Category Archives: France

Quotations: ST. FRANCIS DE SALES, BISHOP OF GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (1567-1622). (63 Quotes).

FEATURE Image: Saint Francis de Sales sitting in front of a copy of his work, “Introduction to the Devout Life,” oil on canvas, c.1790s, 77 cm x 99.5 cm, unknown artist. Hovering above the 17th century French Catholic bishop, saint, and Doctor of the Church are two cherubs who regard him with kindness. Public Domain. Francis de Sales became one of the most respected theologians in Christianity. A great preacher and writer, Francis de Sales ascended the seat of Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, and, with widowed Baroness Jeanne de Chantal (1571-1641), founded the religious order of the Visitation. As a diplomat and man of prayer, Francis de Sales exerted a significant influence within the Catholic Church and among the temporal powers of the day.  https://www.antiques-delaval.com/en/paintings/7068-hst-large-portrait-saint-francois-dirty-life-devote-cherubs-xviiieme.html -retrieved January 24, 2023. Public Domain.

INTRODUCTION.

By all accounts, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was a gracious and holy man. His writings were, similar to the Jesuits of whom Francis was a student, admirer and close friend, directed to society’s well-to-do and concerned with how they, as society’s current elites can practice, most basically, Christian “noblesse oblige” within their privileged social station.

Also like the Jesuits at that time, St. Francis de Sales’ writing defended and explained Catholic doctrine to a Europe which, in an age of Renaissance and Reformation, was very much in revolt against it. To preserve and endorse a social order as well as to perfect belief in doctrine, St. Francis de Sales communicated in everything he did and said that both were attainable.

Like the sons of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Francis de Sales was also active in the direction of souls. In one of the bishop’s most famous writings, the Introduction to the Devout Life, it was a Jesuit father (Jean Fourier, S.J.), who strongly encouraged a noble lady around 1607 to prevail upon the local bishop to have his personal writings of spiritual direction to her and others printed to reach a wider audience of contacts and friends at court and others among the ruling class. St. Francis de Sales was equally eager to have his personal instructions for the advancement and perfection of individual souls printed as soon as due diligence allowed. The decision to publish the book in 1608 was auspicious – Introduction to the Devout Life became an instant international bestseller and, over four centuries, remains a spiritual classic. As John K. Ryan observed, “Its greatness lies in many things: in its originality, its completeness, its sincerity, its balance, its penetration and its style…(and) as such it is beyond adverse criticism in any important way.”1

Born Francis Bonaventure in August 1567 at the Sales castle in Savoy, France, Francis de Sales, like Ignatius of Loyola in Spain 75 years earlier, was born to nobility. His father was a lord of multiple localities and Francis was destined to inherit his life of wealth and power. As a boy and young man, Francis was naturally spiritual and as he pretended to be just another one of the fellows, class-mates in Annecy recognized Francis was devout. Despite his attraction to being a priest there were tremendous social pressures to marry a beautiful woman and inherit his father’s lordly mantle.

His family sent Francis to Paris to round out these social expectations as well as continue his education. They wanted Francis to attend the select, prestigious, and venerable (founded in 1305) College of Navarre with its renowned library, but Francis chose to attend the new (founded 1562) Jesuit College of Clermont, which was known for its academic rigor and religious and moral vision.2 At the Jesuit school St. Francis de Sales came into contact with the post-Tridentine humanism taught by its dedicated Jesuit directors and faculty such as Father Possevin, S.J. 3 In Paris St. Francis de Sales was exposed to the classical learning of the modern renaissance and which was applied in the service of the Christian mind and spirit. Francis took to humanism better than any of his class-mates and knowingly expressed its intellectual tenets the rest of his life.

Although away from the distractions of the fine hôtel de Navarre in rue Saint André des Arts which housed the College of Navarre, St. Francis de Sales could be seen working out his spiritual life often in prayer in Saint-Étienne-des-Grès in the Latin Quarter. The church (now demolished) on Rue Saint-Jacques was at the time a center for Christianity among the students. A later saintly Frenchman who often frequented Saint-Étienne-des-Grès was St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). The young college-age layman finding he had serious religious scruples and temptations to lust4, it was in Saint-Étienne-des-Grès that St. Francis de Sales ultimately took a personal vow of chastity before a statue of the Virgin Mary which allowed him to pursue his spiritual desires.

After studying for another 5 years at the University of Padua in Italy, the young nobleman, St. Francis de Sales, emerged in 1591 with the equivalent of today’s J.D.- Ph.D. In those years the young nobleman was surrounded by the Renaissance writings of philosophers and poets such as Marsiglio Ficino (1433-1499), Giovanni della Casa (1503-1556) and contemporary French theologian Pierre Charron (1541-1603).5 Francis was not yet a priest but set on its course – and continued onwards to ordination after he told his family of his decision. In May 1593, at 25 years old, now-Dr. Francis de Sales, Esquire, was ordained a Catholic priest and joined the staff at the chapter of Geneva. Then-bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, Claude Grenier (1548-1602), gave the young, freshly well-educated St. Francis de Sales the virtually impossible task to reconvert to Catholicism the citizens of Geneva, the seat of John Calvin (1509-1564), French Protestant and author of the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Despite his charitable and positive efforts at persuasion, the die was mostly cast for Geneva and the young priest’s efforts were unsuccessful, including the disappointment of having to deal solely on the promises of princes whether temporal or ecclesial. 6

The Protestant Reformation and the Wars of Religion  (1562-1598)  made for impassioned attitudes and complicating factors in European and Church politics and the individual practice of one’s faith in the larger, fragmented, society at the start of the 17th century.

In 1602 St. Francis de Sales was sent to Paris to negotiate the condition of Catholics in reconverted territories in France. He met and discussed these matters, particularly exploring its approach for the reintegration of the Catholic faithful at each stratum of society that was peaceful, positive, charitable and temperate. At meetings taking place at the worldly façade of the court of Henry IV ( (1553-1610), St. Francis de Sales met some of the great figures of the religious and mystical revival taking place in France in that time, including Henri, Duc de Joyeuse (1563–1608), a General commander in the Wars of Religion and member of the Catholic League who became a Capuchin Franciscan after the death of his wife, Catherine de La Valette; Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629), one of the most important mystics of the 17th century in France and, later, a Catholic cardinal; and Madame Acarie (1566-1618), mother of seven children, and foundress and lay sister of the Discalced Carmelites in France. Born Barbara Avrillot (and called “Barbe”), Madame Acarie was widely respected in Paris as the person to whom the wealthy, whenever they desired to help the poor, made sure their alms went through her hands. St. Francis de Sales, a respected theologian, also influenced the temporal powers – the dukes of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel I (1562-1630) and Victor Amadeus I (1587-1637), the regent of Savoy Christine de France and kings Henry IV and Louis XIII of France.

Charles Emmanuel I. Duke of Savoy (1562-1630) by Jan Kraeck. Public Domain.
Victor Amadeus I (1587-1637), artist unknown. Public Domain.

In July 1602 following the death of Bishop Grenier, St. Francis de Sales became Bishop of Geneva. Francis de Sales traveled ceaselessly around the diocese and beyond, preaching and hearing confessions, and the people quickly realized they had a holy bishop. It was by way of one of his penitents, St. Jeanne-Françoise de Chantal (1572-1641), that St. Francis de Sales worked his vision of the foundation of a new order, the Visitation, whose charism was to serve the sick and the poor with “the charity and gentleness of Jesus Christ.”7

St. Francis de Sales with Sisters of the Visitation, Francisco Bayeu y Subias (1734-1795), c. 1760, oil on canvas, , 56 x 34 cm, Prado, Madrid, Spain. https://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/obra-de-arte/san-francisco-de-sales/540cb0b9-ca15-4c43-b011-d2d71f7c5820?searchMeta=san%20francis The 18th century painting, once in the Royal Collection, is today housed in a regional art museum in Salamanca. Public Domain.

It was in this first decade of the 17th century amidst this flurry of evangelizing and other activity that the 40-something bishop wrote the Introduction to the Devout Life (1608). The book, written in short chapters with titles on topical challenges, problems, and opportunities in the Christian life in the world, provides its responses based on practical counsels. The Introduction to the Devout Life much as his later work, On Love of God, are very reliant on the Bible for its teaching and sprang directly from the bishops’ care of souls that he was doing actively and sacramentally from his diocese in southeastern France. Francis’s generous range of literary sources reflected his education in Renaissance humanism and included classical authors, Montaigne, contemporary poets as well as medieval saints and spiritual writers such as Sts. Anselm, Bonaventure and Bernard. Francis was also familiar with the writings and religious vision of the 16th century Spanish mystics and saints such as Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola.8

The exceedingly practical St. Vincent de Paul observed about St. Francis de Sales’ On the Love of God: “A truly admirable book, which has as many admirers of the sweetness of its author as it has readers. I have carefully arranged that it shall be read throughout our Society [the Vincentians], as the universal remedy for all feeble ones, the good of slothful ones, the stimulus of love, and the ladder of those who are tending to perfection. Oh! that all would study it as it deserves! There should be no one to escape its heat.”9

St. Francis de Sales by J. J. Owens. c. 1905, based on the Turin portrait. Public Domain.

St. Francis de Sales, now in his early 50s, visited Paris in 1618 where he preached sometimes twice each day. His great work was to show how ordinary daily life, particularly a busy and successful life, could be a path of holiness. No issue was too large or small for the saint to address – from parties, clothes, flirtations, daily life among marrieds – but all directed to the purpose of imitation of Christ and the love of God. St. Francis takes for granted one’s daily life in French society and proposes no maxim which involves any violent upheavals from it. Part of the saint’s genius is to see that there can be no dispute between the social order and the Christian life. At the same time, St. Francis is no easy teacher or grader – he asks that the Christian virtues be upheld and practiced. That insistence on Christian virtue informing one’s daily life is also the genius of his doctrine. While highly educated and imbued with the grace of mind of the Renaissance, St. Francis carried naturally within himself and conveyed the wisdom of the French soil of Savoy, its terroir. As Francis took one’s daily life in French society for granted, he took Catholic doctrine as if for granted. He then explained it with a highly cultivated mind and gracious spirit that expressed itself with a sweetness and gentleness of style that expounded it as “the universal remedy…the stimulus of love…the ladder …to perfection” as St. Vincent de Paul recognized to those with faith or not, or in trouble in day-to-day life.

St. Francis de Sales perhaps speaks to the 21st century most clearly by way of his theology that is presented without sentimentality or melodrama and is clearly explained and lived to be particularly possible and desirable. Francis said: “He who lives for God, frequently thinks of Him during all the occupations of life.”12

January 24 is the memorial feast day of St. Francis de Sales on the General Roman Calendar of 1969. St. Francis de Sales is the patron of writers, journalists, the Catholic press, confessors, the deaf and educators. He was proclaimed a saint and doctor of the Catholic Church. The following quotes are taken from his many published works of spiritual edification, counsel, exhortation, and solace.

