nature to flights of imagination and invention. For a stylistic statement, forms were twisting and elongated giving them greater pliability. Mannerists rejected the High Renaissance’s reliance on strict perspective and symmetry and preferred to construct compressed spaces with shaded tones, harsh colors, and the overall feeling of dreaming while awake.
After battling the Trojans and other subsequent troubled adventures, Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) has returned home to his wife, the faithful Penelope. Into the night, the reunited lovers recount their lives apart from one another. While Penelope counts the number of suitors on her hands who she held at bay, Ulysses cradles her chin in a gesture of tenderness and compassion. The composition is based on one of 58 wall frescos of scenes from Homer’s Odyssey at the palace of Fontainebleau near Paris. Unfortunately, the Gallery of Ulysses, Primaticcio’s masterpiece, was destroyed in 1738 after it had been allowed to decay over 200 years.
A preparatory drawing by Primaticcio in the Louvre for a lost composition of the cycle of L’Histoire d’Alexandre painted in the Room of the Duchess of Etampes in Fontainebleau. It was the masquerade that brought about the fire in Persepolis, an historic event that took place in 330 BCE when Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire following the battle of Guagamela the year before.
It is not disputed in history that after Alexander arrived to the Persian capital city of Persepolis it was looted and burned to the ground, destroying many great cultural treasures. Though recorded by several historians, accounts vary. The first century Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote that while drunk during a large celebration with his companions, attendants and courtesans, Alexander himself started the fire as the rest joined in. (see – https://www.worldhistory.org/article/214/alexander-the-great–the-burning-of-persepolis/
Niccolò dell’Abbate was from Modena in Italy. He was influenced by the sculptural and optical illusion achieved in the artwork of Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). He was also influenced by Correggio (1489-1534), a master of chiaroscuro. By 1552 dell’ Abbate was in France helping Primaticcio at Fontainebleau with the royal chateau’s interior decorations though most of his artwork has disappeared. The Death of Eurydice is a fine example of the Mannerist landscape which the artist is responsible for having introduced into France.
Le Maître de Flore is a French painter of the mid16th century Fontainebleau School. The use of the moniker Maître de Flore derives from this and another artwork.
The painting above by the Master of Flore in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is seen as depicting the birth of Cupid, with attendants in the birthing room assisting Venus. The composition, which is animated and decorative, is an example of the School of Fontainebleau, the high art style developed in 16th century France by Italian artists under the sponsorship of the French king.
Perhaps the most famous artwork to come out of the School of Fontainebleau is an anonymous work in the Louvre entitled Diana the Hunter. With influences of both Le Rosso and dell’ Abbate, Italian masters of the school, it is believed to depict Diana de Poitiers, the legendary French beauty and mistress of Henry II.
A recurring theme of the Italian masters and French artists in the 16th century is that of the naked woman, shown half-figure in her bath, or dressing. Some have an allegorical significance, others are combined with a portrait. This particular work which depicts some beauty of the day was so admired that there are known 16th century copies of it in Basel and in Massachusetts.
Jean Cousin was born in Sens and died in Paris. He was a French painter, engraver and sculptor.
St. Mammès was martyred under Emperor Aurelian in Cappadocia around 275. In Asia Minor he was highly revered by early Christians. In the 8th century his relics were taken to France and into Langres cathedral. Around 1540, eight tapestries were produced for the cathedral chancel depicting scenes from the saint’s life. Three of the tapestries survive: two in Langres and one in the Louvre.
In the Louvre tapestry, St. Mammès is accompanied by a lion to visit Aurelian who condemned him to death. In the background building the saint’s execution is already taking place. The tapestry’s elements point to the wave of influence that was the Italian Renaissance: its expansive landscape; its compositional use of perspective; and its classicizing architecture and buildings’ decoration, all of which came together in Francis I’s School of Fontainebleau. The tapestry’s varied and nuanced use of color lend a painterly appearance to the woven artwork.
The picture displays a scene at one of the likely nearby hôtels that housed merchants, diplomats and others so to be close by the king. It is evident by Félix Chrétien ‘s artwork that creative activity went far beyond the confines of the royal chateaux. Many painters whose names and works are unknown flourished in 16th century France. Italian Renaissance techniques are used in the painting such as its correctly rendered spatial perspective, realistic figural development, and the typical gestures found in the latest Franco-Italian Mannerist style.