NOTES:

  1. Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales, trans. and edited by John K. Ryan, Image books (Doubleday) Garden City New York, 1955, p.11.
  2. Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, trans. by Péronne Marie Thibert, V.H.M. and selected and introduced by Wendy M. Wright and Joseph F. Power, O.S.F.S. Paulist Press New York, 1988 p.19.
  3. CF. Elisabeth Stopp, “St. Francis de Sales at Clermont College,” in Salesian Studies, 6 (Winter 1969). pp. 42-43.
  4. Wright & Power, p. 20.
  5. Wright & Power, p. 22.
  6. The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, p. 305.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Wright & Power, p. 28.
  9. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/desales/love.all.html – retrieved January 23, 2023.
  10. The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, p. 305.
  11. On the Love of Godhttps://www.ccel.org/ccel/desales/love.all.html – retrieved January 23, 2023.
  12. Maxims and counsels of St. Francis de Sales for every day in the year, Ella McMahon, M.H. Gill & Son, Dublin, 1884, p. 12.

QUOTATIONS.

There are certain birds..(that) have such short and weak legs as to be of no use to them; it is as if they did not even have them. Should they fall to the ground, they remain there, unable to take flight because, without the use of legs or feet, they cannot rise and take wing. Consequently, they remain on the ground and die there, unless a gust of wind, compensating for their inability, lifts them up, as it often does with other things. If, in that case, they flap their wings in response to the thrust of the wind, the wind itself will continue to help them by thrusting them ever higher, in order to help them to fly higher and higher.
Keep yourself faithfully in the presence of God. Avoid hurry and anxiety, for there are no greater obstacles to our progress in perfection.
Cast your heart gently, not violently, into the wounds of our Savior and have an unlimited confidence in his mercy and goodness.
To make good progress we must devote ourselves to getting over that portion of the path which lies close before us, and not amuse ourselves with the desire to attain the last step before we have accomplished the first.
We must make our imperfections die with us from day to day. Dear imperfections, which cause us to recognize our misery, which exercise us in contempt of self, and the practice of virtue, and notwithstanding which God accepts the preparation of our hearts which is perfect.
I recommend simplicity to you; look before you, and not at the dangers which you behold in the distance. Keep your will firmly bent upon serving God with your whole heart. While you are thus occupied in forecasting the future you expose yourself to some false step.
Have no care for tomorrow. Think only of doing well today. And when tomorrow shall have become today, then we shall think about it.
We must make a provision of manna for each day only. Let us not be afraid that God will fail to send down more upon us tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, and every day of our pilgrimage.
Since the Heart of our Lord has no more loving law than meekness, humility, and charity, we must firmly maintain these dear virtues in us.
True sanctity lies in love of God, and not in foolish imaginings, raptures, &c. Let us devote ourselves to the practice of true meekness and submission, to renouncement of self, to docility of heart, to love of abjection, to consideration for the wishes of others : this is true sanctity and the most amiable ecstasy of the children of God.
May you belong to God forever in this mortal life, serving Him faithfully through its trials, bearing the cross after Him, and may you be His forever in life eternal with the whole celestial court!

https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/20221228-totum-amoris-est.html – APOSTOLIC LETTER TOTUM AMORIS EST (it’s all about love)
OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON THE FOURTH CENTENARY OF THE DEATH
OF SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES
, dated December 28, 2022 – retrieved January 28, 2023.

The great good of our souls is to live for God, and the greatest good to live for God alone. He who lives but for God is never sad, save at having offended God.
He who lives for God, frequently thinks of Him during all the occupations of life.
Saint Francis gives the rule to Saint Jeanne de Chantal (Study for the Chapel of the Visitation at Nantes), 19th century, Elie Delaunay (1828-1891), Louvre. Public Domain.
The reason persons are in the world is to receive and carry the gentle Jesus: on our tongue by proclaiming him and in our arms by doing good works.
I am as human as anyone could possibly be.
See the divine lover at the gate. He does not simply knock once. He continues to knock. He calls the soul: come, arise my beloved, hurry!…In short, this divine Savior forgets nothing to show that his mercies are above all his works, are greater than his judgment.
Solitude has its assaults, the world its busyness – in either place we must be courageous since in either place divine help is available to those who trust God and humbly and gently ask for his fatherly assistance.
Since this congregation does not have as many austerities or indissoluble bonds as formal orders, the fervor of charity and force of a deep personal resolution must supply for all that…so that might be realized the saying of the Apostle which affirms that charity is the perfect bond.
Saint François de Sales blesses Saint Jeanne de Chantal, Chapelle de la Visitation at Nantes n° 61
XIXe siècle. Elie Delaunay (1828-1891), Musée d’Arts de Nantes. Public Domain.
It is the height of holy disinterestedness to be content with naked, dry, and insensible acts carried out by the superior will alone….In the end, the savior wants us to be His so perfectly that nothing else remains for us, and to abandon ourselves to His providence without reservation.
Since the heart is the source of all our actions, as the heart is, so are they.
For myself, I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things, such as bearings, dress or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin inside.
I beg you, my dear Sister, govern your community with a great expansiveness of heart…The more solicitous, open, and supportive you are with them, the more you will win their hearts.
I had the courage to my give [my own dying mother] the last blessing, to close her eyes and mouth and to give her the last kiss of peace at the moment she passed away; after which my heart swelled and I wept….
Saint Francis de Sales healing a lame man, Chapelle de la Visitation at Nantes n° 61
XIXe siècle. Elie Delaunay (1828-1891), Musée d’Arts de Nantes. Public Domain.
Then let us belong wholly to Him, and live but for Him, desiring only to please Him, and for his creatures in Him, through Him, and for Him. Make your little efforts sweetly, peacefully, and amiably to please this Sovereign Goodness, and do not be astonished at difficulties.
We must be constant in aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect. For the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be imperfect.
Never permit your soul to be sad and live in bitterness of spirit or scrupulous fear, since He who loved it and died to give it life is so good, so sweet, so amiable.
God, who calls us to Him, sees how we are approaching, and will never permit anything to happen but what is for our greater good. God knows what we are, and will hold out his paternal hand to us in a difficult step, in order that nothing may stop us.
God has preserved you so far. Only keep yourself faithful to the law of his providence and He will assist you at all times. And where you cannot walk, He will carry you.
Saint Francis de Sales healing a lame man, Chapelle de la Visitation at Nantes n° 61
XIXe siècle. Elie Delaunay (1828-1891), Musée d’Arts de Nantes. Public Domain.
An over-sensitive mind can neither receive nor endure anything without telling of it, and it is always a little astonished at the lowly places which humility and simplicity choose.
I see you with your vigorous heart which loves and wills powerfully. I like it, for what are those half -dead hearts good for? We must make a particular exercise once every week of willing to love the will of God more tenderly, more affectionately than anything in the world, and that, too, not only in bearable but in the most unbearable events.
Plant in your heart Jesus Christ Crucified, and all the crosses of this world will seem to you like roses.
Lord Jesus, without reserve, without an if, or a but, without exception or limitation, may you holy will be done in all things and at all times.
Regard not the appearance of the things you are to do, but Him who commands them, and who, when He pleases, can accomplish his glory and our perfection through the most imperfect and trifling things.
 
Painting of St. Francis de Sales in Don Bosco’s rooms at the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales in Turin. Public Domain.
Behold this great Artisan of mercy. He converts our miseries into graces and our iniquities into salutary remedies for our souls. Tell me, I pray, what will He not do with the afflictions, the labors, the persecutions which assail us?
Never think you have attained the purity of heart which you owe to God until your will is freely and joyfully resigned to his holy will in all things, even in the most repugnant.
Daily strengthen yourself more and more in the resolution, which you formed with so much affection, of serving God according to his good pleasure. Regard Him who commands them and, when He pleases, can accomplish his glory and our perfection through the most imperfect and trifling things.
A true servant of God has no care for tomorrow, but performs faithfully what is required today, and tomorrow will do what is required without a word.
The meek Savior would have us meek, so that, though surrounded by the world and the flesh, we may live by the Spirit that, amidst the vanities of earth, we may live in heaven; that, living among men, we may praise Him with the angels.
St. Francis de Sales, 18th c, Besançon, 96 x 131 cm. Public Domain.
Here is the great lesson – we must discover God’s will, and, recognizing it, endeavor to do it joyfully, or at least courageously.
The sight alone of our dear Jesus crucified can speedily soften all sorrows, which are but flowers compared with his thorns.
Our great rendezvous is an eternal heaven and compared with the price of eternity, what are the things which end with time?
Continue to unite yourself more and more with our Lord. Plunge your heart into the charity of His, and say always with your whole soul: May I die and may Jesus live !” Our death will be a happy one if we have died daily.
Lord Jesus, what true happiness for a soul consecrated to God to be strongly exercised in tribulation before leaving this life!
Saint Francis Sales, antique pendant, Lyon, France. Public Domain.
Nothing can give us deeper peace in this world than to frequently contemplate our Lord in all the afflictions He endured from his birth to his death. Contempt, calumnies, poverty, abjection, weariness, suffering, nakedness, wrongs, and grief of every kind.
Let us faithfully cultivate that resignation and pure love of God which is never wholly practiced but amid sufferings. For to love God, when He feeds us with sweetness is nothing more than children do. But to love God when He feeds us with gall is to offer Him the cup of our loving fidelity.
It is not in my power to propose to Him anything for you, save that He may, according to his holy will, fashion your heart for his dwelling, and reign there eternally. And whether He fashion it with the brush, hammer, or chisel, must be according to his good pleasure.
I desire that your cross and mine should be wholly the cross of Jesus. This or that burden, or making any choice, God knows what He is doing and why He does it. It is certainly for our good.
God wishes that, like Job, I should serve Him in the midst of dryness, suffering, and temptation. Like St Paul, that I serve Him according to His desire. You will see that one day He will do all and even more than you can desire.
St. Francis de Sales. medallion. Public Domain.
At the very thought of God, one immediately feels a certain delightful emotion of the heart, which testifies that God is God of the human heart.
I said everything in just two words, when I told you to refuse nothing and to desire nothing; I have nothing more to say to you.
Do you see the baby Jesus in the crib? He accepts all the discomforts of that season, the bitter cold and everything that the Father lets happen to him. He does not refuse the small consolations that his Mother gives him; we are not told that he ever reached out for his Mother’s breast, but left everything to her care and concern. So too, we ourselves should neither desire nor refuse anything, but accept all that God sends us, the bitter cold and the discomforts of the season.
It is love that grants perfection to our works. I will tell you much more. Take a person who suffers martyrdom for God with an ounce of love; that person merits much, since he could give nothing greater than his own life. Yet another person who has only suffered a scratch with two ounces of love will have much more merit, because it is charity and love that give value to our works.
You know, or you should know, that contemplation is in itself better than activity and the active life; nonetheless, if one finds greater union [with God] in the active life, then that is better. If a Sister in the kitchen holding a pan over the fire has greater love and charity than another Sister, that material fire will not hold her back but instead help her to become more pleasing to God. It frequently happens that people are united to God as much in activity as in solitude; in the end, it always comes back to the question of where the greatest love is to be found.
In Holy Church, everything pertains to love, lives in love, is done for love and comes from love.
Whatever may happen, Lord, you who hold everything in your hands and whose ways are all justice and truth, … I will love you, Lord, … I will love you here, O my God; I will hope always in your mercy and ever repeat your praise… O Lord Jesus, you will always be my hope and my salvation in the land of the living.
I wonder whether another difficulty can also be raised concerning your reform: perhaps those who imposed it on you have treated the wound too harshly… I appreciate their method, although it is not what I am in the habit of using, especially with regard to noble and cultivated spirits like yours. I believe it is better simply to indicate the disease and put the scalpel in their hands, so that they themselves can make the necessary incision. Yet do not for this reason neglect the reform that you need.
Saint Jeanne de Chantal. antique pendant, Lyon, France. Public Domain.
The world is becoming so delicate that, in a little while, no one will dare any longer to touch it except with velvet gloves, or tend its wounds except with perfumed bandages; yet what does it matter, if only men and women are healed and finally saved? Charity, our queen, does everything for her children.
My intention is but to represent, with simplicity and straightforwardly, without artifice and certainly without false colors, the history of the birth, progress, decline, operations, properties, advantages and sublime qualities of divine love.
The power of grace does not constrain the heart, but attracts it. Grace possesses a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to guide it to love. Grace acts strongly, yet in such a pleasing way that our will is not overwhelmed by so powerful a force; while pressing us, it does not oppress our liberty. Consequently, we are able, before all its might, to consent to or resist its promptings at our pleasure.
God’s inspirations, Theotimos, anticipate us and make themselves felt before we are even aware of them, but once we become aware of them, it is up to us either to consent and follow their lead, or to refuse and reject them. They make themselves felt by us without us; yet without us they do not bring about our consent.
All these fine people, commonly considered devout, most surely are not.
In the end, charity and devotion can be said to differ from one another as fire from a flame. Charity is a spiritual fire that, when fanned into flame, is called devotion. Devotion thus adds nothing to the fire of charity but the flame that makes charity prompt, active and diligent, not only in the observance of God’s commandments but also in the exercise of his divine counsels and inspirations.
Almost all those who have treated of devotion have sought to instruct persons living apart from the world, or at least they have taught a kind of devotion that leads to such isolation. I intend to offer my teachings to those who live in cities, in families, at court and who, by virtue of their state in life, are obliged to live in the midst of others.