Jean Clouet was the Court Painter to King Francis I. While Clouet was an influential artist in the establishment of Renaissance portraiture in France, his only documented painted portrait is that of Francis I’s librarian, Guillaume Budé (1467–1540).
A leading humanist of the sixteenth century, Budé’s fingers hold his page and a quill in the midst of writing. The words on the page in Greek presents an epigram: “While it seems to be good to get what one desires, the greatest good is not to desire what one does not need.”
Jean Clouet, also called Jean Clouet II and Janet, was probably the son of a Flemish painter who was the Court Painter to the Duke of Burgundy. Jean Clouet II made a number of portrait drawings of the Court that survive, most in Chantilly.
François Clouet was the son of Jean Clouet II and succeeded him as Court Painter to the king in 1541. Like his father, he was also called Janet and specialized in portrait drawings, most of which are housed in Chantilly. Francois Clouet’s first signed painting was the 1562 portrait of Pierre Quthe in the Louvre. Its style was influenced by the Florentine artists, particularly Angelo Bronzino (1503-1572).
The identity of Clouet’s model has long been debated. She may have been Marie Touchet, the mistress of Charles IX, or possibly Diane de Poitiers, the legendary French beauty and mistress of Henry II. The painting is boldly composed as it evokes poses of Venus, the love goddess, found in Italian art but also in its presentation of fecundity such as the nurse suckling a child and a bowl of ripe fruit of the season. The raised curtain is a device used in royal portraiture though here it may be just decorative.
Corneille de Lyon (active 1533-1574) was born in The Hague and worked in Lyons, France for over 30 years starting around 1540. A contemporary and rival of François Clouet (c. 1520-1574), Corneille de Lyon is well documented as a popular leading painter in the French style. As the artist did not sign or date his works, it is virtually impossible to positively identify his artwork. It was only in 1962 that his first work –and nearly all of them are miniature in scale – was positively identified. The nature of his work was described by contemporaries. In 1551 the Venetian ambassador who visited the artist’s studio observed: “We paid a call to an excellent painter who…showed us the whole Court of France, both gentleman and ladies, depicted with the utmost likeness on a great many small panels.”
Working in oil on wood panel, Corneille de Lyon was Peintre et Valet de Chambre du Roi to Henry II (1519-1559) and Charles IX (1550-1574). Corneille likely did paint the entire court. Portraits usually show half-length figures dressed in dark colors against a neutral, somewhat iridescent and greenish background. Groups of such portraits are of uneven quality marking studio artists supervised by the master. The precise drawing of facial features with its smooth planes and enamel-like techniques conveys sitters of placid expression whether their gaze is distant or engaged. Costumes are portrayed with detailed realism yet in a rich, modulated and less definite form.
Painter to the king since 1551, Corneille became a landowner by gift of the king in 1564. In June 1564 one of the artist’s high-born visitors to his home was Catherine de‘ Medici (1519-1589), then regent. Before his death in 1574, the Netherlandish-born Corneille, with his family and household, became Roman Catholics after working in the French Court for nearly 35 years.
Towards the close of the 16th century, there were two families of French artists who were active – namely, the Dumonstiers and the Quesnels.
The Dumonstiers were descendants of one of Le Rosso’s fellow workers at Fontainebleau in the 1530s. Pierre Dumonstier (c.1545-c.1610) was one of three brothers, all of whom were portrait painters. The brothers had close links to the royal house, particularly to Catherine de’ Medici. Pierre produced several drawings, many in color giving them a somewhat painted appearance. Portrait of an Unknown Man is a chalk drawing with watercolor.
In terms of style, what in the beginning of the 16th century produced precise drawing of facial features in portraiture gave way by the end of the century to greater modeling fluency so to achieve intense expression. Portraiture’s overall format, however, remained constant: a face isolated on a neutral background rendered with close analytic attention.
The Quesnel artistic dynasty began with a court painter to James V of Scotland (1513-1542). One of that painter’s sons, François Quesnel (1543-1619), produced many drawings. His painted portrait of Mary Ann Waltham is signed and dated by the artist. Quesnel concentrates on rendering the face with the rest of the body and costume handled perfunctorily. This dichotomy of attention to form was the case in the drawings as well. It may be that the master produced the face in these portraits and left the body and costume to studio assistants.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
La Peinture Française: XVe et XVIe Siècles, Albert Châtelet, Skira, Genève Suisse, 1992.
French Painting: From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Châtelet and Jacques Thuillier, Skira, 1963.