MONTFORT L’AMAURY, France. Thirty miles west of Paris, the 1000-year-old fortified royal town showcases its 11th century crusaders’ castle, 16th century flamboyant Gothic church with 37 intact Renaissance stained-glass windows and the homes of 20th century playwright Jean Anouilh and music composer Maurice Ravel.

FEATURED image: Manuscript 16th century (detail): Queen consort Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) receiving a Book of Hours from her Dominican confessor, Antoine Dufour (d.1509). Montfort L’Amaury returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491.

Started in the 11th century, L’Église St. Pierre anchors part of the centre ville of Montfort L’Amaury, a town in France about 30 miles west of Paris. The photograph is taken from the ruins of the chateau on the town’s heights. The late 10th century Frankish king Robert II built a castle in the hills of Montfort. From the start of the 11th century, Montfort-l’Amaury was the stronghold of the Montfort family. Author’s photograph.

At the north edge of the Rambouillet forest the city of Montfort L’Amaury spreads along the restored ruins of its ancient fortified castle. Founded under the Capetian kings, the city owes its fame to Simon de Montfort (1208-1265), Anne de Bretagne (1477-1514), the Valois royal dynasty, and Henry IV (1553-1610). Its monuments begin in the 11th century, stretch towards exceptional Renaissance stained-glass windows and half-timbered houses as its civilization has attracted writers, artists, and musicians to live there. This would include the house of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) called Le Belvédère where he lived from 1921 until his death and where we were invited to sit at, and play, the piano where Ravel composed Boléro. It was in March 2002 during a visit to Paris and the Île-de France that we ventured through Yvelines by train to Montfort-L’Amaury for a day trip which included a memorable déjeuner in a restaurant that has since disappeared.

Interior, L’Église Saint-Pierre (Church of St. Peter), late 15th century, Montfort L’Amaury, France. Author’s photograph.

The interior of Saint Pierre church is bright and intimate. Like other French monuments, today’s Saint-Pierre was completed over many centuries. Its origin is in the 11th century. A notable reconstruction of the edifice began in the late 15th century by initiative of Queen Consort, Anne of Bretagne. There is a vast ambulatory around both sides of the nave. Since 1840, the church has been an historic monument because of its unique ensemble of 37 stained glass windows. The oldest date from the 1540s and 1570s. The others were installed in the late16th century. That ecclesial project was started by Catherine de Medicis (1519-1589) in 1562. The windows were installed during the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and some of the glass commemorates that event. As none of the glasswork is signed, it is not known whether its painters are from Montfort L’Amaury or elsewhere.

St. Peter Window. L’Église Saint-Pierre, Montfort L’Amaury, France. Throughout France starting in the 1540s there was a growing taste and demand for stained glass windows in their local churches. The experimentation in glasswork and painting by the middle of the 16th century allowed for the iconography in these stained glass windows to express numerous details and refined techniques. Fair use. Public Domain.
Detail. St. Peter Window. Fair use. Public Domain.
Detail. Nativity Window. Fair use. Public Domain.
The south exterior of L’Église Saint-Pierre along Rue de Dion in Montfort L’Amaury. The exterior wall shows flying buttresses designed in the French Renaissance style as well as gargoyles that were sculpted in the late 15th century. The building is constructed of calcified stone that came from towns to the north, precisely, Maule, and a more distant Vernon on the Seine. The interior ambulatory that surrounds the nave on both sides and ends at the chevet expresses the building’s gothic aspect. Street lamps and a narrow street with tight parking has room for a small tree next to the church. Author’s photograph.
Montfort L’Amaury has half-timbered houses dating to the 16th century. This is no. 16, Place de la Libération, just steps from the front entrance of Église St. Pierre. At the beginning of October 1825 young Victor Hugo (1802-1885) lived in Montfort L’Amaury for a few days. He wrote a letter to his father in Paris and described it as “a charming little town ten leagues from Paris, where there are ruins, woods, and one of my friends…” Author’s photograph.
Portrait de Victor Hugo sur fond de Notre-Dame de Reims, Jean Alaux, 1825, Maison de Victor Hugo – Hauteville House, oil on cardboard. Public Domain.
https://www.parismuseescollections.paris.fr/fr/maison-de-victor-hugo/oeuvres/portrait-de-victor-hugo-sur-fond-de-notre-dame-de-reims
View of the church from the east. The church of Saint Pierre is of late gothic origin. It was rebuilt and decorated in the 15th, 16th, and early 17th centuries. Following the French Revolution and its aftermath, the church building received an extensive restoration in the mid19th century, including a new steeple. Except for one stained glass window that was restored in situ, all the 16th-century stained glass windows were taken out, restored, and reinstalled by a master painter in Metz between 1851 and 1857.
Chevet. L’Église Saint-Pierre. Public Domain.
On Saint Pierre’s front stoop is busy Place de la Libération and with Rue de la Libération just beyond. At the end of the street is the rounded 16th century La Porte Bardoul, one of gateways to the chateau. It was named in the 16th century for the Captain who built the ramparts of Montfort L’Amaury in the 11th century (Hugues Bardoul). Author’s photograph.
Charles Aznavour – Disque D’Or” by Piano Piano! is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Charles Aznavour (1924-2018), dubbed France’s Frank Sinatra, never lived in Montfort L’Amaury. For 60 years, the singer lived in Galluis, a neighboring town just 5 minutes by car up the road. Yet, in those many years, Aznavour frequently came to Montfort L’Amaury, sometimes to go shopping or visit friends or eat at one of its excellent restaurants. In 2018 Aznavour was buried in the cemetery in Montfort L’Amaury and has become a pilgrimage site for his many fans.
The cemetery at Montfort L’Amaury dates from the sixteenth century and is an interesting site to visit for its history, architecture, and people buried within. As dead bodies were originally buried in the ground as they are today, over the many centuries the bones were later exhumed and deposited in ossuaries. This was essential during epidemics that occurred regularly when ground-space for burials was at a premium for the bodies of the newly dead. Built to give the appearance of a cloister, these galleries are actually a mass grave. Its architecture is charming and conveys the aspect of a Romantic bone-yard. Fair Use.  
Ruins of the castle of Montfort-l’Amaury. In the foreground is Le Belvédère, the house of Maurice Ravel. Montfort-l’Amaury Donjon by ℍenry Salomé (Jaser !) 08:12, 21 November 2006 (UTC) – Cliché personnel, own work is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

The role of Montfort l’Amaury as a town began to develop in the High Middle Ages when Capetian king, Robert II (976-1031), built a castle there in the forest of Yvelines which was then a royal prerogative. William of Hainaut built the castle whose walls were finished around  1050. Hugues Bardoule was captain of the castle and thus a later 16th century gateway is named after him. It is in the 11th century that L’Église Saint-Pierre and L’Église Saint Laurent begin to be built. Robert II was married three times, and excommunicated by the Catholic Church – one of the early examples of French royals who married as they wished.

In the twelfth century, Bertrade de Montfort (1070-1117), after giving birth to a boy who would become King of Jerusalem, left her husband, the Duke of Anjou, Fulk IV (1043-1109) in 1092. She married the king of France, Philip I “the Amorous” whose spouse, Bertha of Holland, was also still living.

Philip was so in love with Bertrade that he refused to leave her even when threatened and finally excommunicated by Pope Urban II (1035-1099) in 1095. Because of his excommunication Philip was prevented from taking part in the First Crusade (1096-1099).

Bertrade de Montfort and King Philip I “the Amorous.” Chroniques de Saint-Denis (ou de France), British Library, Royal 16 G VI f. 271. 14th Century (1332-1350). https://www.bl.uk/IllImages/Kslides%5Cbig/K137/K137596.jpg
The ramparts and castle. Author’s photograph.

The ramparts and castle were destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century. After the battle of Agincourt in 1419, the English occupied the French domain and it was during this time that the castle at Montfort was destroyed. The two rebuilt towers were named for Anne of Brittany after she assisted in the castle’s restoration. From this height, the fort overlooked the old Roman road from Beauvais to Chartres.

Also from this place, troops assembled at Montfort L’Amaury in the 12th century as Amaury III raised lords and knights to fight alongside Louis VI (1081-1137) against the Emperor of Germany. Simon IV fought alongside Philippe II Auguste (1165-1223) against the English as well as to the Crusades in the Middle East and the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. The Montforts distinguished themselves especially in this crusade against the Cathars.

At the beginning of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), not wanted by King Philippe Auguste (1165-1223), the future Louis VIII “the Lion” (1187-1226) was looking for companions. Simon IV, Lord of Montfort (1175-1218), embarked on the crusade where victory was equalled by its terror.

Stained glass (detail) Chartres cathedral: Simon de Montfort V (1208-1265). Simon was born in the chateau in 1208. Whereas his brother Amaury V (1191-1241) inherited his father’s French properties, including in the south of France owing to his father’s Cathar crusade, Simon V is known to history as having a major role in the constitutional development of England where he successfully led the barons’ opposition to the absolute rule of King Henry III (1207-1272) of England. During his rule of England Simon de Montfort V called two famous parliaments, one of which recognized the voices of ordinary town citizens in the affairs of government making him one of the progenitors of modern parliamentary democracy. Public Domain.

In January 1238, Montfort married  Eleanor of England, daughter of King John and Isabella of Angoulême and sister of English King Henry III. While this marriage took place with the king’s approval, the act itself was performed secretly and without consulting the great barons. Eleanor had previously been married and swore a vow of perpetual widowhood after her husband died. This vow was broken when she married Montfort and, for that reason, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemned it. The English nobles protested the marriage of the king’s sister to a foreigner who was only of modest rank. Most notably, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwell, the king’s and Eleanor’s brother, rose up in revolt over the marriage. King Henry III eventually bought off his brother and peace was restored. The marriage brought property to Montfort and when a child was born of the union in late 1238, he was baptized Henry, in honor of his uncle, the king. In February 1239, Montfort was finally invested as Earl of Leicester where he acted as the king’s advisor and became godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Edward, who became King Edward I (“Longshanks”).

Eleanor of England who married Simon de Montfort V in 1238 in an early-fourteenth-century Genealogical Roll of the Kings of England. Public Domain.
The author at the ramparts. These fortifications were originally built over 1000 years ago in the early 11th century by Amaury I. The walls run from east to west creating a superficial size of Montfort at about 4 to 5 hectares (one hectare equals about two and a half acres). Portions of the wall were dismantled during the 100 Years War but rebuilt during the Wars of Religion (1562-1598) as well as Montfort’s reception of a royal charter by Charles IX in the mid16th century. The rebuilt wall had to expand to meet the development of Montfort under Anne de Bretagne a half a century before, though substantial portions of the original 11th century wall were incorporated into the construction. Author’s collection.
Manuscript 16th century (detail): Queen consort Anne of Brittany (1477-1514) receiving a Book of Hours from her Dominican confessor, Antoine Dufour (d.1509). Montfort L’Amaury returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491.

From Montfort L’Amaury, the lords continued to assist the French kings in the crusades. After John I, only a daughter allowed the continuity of the Montfort family. Beatrice d’Albidon married Robert, Count of Dreux. The Comté de Montfort was related to the Duchy of Brittany following the marriage of Yolande de Dreux-Montfort (1263-1330) with Arthur II of Brittany (1261-1312) in 1294. It was in the late 13th century that Monfort established a public school in 1298.

Montfort returned to the crown of France after Anne of Brittany married Charles VIII “the Affable” (1470-1498) in 1491. The marriage contract stipulated a union of France and Brittany. If the queen were to die first and childless, the king would inherit all her property. Also in their pre-nuptial agreement, if Charles VIII died first Anne was to marry his successor. This was his cousin, the handsome and seductive Louis XII (1462-1515). By 1550, Brittany and the French Crown finally united under a single sovereign, Henry II (1519-1559).

This union of Brittany and France was beneficial to Montfort as the union with Brittany only was not particularly. In this period the castle ruins were restored and there was construction of a notable staircase to be seen today. The cemetery was relocated outside the city walls. Churches were rebuilt. Meanwhile, Montfort maintained a semi-autonomy from the crown of France.

Under the Valois the Yvelines region of which Montfort is a central part received royal favor. Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) was named the Lady of Montfort in 1561. When the Wars of Religion broke out (1562-1598), the king, Charles IX (1550-1574), offered to the city home-rule in exchange for the reconstruction of its medieval ramparts at his expense. At the end of these wars, the passage of the future king, Henry IV (1553-1610) on the road that led him to Paris to take power, allowed Montfort L’Amaury to prove its loyalty to the new king. Montfort provided Henry Navarre with weapons and later obtained special rights in exchange. During the reigns of the first two Bourbon kings of France, Henry IV and Louis XIII (1601-1643), there are frequent royal visits to Montfort L’Amaury.

A canonized Catholic saint among the Valois- Joan of Valois (1464 – 1505), sister of Charles VIII, and betrothed of Louis XII.

Portrait of Joan of Valois as abbess by Jean Perréal (1455-1530).

The second daughter of Louis XI (1423-1483) and Charlotte of Savoy (1411-1483), Joan of Valois was a fleeting Queen of France as the wife of King Louis XII following the death of her brother, King Charles VIII. Her marriage was soon annulled so that Louis could, as pre-arranged by contract, marry Charles VIII’s widow, Anne of Brittany.

Joan’s demeanor was characterized by an accepting and placid countenance. When she retired from court politics to become Duchess of Berry, the former Queen of France remarked: “If so it is to be, praised be the Lord.”

In Bourges, Joan of Valois founded a monastic order of sisters and served them as their abbess. In terms of her personality, Joan could be autocratic as an administrator of her nuns, which may have been a vestige of her former high-born role. Joan was canonized in May 1950, almost 450 years after her death.

Workshop of François Clouet. Catherine de’ Medici wears the black cap and veil of widow, after 1559. Upon seeing Catherine in the flesh, an Italian diplomat noted that “her mouth is too large and her eyes too prominent and colorless for beauty. But she is very distinguished-looking, has beautiful skin, a shapely figure, and exquisitely made hands.”
Portrait de Henri IV, roi de France et de Navarre (1553-1610) 1600 / 1700 (XVIIe siècle), Atelelier de Frans Pourbus II Louvre. Hung in Versailles chateau. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010057776
Marie de’ Medici, 1616, Frans Pourbus the Younger (Flemish, 1569-1622), oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago. Marie de Medici (1575-1642) married Henry IV of France in 1600. After the king was assassinated in Paris in 1610, Marie de Medici served as the regent for their young son, Louis XIII. Marie de Medici brought Frans Pourbus to the French court to make regal portraits of the royal family.
Louis XIII between the figures of two young women symbolizing France and Navarre. 1636/38, School of Simon Vouet (1590-1649). Louvre, Paris. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010062003

Le Belvédère: the House of Maurice Ravel from 1921 to his death in 1937 at Montfort L’Amaury.

The author in front of Le Belvédère, the house of Maurice Ravel, and ready to go inside for a visit. Author’s collection.
Pianist Jacques Février with Maurice Ravel in 1925 in Le Belvédère, the house of the composer in Montfort-l’Amaury. Public Domain.
The salon of the Ravel house. Author’s photograph.
Ravel’s house sits on an ascent from the centre ville where Ravel could look out his garden-side window  to back towards town and south and east to the green countryside between Montfort and Paris. Author’s photograph.

https://www.radioclassique.fr/classique/concerts-festivals/le-cerveau-de-ravel-le-livre-qui-retrace-la-vie-du-compositeur-a-travers-ses-etats-de-sante/

https://www.radioclassique.fr/classique/maurice-ravel-letrange-sortilege-qui-a-lese-son-cerveau-decrypte-par-des-neurologues/

George Maas” by Crossett Library Bennington College is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Jean Anouilh (1910-1987) was a French dramatist who lived in Montfort-L’Amaury in France. Anouilh’s 1944 play, Antigone, was an adaptation play of Sophocles’ play of the same name. The 34-year-old Anouilh’s work was seen as an attack on the Vichy government of Marshal Pétain (1856-1951) in World War II.

Anouiih also wrote Becket. The original French play is titled Becket ou l‘Honneur de Dieu. It was staged in Paris at the Théâtre Montparnasse-Gaston Baty in October 1959 and directed by Anouilh. The play dramatizes historical martyr and Catholic saint Thomas Becket (1120-1170), the Archbishop of Canterbury In England, whose feast day is December 29.

Becket was the best friend to younger King Henry II of England. Cunning and proud, vulnerable and lonely, pent-up King Henry is interested in hunting and women, and not necessarily in that order. Henry is bored with political affairs and as king has his one friend, Thomas Becket, who is his companion in vice and debauchery.

Becket serves his king loyally, without compromise. Wanting to strengthen his power over the Church in England and believing his idea to be an excellent one, Henry appoints Becket as chancellor of England and he later becomes Archbishop of Canterbury. But nothing goes as planned. Becket, on his path to sainthood, finds he cannot serve both king and God.

For Henry the arrangement is one of disillusionment, resentment, hatred, and torn friendship – and, later, repentance. For Becket it is a tale of courage, renunciation, and honor as the archbishop  seeks to defend church freedom in England against an ambitious secular power. Such conflict provokes Becket’s murder by the king’s knights in the archbishop’s own cathedral.

Anouilh’s Becket became an international sensation. Successive productions in English translation were mounted in London (starring Christopher Plummer and Eric Porter) and in New York City (starring Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn). In 1964 Becket became a major motion picture starring Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole which won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay.

SOURCES:

Montfort L’Amaury de l’an mil à nos jours, Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Somogy Editions d’Art, 2002.

Montfort-L’Amaury, Le Syndicat d’Initiative des Fêtes et des Arts de Montfort-L’Amaury et ses Environs, 1972.

Montfort-L’Amaury Les Verrières de L’Eglise Paroissiale Saint-Pierre(Yvelines), Laurence de Finance and Marie-Huguette Hadrot, Paris: Centre de Documentation du Patrimoine, 1994.

https://montjoye.net/chateau-de-montfort-lamaury

https://www.francebleu.fr/infos/medias-people/du-monde-a-montfort-l-amaury-pour-se-recueillir-sur-la-tombe-de-charles-aznavour-1541236036

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_de_Bretagne

http://www.montfortlamaury.free.fr/fr/index.php/Montfort-l-amaury-un-millenaire-d-histoire

The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.

Through the ramparts, Montfort L’Amaury. Author’s photograph,

FRENCH ART in the 17th Century: SIMON VOUET (1590-1649). https://johnpwalshblog.com/2022/12/07/french-art-in-the-17th-century-simon-vouet-1590-1649/

https://johnpwalshblog.com/2022/12/07/french-art-in-the-17th-century-simon-vouet-1590-1649/

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1616/1618, 55 x .41 m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061288

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Virginia da Vezzo, the Artist’s Wife, as the Magdalen, oil on canvas, 40 × 31 in. (101.6 × 78.7 cm), oil on canvas,  c. 1627, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. https://collections.lacma.org/node/247903
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Judith with the head of Holofernes, 1620/1625, 97 x 73,5 cm, oil on canvas, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München-Alte Pinakothek, https://www.sammlung.pinakothek.de/de/artwork/jWLpZea4KY/simon-vouet/judith-mit-dem-haupt-des-holofernes
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Birth of the Virgin c. 1620 Rome S. Francesco a Ripa.
Detail: The Birth of the Virgin.

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.

Ottavio Leoni (1578–1630), Simon Vouet in Italy, engraving, sheet 9 3/8 × 7 1/16 in. (23.34 × 17.94 cm), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Portrait presumed of Aubin Vouet, c.1625. Musée Réattu, Arles.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Temptation of Saint Francis, c. 1620 Rome Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Lucina.

In Rome Simon Vouet adopted a Caravaggesque style coupled with elements from Michelangelo such as in this painting for an ancient church in Rome. While Vouet worked directly from the model and used closely observed poses from reality, the head of St. Francis of Assisi seems to be taken from one by Michelangelo. see –https://www.finestresullarte.info/en/works-and-artists/-almost-as-unbelievable-as-a-church-painting–simon-vouet-and-his-saint-francis-tempted

Attributed to Vouet, Annunciation, Uffizi, c. 1621. oil on canvas 1.20 x 0.86m (see Crelly, pp. 162-63).
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Circumcision, oil on canvas, Church of Sant’ Angelo a Segno Naples.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Crucifixion with Mary and John, oil on canvas, Church of Jesus and Saints Ambrogio and Andrea Genoa
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Appearance of the Virgin to St Bruno, c. 1624, Naples, S. Martino.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Modelli for Altarpiece St-Peters Rome, 1625, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Simon Vouet, The Clothing of St. Francis of Assisi, Rome, S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Alaleoni Chapel, 1624. Vouet decorated the chapel with dozens of paintings.
Simon Vouet, allegory of the Human soul, Rome, capitoline Musem, 1.79 x 1.44 m. It probably entered the collection of the Capitoline Museum in the 17th century (See Crelly, p.213).
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The ill-matched couple (Vanitas), c. 1621.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), David with the Head of Goliath, c. 1621,Palazzo Bianco, Genoa.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), St. Catherine, c. 1621.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Young Man wearing armor, c. 1625/271,165 m x .91 m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061299

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.

Vouet, Sophonisbe receives the poison cup through a messenger, c. 1623, oil on canvas, 125,5 x 156,5 cm, Kassel, Staatliche Gemäldegalerie. The painting was previously attributed to Guido Reni (1575-1642). The painting was in Kassel by 1738. (see Crelly, p. 167). https://altemeister.museum-kassel.de/33982/0/0/147/s1/0/100/objekt.html. The tragic events are condensed in the expressive eye contact. Sophonisbe, the patriotic daughter of the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, knew how to keep her husband Syphax on the Carthaginian side in the war with Rome. He was captured by the Numidian prince Masinissa, who was allied with Rome, and Sophonisbe threatened with extradition to the Romans. When she begged Masinissa for protection, he fell in love with her and married her. Now the Romans sensed betrayal and demanded the surrender of the dangerous enemy. Masinissa did not dare to resist, but he sent Sophonisbe a servant with a poisoned cup, which she drank (Livy 30:15). The subject topic could also be Agrippina receives the poison cup sent by Nero.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Saint Jerome and the Angel, c. 1622/1625, 144.8 x 179.8 cm (57 x 70 13/16 in.), oil on canvas, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.46151.html

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, Cupid and Psyche, c. 1650, 11.5 x165 cm, Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://collections.mba-lyon.fr/fr/notice/1938-40-psyche-et-l-amour-66103ce7-f9de-4d1a-9b96-eef92185be48. Though dated around 1650, scholars believe the work was completed in Italy in the late 1620s. (see Crelly, p. 176).
Nicolas Mignard (1606-1666), Portrait de Simon Vouet, Louvre.

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.

Atelier of Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Michel le Masle (1573-1662), 1628,, oil on canvas, musée Carnavalet, Paris.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Madonna and Child, 1633 oil on canvas, overall: 110.3 × 89.4 cm (43 7/16 × 35 3/16 in.) The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.206070.html

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Lot and his Daughters, 1633, 160 x 130 cm, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-arts, Strasbourg. https://www.musees.strasbourg.eu/oeuvre-musee-des-beaux-arts/-/entity/id/220480?_eu_strasbourg_portlet_entity_detail_EntityDetailPortlet_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.musees.strasbourg.eu%2Frechercher-oeuvre-musee-beaux-arts%3Fp_p_id%3Deu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet%26p_p_lifecycle%3D0%26p_p_state%3Dnormal%26p_p_mode%3Dview%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_checkboxNames%3DclassName%252CclassName%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_keywords%3Dsimon%2Bvouet%26p_p_lifecycle%3D1%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_formDate%3D1669662298707%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_vocabulariesCount%3D0%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_className%3Deu.strasbourg.service.artwork.model.Artwork%26_eu_strasbourg_portlet_search_asset_SearchAssetPortlet_className%3Deu.strasbourg.service.artwork.model.ArtworkCollection

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Gaucher de Châtillon (1250–1328), Constable of France, c. 1632/35,2.18m x 1.37m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010065607

Commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu for his Palais Royal’s Gallery of Illustrious Men the painting of Gaucher 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.

Louis Phélypeaux de La Vrillière, secrétaire d’Etat de la religion prétendue réformée. He built the Hôtel de la Vrillière in 1st arrondissement in Paris designed  by François Mansart (1598-1666) between 1635 and 1650.

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.

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), Jacques Lemercier with dome of Sorbonne.
Louis le Vau.
Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), Cardinal Richelieu, 1642, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strabourg.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Young Louis XIII.

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.

Pierre Séguier.

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.

Claude de Bullion, oil on panel, 33 x 23,5 cm.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Armida carrying the sleeping Rinaldo, 63 x 47 in, n.d., private collection.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Muses Urania and Calliope, c. 1634, oil on wood, The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.46160.html
Simon Vouet, The Toilet of Venus, c. 1640, 64 15/16 × 45 1/16 in164.94 × 114.46 cm, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh https://collection.cmoa.org/objects/7093a02e-4ea1-4892-9ace-6538065ebdab

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Presentation at the Temple, 1641, oil on canvas, 3.93 m x 2.5 m, Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010062002

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), The Adoration of the Holy Name by Four Saints, oil on canvas,265 x176 cm, Église Saint Merri, Paris.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Altar piece, Église Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs, Paris.
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Virgin with oak branch, known as Madonna Hesselin, c. 1640/1645, Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010067259

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.

Simon Vouet (workshop), Christ at the Column, c. 1635/40, 1.28 m x .66m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Standing Angel, hands joined, 0.212 m ; L. 0.137 m Louvre.https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl020227558
Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Head of a man with disheveled hair, three quarters view. 0,155 m ; L. 0,148 m Louvre https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl020227444

Preparation drawing for a Last Supper picture.

Vouet, Crucifixion, 1637, 215.9 x 146 cm. Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://collections.mba-lyon.fr/fr/notice/a-139-la-crucifixion-3a886bea-64a6-4741-9866-fb0f935fd688
Vouet, Last Supper, 1637,  153,4 x 132,5cm. Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://collections.mba-lyon.fr/fr/notice/1996-121-la-cene-573eb24f-b3a3-4204-b166-82effe883109
Vouet, Doubting Thomas, 1637, 149.7 x 114 cm, Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://collections.mba-lyon.fr/fr/notice/1998-6-l-incredulite-de-saint-thomas-c96df49c-abb6-4cc5-8127-3103e527b49b

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Charity, c. 1635, 1.92 m x 1.32m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010062000

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Allegory of Faith and Contempt for Riches, c. 1638/1640, 1.7 m x 1.24m, oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061999

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649),The Three Marys at the Tomb, n.d., 52.25 x 66.5” Église de Davron Seine -et-Oise.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Time Defeated by Love, Beauty and Hope, oil on canvas, 107x 142 cm, Prado, Madrid.  https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/time-defeated-by-hope-and-beauty/ebaeb191-f3ff-43b1-9207-fb36a3e5ad5a

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Saturn Conquered by Love, Venus and Hope, 1643/45, , Musée de Berry, Bourges.

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.

Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Allegory of Good Government, 1644/45, oil on canvas, 2.37 m x 2.71 m, Musée du Louvre.

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.

Vouet, Spadassin, 83 x 68.5 cm, Musée des Beaux-arts de Tours. https://mba.tours.fr/TPL_CODE/TPL_COLLECTIONPIECE/158-france-17e.htm?COLLECTIONNUM=16&PIECENUM=1294&NOMARTISTE=VOUET+Simon

SOURCES:

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.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Ier_Ph%C3%A9lypeaux_de_La_Vrilli%C3%A8re

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Mansart

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Ier_Ph%C3%A9lypeaux_de_La_Vrilli%C3%A8re

French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, Philip Conisbee, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009.

Baroque, Hermann Bauer, Andreas Prater, Ingo F. Walther, Köln: Taschen, 2006.

The Painting of Simon Vouet, William Crelly, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

Art and Architecture in France 1500-1700 (Pelican History of Art), Anthony Blunt, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.

French Painting From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Chatâlet and Jacques Thuillier, trans. from French by Stuart Gilbert, Skira, 1963.

https://gw.geneanet.org/garric?n=beranger&oc=0&p=radegonde

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.

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/194104613/simon-vouet

http://www.museereattu.arles.fr/reattu-collectionneur.html

FRENCH ART in the 17th Century: VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE (1591-1632).

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.

Ruins of the Coliseum in Rome, Circle of Willem van Nieuwlandt, II, c. 1600,  Pen and brown ink, with brush and brown and gray wash, on pieced cream laid paper,  35.3 × 61.3 cm (13 15/16 × 24 3/16 in.) The Art Institute of Chicago.
https://www.artic.edu/artworks/95904/ruins-of-the-coliseum-in-rome

INTRODUCTION.

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).

Joachim von Sandrart, Self Portrait, 1641.
Bartolomeo Manfredi, The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (detail).
Simon Vouet, Self-portrait, c. 1626–1627 Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon.

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.

Cardinal Mazarin by Pierre Mignard, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.
Louis XIV, Charles Le Brun, Château de Versailles.
Piazza del Popolo, Rome. “Piazza del Popolo.. Rome” by Nick Kenrick.. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

Annibile Carracci, Self-portrait, 1604, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath, included a self portrait of the artist, 1610, oil on canvas, Borghese Gallery, Rome.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Group of figures seen mid-body, Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl020210527

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.

Andrea Sacci, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany, oil on canvas, c. 1631-1633 (detail).

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.

Valentin de Boulogne, Martyrdom of Saints Processus and Martinian, 1629–30, Oil on canvas, 118 7/8 × 75 9/16 in. (302 × 192 cm), Vatican Museums, Vatican City/
Jan van den Hoecke (Flemish, 1611-1651), Portrait of Cassiano dal Pozzo. Pozzo’s portrait was painted by Le Valentin though it is lost.

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).

Façade – Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo –Rome. Valentin lived in Rome on or near Via Margutta which is steps from the 15th century church.
File:Roma – Basilica di Santa Maria del Popolo – Facade.jpg” by M0tty is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

SELECTION OF PAINTINGS BY LE VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), The Judgment of Solomon, 1627/29, Louvre. 68 ¼ x 83 ¾ inches, 1.76m x 2.1m, oil on canvas.  https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061974

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.

Detail. Judgment of Solomon. Le Valentin.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), The Judgment of Daniel, 1621/22, oil on canvas, 68 ¼ x 83 ¾ inches, 1.76m x 2.1m, Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061975

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.

Detail. Judgment of Daniel. Le Valentin.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne, Martyrdom of Saints Processus and Martinian, 1629–30, Oil on canvas, 118 7/8 × 75 9/16 in. (302 × 192 cm), Vatican Museums, Vatican City.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632 A Musical Party, 1623/26, oil on canvas, 44 × 57 3/4 in. (111.76 × 146.69 cm),Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
https://collections.lacma.org/node/186803
Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Concert in an Interior, 1628/30, oil on canvas, 1.75m x 2.16m, Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010061973

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.

Detail. Concert in an Interior. Le Valentin.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), The Concert in bas-relief, 1624/26, oil on canvas, 1.73 m x 2.14m, Louvre.
Detail. The Concert in bas relief. Le Valentin.
Detail. The Concert in bas relief. Le Valentin.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Musicians and Soldiers, c. 1626, oil in canvas, 155 x 200 cm, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Jesus and Caesar’s Coin, around 1624, oil on canvas, 1.11 m x 1.54m, Louvre.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats), c. 1618/1620, oil on canvas, 121 x 152 cm (47 5/8 x 59 13/16 in.), The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.107315.html

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (French, Coulommiers-en-Brie 1591–1632 Rome). Cardsharps. c. 1614-15. Oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
https://skd-online-collection.skd.museum/Details/Index/415366

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Herminia among the Shepherds, c. 1630, oil on canvas, 134.6 x 185.6 cm (53 1/8 x 61 5/8”) Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen – Alte Pinakothek München. https://www.sammlung.pinakothek.de/de/artwork/RQ4XPr8410 

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Crowning of thorns of Christ, around 1616/17, oil on canvas, 173 x 241 cm Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München-Alte Pinakothek, Munich
https://www.sammlung.pinakothek.de/de/artwork/bwx0jkJGm8

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Crowning with Thorns, around 1627/28, oil on canvas, 51 15/16 × 37 15/16 in. (132 × 96.3 cm) Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen München-Alte Pinakothek, Munich https://www.sammlung.pinakothek.de/de/artwork/Dn4ZR224aK/valentin-de-boulogne/dornenkroenung-und-verspottung-christi

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (French, 1591–1632), Noli me tangere  c. 1620. Oil on canvas. Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria.
Valentin de Boulogne (French, 1591–1632), Christ and the Samaritan Woman c. 1620. Oil on canvas. Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria.
Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, 1622/24, oil on canvas, 195 x 261 cm, Prado, Madrid. Spain.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), St Luke, Evangelist, 1624/26, oil on canvas, 120 x 146 cm, Palace of Versailles, Versailles.
Detail. St. Luke Evangelist. Le Valentin.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), The Last Supper, c. 1625, oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

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.

Portrait of Asdrubale Mattei di Giove, 17th century, attributed to Caravaggio, Condé Museum, Chantilly, France.
https://www.musee-conde.fr/fr/notice/pe-61-portrait-d-asdrubale-mattei-di-giove-1318fe15-3a5f-48ef-9486-e6920ed8d0b8
Valentin de Boulogne, Samson, 1631, Oil on canvas, 135.6 x 102.8 cm (53 3/8 x 40 1/2 in.), The Cleveland Museum of Art. https://www.clevelandart.org/art/1972.50

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632), Judith with the Head of Holofernes. c. 1626-27. Oil on canvas. Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.

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.

Detail. Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632), David with the head of Goliath, c. 1615/16, oil on canvas, 99 x 134 cm, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid,
Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), The Four Ages of Man, c. 1627/30, oil on canvas,. London, National Gallery.
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/valentin-de-boulogne-the-four-ages-of-man

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Christ Expelling the Merchants from the Temple c. 1626. 192 x 266.5 cm, oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. https://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/wcm/connect/8276ab63-4bcc-40e9-83ab-91aa57903031/WOA_IMAGE_1.jpg?MOD=AJPERES&1677c4b2-bad6-47ed-b628-27cda4f71809

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (French, 1591–1632), Expulsion of the Money Changers from the Temple. Oil on canvas, 195 x 260 cm (76 ¾ x 103 1/8 in.). Palazzo Corsini, Rome.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Allegory of Rome, 1628, oil on canvas, 330 x 245 cm, Villa Lante – Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation. https://irfrome.org/en/villa-lante-4/architecture/salone-en/

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Christ and the Adulteress,, 1618-22, oil on canvas, 167 x 221.3 cm, Getty Museum, Los Angeles.  https://museum-essays.getty.edu/paintings/ebeeny-valentin/

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Lute Player, c. 1625/26, 128.3 x 99.1 cm The Metropolitian Museum of Art, New York. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/439933

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1615–16, oil on canvas, 59 1/16 × 70 1/16 in. (150 × 178 cm), Museo della Venerabile Arciconfraternita della Misericordia, Florence.

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (French (active Rome), 1591-1632), Fortune-Teller with Soldiers, 58 7/8 x 93 7/8 in. (149.5 x 238.4 cm), Toledo Museum of Art.
http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54884/fortuneteller-with-soldiers?ctx=99a0dbca-6a24-444e-a66b-95c576c7395c&idx=1

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (French (active Rome), 1591-1632), Portrait of Roman Prelate, 128 x 94 cm, private collection.

The prelate is dressed in the robes of a papal chamberlain. Modern scholarship has proposed various individuals as the sitter from cardinals to lawyers.

Denial of St. Peter, c. 1623/25, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, 119 x 172 cm.
https://collection.pushkinmuseum.art/entity/PERSON/273?query=valentin%20de%20boulogne&index=0
Valentin de Boulogne (French (active Rome), 1591-1632), Abraham Sacrificing Isaac, 1629/32, 149.2 x 186.1 cm The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
https://www.mbam.qc.ca/en/works/8394/
Valentin de Boulogne (French (active Rome), 1591-1632), Moses, 1625/27. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, 131 x 103.5 cm. https://www.khm.at/en/objectdb/detail/2012/

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.

Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632),Cheerful company with Fortune Teller, 190 × 267cm, oil on canvas, 1631 Vienna Liechtenstein.
https://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/collections-online/cheerful-company-with-fortune-teller
Detail. Cheerful Company with Fortune Teller. Le Valentin.

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.

SOURCES:

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.

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/663663

https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhibitions/2016/valentin-de-boulogne

https://arthistorians.info/bousquet

https://arthistorians.info/hoogewerffg

https://arthistorians.info/longhir

https://www.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de/documents/obj/05011488/rba_d054126_01

The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.

The New American Bible, Catholic Book Publishing Corp, New York, 1993.

Mannerism: The Painting and Style of The Late Renaissance,  Jacques Bousquet, trans, by Simon Watson Taylor, Braziller, 1964.

The Liberation of Jerusalem, Torquato Tasso, trans by Max Wicker, Oxford World’s Classics, 2009.

Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio, Annick Lemoine, Keith Christiansen, Patrizia Cavazzini, Jean Pieere Cuzin, Gianni Pappi, Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2016.

https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/hauts-de-france/somme/amiens/six-tableaux-de-la-chambre-du-roi-du-chateau-de-versailles-exceptionnellement-exposes-au-musee-de-picardie-2620412.html

https://www.liechtensteincollections.at/en/

Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J,  and Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm.,The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1968.

Lehmbeck, Leah, editor. Gifts of European Art from The Ahmanson Foundation. Vol. 2, French Painting and Sculpture. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2019.

Marandel, J. Patrice and Gianni Papi. 2012. Caravaggio and his Legacy. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Fried, Michael. After Caravaggio. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016.

Schmid, Vanessa I., with Julia Armstrong-Totten. The Orléans Collection. New Orleans: New Orleans Museum of Art; Lewes: In association with D. Giles, 2018.

Merle Du Bourg, Alexis. “L’omniprésence de la musique.” Dossier de L’Art no.246 (2017): 64-67.

EUGÈNE BOUDIN (1824-1898): French Impressionist artist who was “King of The Skies!”

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!”

Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), Sunset on the Beach, oil on canvas, 1893, private collection. 

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.

Eugène Boudin, White Clouds over the Estuary, c.1857.
Eugène Boudin, Crinolines on the Beach, 1863.
Eugène Boudin, Douarnenez, Fishing Boats at Dockside, 1855.
Eugène Boudin, Deauville, Low Tide, c.1863.
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.

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.

Eugène Boudin ,Seascape with Large Sky, 1860.

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.

Eugène Boudin, Spray of Flowers – Hollyhocks, 1858.
Eugène Boudin, study of cows, c. 1860.
Eugène Boudin, Vue de Trouville, 1873.
Eugène Boudin, Entrance to the Harbor, Le Havre, 1883, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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

Eugène Boudin, Trouville, Shore and Rocks, c.1862.

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.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 Françaisand, 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.”

Eugène Boudin, Elegant Women on the Beach, 1863.

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

Eugène Boudin, Near Honfluer, c.1856.

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).

Eugène Boudin, Place Ary Scheffer, Dordrecht, 1884, oil on panel 27×21.5 cm Dordrecht Museum, Netherlands.

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.

Eugène Boudin, Le port d’Antibes, 1893, Musée d’ Orsay.

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.

Eugène Boudin, Étretat 1891,Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

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.” 

Eugène Boudin by Pierre Petit.

NOTES:

1. Selz, E. Boudin, 1986, p. 25.

2. https://www.artic.edu/library/discover-our-collections/research-guides/paris-salons-1673present – retrieved 12.18.21

https://libguides.northwestern.edu/Paris_Salons.

https://guides.lib.ku.edu/c.php?g=551592&p=3805865

3. https://guides.lib.ku.edu/c.php?g=551592&p=3805865.

4. http://www.muma-lehavre.fr/en/node/1004  – retrieved 12.18.21

5. https://aic-web-cms-uploads.s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/a5e4dc98-98fb-4a3a-a905-bc210551e9b6/ParisSalonGuide.pdf

6. J. Selz, E. Boudin, 1986; https://guides.lib.ku.edu/c.php?g=551592&p=3805865.

7. J. Selz, E. Boudin, 1986.

8. https://libguides.northwestern.edu/Paris_Salons – retrieved 12.18.21

9. Corot- Rewald, John, The History of Impressionism, v.1, MoMA, 1973, p.61; http://www.muma-lehavre.fr/en/collections/artworks-in-context/eugene-boudin/boudin-study-sky – retrieved 12.18.21.

10. https://www.impressionism.nl/boudin-eugene/ – retrieved 12.18.21.

11. Charles S. Moffett, The New Painting, 1986, p.125.

12. https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/BIOG203075

13. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k3260963/f21.item

14. (http://www.muma-lehavre.fr/en/node/1004 – retrieved 12.18.21

FRENCH ART in the 16th Century.

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 (1455-1529), Portrait Louis XII, c. 1514, Windsor collections de S.M. la Reine d’Angleterre.

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 (1455-1529), Portrait of a woman, c. 1500, Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010059108
Detail of above.

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.

Master of Saint Giles (active 1490-1510), St. Giles protects a wounded deer for Charles Martel, c. 1500, National Gallery, London, oil on oak, 63.4 × 48.4 cm.
Master of Saint Giles (active 1490-1510),Virgin with Child, c. 1500, Louvre.
Master of Saint Giles (active 1490-1510), St. Giles’ Mass, c. 1500, National Gallery, London, oil on oak.

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.

Le Rosso (1494-1540), La Fontaine de Jouvence, c 1535, fresco, Chateau de Fontainebleau, Galerie Francois I.

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.

https://www.chateaudefontainebleau.fr/en/espace-groupe/visites-scolaires-chateau-de-fontainebleau/les-dossiers-pedagogiques/la-renaissance/

Le Rosso (1494-1540), Pietà, c. 1540, Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010061332

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.

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). http://emuseum.toledomuseum.org/objects/54742/ulysses-and-penelope?ctx=2f264d6c-812c-4e21-83c3-07cd963ab760&idx=0

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 kneeling woman, gathering wheat in sheaves, attributed to Francesco Primaticcio called Le Primatice (1504-1570), Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl020005673
Mascarade de Persépolis, Francesco Primaticcio called Le Primatice (1504-1570), Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl020005563

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 (c. 1509-1571), The Death of Eurydice, c. 1550s-1560s, oil on canvas, 189.2 × 237.5 cm, National Gallery London.

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 (active 1540-1560), Le triomphe de Flore (The Triumph of Flora), private collection (Vicenza).

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.

Le Maître de Flore, The Birth of Cupid, after 1550, Oil on wood, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437006?ft=master+of+flore&offset=0&rpp=40&pos=7

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.

Attributed to Le Maître de Flore (active 1540-1560), La Charité, c. 1552. Louvre.
https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010065400.
School of Fontainebleau, Diana the Hunter, c. 1550, 75 5/8 x52 3/8 in. Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010064749https://collections.louvre.fr/CGU

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.

School of Fontainebleau, Woman in her Toilet, c, 1550,  Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon.

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 the Elder (1490-1560), Saint Mammès coming to surrender to the court of the governor of Cappadocia, around 1541, tapestry, 440 × 450cm, Paris, Louvre Museum.

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.

Pseudo Félix Chrétien (active 1535-37), Three men lower barrels into the cave, Städel Museum Frankfort.

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 (1485-1540), François Ier, 1524, Louvre.

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, Guillaume Budé, c. 1536, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, oil on wood, 15 5/8 x 13 1/2 in. (39.7 x 34.3 cm).

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.

Jean Clouet, Portrait of Admiral Bonnivet, c. 1516. Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.
French Anonymous, Head of a bearded man, capped with a hat, three-quarters to the right. End of 16th century. Louvre.
Francois Clouet (before 1520-1572), Portrait of Pierre Quthe, 1562, Louvre.

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).

François Clouet, A Lady in Her Bath, c. 1571, oil on oak, 92.3 × 81.2 cm (36 5/16 × 31 15/16 in.), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

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.

François Clouet, La reine Marguerite enfant, c. 1560, Chantilly.
Workshop of François Clouet, Marie de Gaignon, marquise de Boissy (1524-1565), c. 1550-1565, Louvre.
Corneille de Lyon (active 1533-1574), Portrait de Marot, c. 1540, Louvre.

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.

https://en.wahooart.com/@@/8Y352R-Corneille-De-Lyon-Portrait-of-Gabrielle-de-Rochechouart
https://www.wga.hu/html_m/c/corneill/rochecho.html

Corneille de Lyon (active 1533-1574), Portrait of Gabrielle de Rochechouart, c. 1574, Oil on wood, 16.5 x 14 cm, Musée Condé, Chantilly.
Pierre Dumonstier “the Uncle” (c.1545-c.1610), Portrait of an Unknown Man, chalk drawing with watercolor, c. 1580, Musée Jacquemart-André.

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.

François Quesnel (1543-1619), Mary Ann Waltham, 1572. 22 x17.5 in., Private, UK.

SOURCES:

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.

Quotations: STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ (1842-1898), Symbolist Poet. (6 Quotes).

Édouard Manet, Stéphane Mallarmé, poet. 1876, oil on canvas, 27.2 x 35.7 cm, Musée d’Orsay.

FEATURE image: Stéphane Mallarmé, 1896, by Nadar.

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) is an important Symbolist poet of the last half of the 19th century in France. Throughout his writing career, Mallarmé helped formulate and express the rising anti-naturalism in contemporary art. This movement’s inclinations mainly took the form of Symbolism – that is, the fascination with many types of literature and the inclination to draw upon these sources for inspiration in dreams and visions. Although Mallarmé’s poetry is verbally dense and difficult with fleeting imagery, the poet was influential in modern art circles. The poet hosted a weekly salon in Paris known as “les jeudis” which provided a social network for many leading modern thinkers and practitioners, such as Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Odilon Redon, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch.

Mallarmé was born in Paris in 1842 into a family of civil servants. His mother died when he was 5 years old and his younger sister when he was 15. It was around the time of his sister’s death that Mallarmé wrote his first poetic essays, influenced by Romantics and early Symbolist writers and poets Victor Hugo, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe. His first poems were published in 1862. Mallarmé earned a teaching certificate in the English language, studied in London and married a young German woman he met in France. Mallarmé began a teaching career in 1863 in Tournon in the Ardèche, where his daughter was born in 1864. He also was teaching in Besançon and Avignon. Outside of Paris, Mallarmé did not prosper as a teacher and viewed his assignments with disdain as necessary modes of employment. The young man turned to poetry as a means of escape. It was between 1863 and 1866 that Mallarmé wrote some of his renown poems: Brise marine, L’Azur, Les Fleurs, a version of L’Après-midi d’un faune. His collection of poems published in Le Parnasse contemporain in 1866 led to Mallarmé’s first notoriety.

In 1871, Mallarmé, now a father of a family with two children, was assigned to teach in Paris and settled near the new Saint-Lazare train station. His social network of artists and writers blossomed in this period. In 1873 Mallarmé met Édouard Manet who soon illustrated Mallarmé’s translation of American writer Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, published in 1875. In 1876 Manet painted his portrait that is now in the Musée d’Orsay.

Mallarmé’s 8-year-old son died prematurely at the end of the 1870s and Manet died a few short years later in 1883. Mallarmé formed new friendships with Berthe Morisot and her daughter Julie Manet, whose guardian Mallarmé became at the death of his parents. Mallarmé also became friends with other leading avant-garde artists and poets such as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. To the general reader, Mallarmé was criticized as a crazy poet who used unintelligible verse. Yet to avant-garde literati such as Paul Verlaine and Joris-Karl Huysmans, Mallarmé’s demanding poetry they publicly admired.

In 1892 appeared Vers et Prose, a major collection of Mallarmé’s poems. The frontispiece was a lithographed portrait by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, with whom Mallarmé was a close friend. In the early 1890s Mallarmé came into contact with the “Nabis,” young Post-Impressionists such as Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis and particularly Édouard Vuillard. In the 1890’s Mallarmé’s Paris salon was frequented by the young Paul Valéry.

At 51 years old, in 1893, Mallarmé retired from teaching and stayed in his small house of Valvins. He died there on September 9, 1898, at the age of 56. In these final years, Mallarmé’s recognition and fame remained high. It was part of the vivacity and dynamism of literary and artistic circles for which Mallarmé had been one of its inspirations since the 1870s. In 1896 Mallarmé’s influence included his being elected as Prince des poètes and inheriting the seat occupied by the recently deceased Paul Verlaine.

SOURCE: https://www.musee-mallarme.fr/fr – retrieved July 4, 2022.

The poetic act consists of suddenly seeing that an idea splits up into a number of equal motifs and of grouping them; they rhyme.

You don’t make a poem with ideas, but with words.

Every soul is a melody which needs renewing.

Dreams have as much influence as actions.

That virgin, vital, beautiful day: today.

Do not paint the object, but the effect which it produces.

FRENCH ART in the 15th Century.

FEATURE image: DETAIL, Henri Bellechose (1415-1440), École de Bourgogne, Retable de saint Denis, 1416, https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010063178

Anonymous master. Portrait of John le Bon (1319-1364) c. 1360. Musée de Louvre, Paris (“Louvre”).
Henri Bellechose (1415-1440), École de Bourgogne, Retable de saint Denis, 1416, https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010063178

Retable de Saint Denis, (above), was completed in 1416 for the church of the Charterhouse of Champmol that is adjacent to Dijon. The artwork’s attribution has long been debated between Bellechose and Jean Malouel (1370-1415). Written evidence points to Bellechose possibly only completing the painting started by Malouel who was Bellechose’s predecessor at the head of the ducal workshop. However, recent connoisseurship does not see two different styles that would indicate two painters and the artwork in the Louvre is not the same size as the artwork mentioned in the early 15th century document that supports the dual attribution.

DETAIL, Henri Bellechose (1415-1440), École de Bourgogne, Retable de saint Denis, 1416, https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010063178
Anonymous, École de Île-de-France? Bourgogne? Studio Henri Bellechose? Dead Christ Placed in the Tomb,
1400-1425. Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010065413
Anonymous master, The Annunciation, France, possibly Netherlands, late 14th century (1380s), tempera and oil with gold on wood, 15 7/8 x 12 3/8 x 1 7/8 in. Cleveland Museum of Art.

The angel Gabriel’s wings resemble peacock feathers. The panel painting was once joined to another panel to form a diptych. Its opulent ornate style and small size allowing for easy mobility points to its use as a devotional artwork for an aristocratic patron around 1400.

Anonymous, The Crowning of the Virgin, c. 1400-1410, Paris, oak on wood. 20.5 cm. Staatliche Museum, Berlin.

In Christian Biblical tradition, the Virgin Mary was the only human person to be received into heaven after her death as a physical body prior to the Last Judgment. By the Middle Ages, the event’s narrative was elaborated so that the Virgin in Heaven came to be understood as a royal court where angels acted as court pages. In Heaven’s throne room, Mary is crowned as Queen by her son, Jesus Christ.

In the French tondo, Christ wears a red cloak symbolizing his Resurrection and a violet robe symbolizing his Passion. He sits on a stone throne and sets the crown on his mother Mary’s head as she kneels on a splendid cushion.

Strewn on the green-tiled floor of the celestial throne room are a variety of cut flowers which point to Mary’s purity and love for humanity. One angel carries her dress’s train and is himself dressed in a liturgical-type costume.

The tiny panel is remarkable for its delicate execution, lovely colors, and precise articulation of details such as the angels’ multi-colored wings. Its overall imagery was 14th century Italian in origin and arrived into Paris in the 15th century. Like the Annunciation panel in the Cleveland Museum of Art (above), this panel was likely produced as a private devotional image for a patron of high rank who dwelt among the milieu of the Parisian court.

Les Frères de Limbourg, Meeting of the Three Wise Men c. 1416 from Les Très riches heures du duc de Berry folio 51 verso. Chantilly, Musée Condé.
Entourage des Frères de Limbourg. Adoration de L’Enfant, c. 1415, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum.
Maître des heures de Rohan (active 1410-1435), The Last Judgment c. 1420, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.
Maître des heures de Rohan, Annunciation Angel and donor, c. 1420/30, Musée de Laon.
 Maître des heures de Rohan, Portrait de Louis II d’Anjou, c 1420. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

Not much more is known of the Maître des heures de Rohan than if he were anonymous. The artist had ties to Troyes, a Burgundian market town, and settled in Paris between 1415 and 1420. He was a commercial illuminator and is found in the service of the Dukes of Anjou around 1420. In addition to the Grandes Heures de Rohan, c.1430-1435, he produced other exceptional books, including the Hours of René d’Anjou (Bibliothèque nationale de France), the Hours of Isabelle Stuart (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK) and the Hours for the Use of Angers (former Martin Le Roy collection).

Artwork by Maître des heures de Rohan reflects a highly personal vision. The artist was completely unconcerned with his contemporaries’ preoccupation to introduce Renaissance realism into painting. The artist ignored perspective and chiaroscuro through concrete depictions and continued to develop his artistic meditations on faith and death using highly original invention of forms. In this way, the Maître des heures de Rohan is an enduring artist from early 15th century France as some of his more fashionably progressive contemporaries are not as he stayed true to his vision to create some of the most expressive pages of medieval Christian mysticism.

Maître of the Aix Annunciation, Annunciation, before 1445, Église de la Madeleine d’Aix-en-Provence.

The precise identification of the artist called the Maître of the Aix Annunciation is unknown. The artist is believed to be male and French, and could be Jean Chapus who lived in Aix and was working for King Réne of Anjou in the 1430s and 1440s. The Annunciation which was placed in the church in 1445 and has been there since, was part of a triptych. The other wings have been split off and are in Brussels, Amsterdam, and a private Dutch collection (one wing was also split). The style shows influence from Italy (Naples) and Flemish art.

DETAIL. Maître of the Aix Annunciation, before 1445, Église de la Madeleine d’Aix-en-Provence.
Anonymous. Annunciation, c. 1447-1450, Stained glass, Bourges cathedral, Chapel of Jacques Coeur.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Diptych de Melun, c. 1450, right panel: The Virgin and Child Jesus. Antwerp, Museum of Fine Arts.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Diptych de Melun, c. 1450, left panel: Chevalier Stephan presented by Saint Stephan. Staatliche Museum Berlin.

Jean Fouquet was a major French painter of the 15th century. He was in Rome in the mid-1440s and is presumed to have painted portraits. Under what circumstances the twenty-something Fouquet traveled to Rome is unknown. In any event Fouquet returned to Tours in 1448 and was working in the court of Charles VII. Louis XI appointed him official painter to the king in 1475. A handful of miniatures are documented artworks by Fouquet though other pictures, such as the Melun diptych and others, are attributed to him.

Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Medallion, self-portrait, 1452/1455. Louvre.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Charles VII, 1440/1460. Louvre.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), The Visitation, c. 1450. The Musée Condé, Chantilly.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Announcement of the Death of Saul to David, c. 1470. Les Antiquités Judaïques, Ms. fr. 247, folio 135 verso. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale.
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Pietà, c. 1470-1480. Parish church, Nouans (Indre-et-Loire).
Jean Fouquet (1420-1480), Pietà (detail), c. 1470-1480. Parish church, Nouans (Indre-et-Loire).
Philippe de Mazerolles (active 1454-1479), retable du Parlement de Paris, c.1455. Louvre.

Philippe de Mazerolles was a French painter and illuminator who was active in Paris and in Bruges. The artist is identified in several contemporary documents. Trained in Paris, his style was directly inspired by the Maître de Bedford, an anonymous illuminator active in Paris in the first third of the 15th century.

Philippe de Mazerolles (active 1454-1479), retable du Parlement de Paris (detail), c.1455. Louvre.
Maître du Coeur l’amour épris, Rencontre de Coeur et d’Humble requête, c. 1479, Vienna, National Library.
Enguerrand Quarton (1410-1466), The Coronation of the Virgin, 1452-53, Altar of the Charterhouse (hospice) of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

Also known as Charonton, the French painter worked in Avignon in southern France. His large Coronation of the Virgin is a documented artwork that was completed in 1454. It is one of the most important surviving 15th century French paintings.

Enguerrand Quarton (1410-1466), The Coronation of the Virgin (detail), 1452-53, Altar of the Charterhouse (hospice) of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.
DETAIL. Enguerrand Quarton (1410-1466), The Coronation of the Virgin, 1452-53, Altar of the Charterhouse (hospice) of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.
Enguerrand Quarton (1410-1466), attributed, Pietà de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. École de Provence, c. 1455. Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010063345
Nicolas Froment (1461-1483), Mary in the Burning Bush, 1476. Aix-en-Provence, Cathedral St. Sauveur.Triptych (center panel).
Nicolas Froment (1461-1483), Mary in the Burning Bush (detail), 1476. Aix-en-Provence, Cathedral St. Sauveur.Triptych (center panel).
Nicolas Froment (1461-1483) The Burning Bush, 1476. Aix-en-Provence, Cathedral St. Sauveur.Triptych (right and left panels).

Nicolas Froment worked in the south of France and was painter to Réne d’Anjou. The triptych is a documented artwork by the artist.

Josse Lieferinxe, called Maître de Saint-Sébastien, Part of an altarpiece shutter. The marriage of the Virgin. Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique.
Maître de Moulins, active 1475 to 1505, triptych de Moulins, center panel: The Virgin and the Child in Glory, c. 1498. Cathedral de Moulins.

The Master of Moulins is one of the great French painters of the 15th century. He was influenced by Hugo van der Goes (died 1482) and takes his name from the triptych painting of the Madonna and Child with angels and Donors (above) in Moulins Cathedral dated from 1498/99. Other works attributed to the Master of Moulins are in Autun, Paris, Chicago, Brussels, London, Munich, and Glasgow.

Maître de Moulins, active 1475 to 1505, Meeting of Saints Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate with Charlemagne, oil on oak, about 1491-1494. 72.6 x 60.2 cm, National Gallery, London.
Maître de Moulins, active 1475 to 1505, The Virgin with Child surrounded by angels, c. 1490, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique.
Maître de Moulins, active 1475 to 1505, François de Chateaubriand presented by St. Maurice or St. Victor with Donor, c. 1485, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Glasgow.
Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521), King David and Bathsheba, Leaf from the Hours of Louis XII, 1498–1499, Tempera and gold, Leaf: 24.3 × 17 cm (9 9/16 × 6 11/16 in.), The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 79, 2003.105.

Jean Bourdichon served as official court painter to four successive French kings: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François I. Bourdichon was almost certainly a pupil of Jean Fouquet, the previous court painter.

Simon Marmion (active 1449-1489), The miracle of the True Cross in Jerusalem in the presence of Saint Helena Empress, 2nd half of 15th century (1450/1500). Louvre. https://collections.louvre.fr/ark:/53355/cl010061655

Simon Marmion (died 1489) who worked in Amiens and Valenciennes and temporarily in Tournai was a painter and illuminator where his miniatures were admired for their rich decoration and landscape details. In the mid1440s the artist moved from Amiens to Valenciennes where he became a leading painter. His most important painting is the Saint Bertin Altarpiece in Berlin and London.

Simon Marmion, The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God. Fragment of Shutters from the St. Bertin Altarpiece, 1459. National Gallery London.

The Soul of Saint Bertin carried up to God was the upper section of a wing for an altarpiece for the high altar of the abbey church of St Bertin at Saint-Omer in northern France. It was commissioned by the influential Guillaume Fillastre, Abbot of St Bertin (1450-73), Bishop of Verdun (1437-49), Bishop of Toul (1449-60), Bishop of Tournai (1460–73), Chancellor of the Order of the Golden Fleece and a close confidant of the powerful Duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good. The artwork, whose main parts are in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, was consecrated in 1459. The altarpiece was intact in the abbey until 1791 when, as with many church goods, it fell victim to the French Revolution. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/simon-marmion-the-soul-of-saint-bertin-carried-up-to-god

Simon Marmion, A Choir of Angels. Fragment of Shutters from the St. Bertin Altarpiece, 1459. National Gallery London.
Simon Marmion, St. Bertin Altarpiece, 1459. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=direct/1/ResultLightboxView/result.t1.collection_lightbox.$TspTitleImageLink.link&sp=10&sp=Scollection&sp=SfieldValue&sp=0&sp=0&sp=3&sp=Slightbox_3x4&sp=0&sp=Sdetail&sp=0&sp=F&sp=T&sp=4
Simon Marmion, St. Bertin Altarpiece, 1459. Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. http://www.smb-digital.de/eMuseumPlus?service=direct/1/ResultLightboxView/result.t1.collection_lightbox.$TspTitleImageLink.link&sp=10&sp=Scollection&sp=SfieldValue&sp=0&sp=0&sp=3&sp=Slightbox_3x4&sp=0&sp=Sdetail&sp=0&sp=F&sp=T&sp=5

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.

The most performed playwright at the Comédie-Française in 21st century Paris is 17th century Jean-Baptiste Poquelin dit MOLIÈRE (1622-1673).

FEATURE image: Comedy scenes according to Molière (Lustspielszenen nach Molière), wallpaper, c. 1825-1830, Deutsches Tapetenmuseum, Kassel, Germany.

Photo credit: “lustspiel Moliere 1825” by janwillemsen is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668). Molière (1622-1673) dans le rôle de César de la “Mort de Pompée”, tragédie de Corneille. Paris, musée Carnavalet.

Molière was born into a well-to-do family on January 15, 1622 at Rue St. Honoré and grew up near the Bastille at Rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. The greatest genius of the French theater was baptized at St. Eustache as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He adopted the stage name of Molière in the mid1640s after he founded his first theater troupe.

St. Eustache, Paris. The place of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, dit Molière, was baptized.

PHOTO credit: “Around St. Eustache Paris 1e (40)” by Julie70 Joyoflife is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

A type of Shakespeare of France – profound theater actor, writer and poet – Molière’s characters and wit are timeless – such as in Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), and The Misanthrope (1666).

Romain Duris as Molière and Laura Morante as Elmire

French actor Romain Duris as Molière and Italian actress Laura Morante as Elmire in a scene from the 2007 movie “Molière.”

The fictional film is told in flashback to 1645. It is a conflation of two different periods in Molière’s life into one earlier period. Indeed, in 1645, 23-year-old bachelor Molière was bailed out of debtor’s prison. When his great, most controversial play, Tartuffe, appeared in the mid1660s, Molière was married and much older.

For the film, a presumably historical Molière poses as “Monsieur Tartuffe” (a priest) who serves as tutor for Orgon’s children. In real life, Molière played a part in his play, “Tartuffe,” but as the householder and trusting husband, Orgon. In the film, young Molière as Tartuffe, similar to the play, falls in love with Elmire, the neglected wife of the household.

In this scene Molière delivers a letter to Elmire from her secret admirer which, unknown to her, was written by the debonaire M. Tartuffe (Duris as young Molière).

Whereas in the present day any type of true romance may be heart-warming, the 17th century viewed romance through a lens of means and ends, either of which could be scandalous.

Molière’s great plays Don/m Juan and Tartuffe were halted in their tracks by French religious and royal authorities who were concerned that their characters and plots would provoke popular scandal. In the mid1660s, the Archbishop of Paris condemned Molière’s work – and nearly the libertine Molière himself – and then turned to the highest state authority, the king, with whom the top bishop was privileged to be closely aligned, to carry out the sentence.

“But I ought to warn you, strictly between the pair of us, that in Don Juan my master you see the greatest scoundrel that ever walked on Earth. He is a madman, a dog, a devil, a Turk. He is a heretic who believes in neither Heaven, nor saint, nor God, nor the bogeyman. He lives the life of an absolute brute beast. He is an Epicurean hog, a regular Sardanapalus who is deaf to every Christian remonstrance, and looks on all that we others believe as nothing but old wives’ tales. You say he has married your mistress. He would have done far more than that to gratify his desires. He would have married you, and her dog and cat as well. It costs him nothing to marry. That is the best baited trap he has.” – Sganarelle, servant of Don Juan, played by Molière. From Don Juan (1665).

“Oh, you scoundrel! At last I see you as you really are. But, unhappily, the knowledge comes too late; and it can only serve to drive me to desperation. But, be sure, your villainy will not remain unpunished. The Heaven you mock will avenge me for your faithlessness. – Donna Elvira, wife of Don Juan, played by Madmoiselle du Parc. From Don Juan (1665).

“Constancy is only fit for idiots.” – Don Juan, played by La Grange. From Don Juan (1665).

 “You see him as a saint. … I see right through him. He’s a fraud.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).

“It’s true – those whose private conduct is the worst,/Will mow each other down to be the first/To weave some tale of lust, and hearts broken/Out of a simple kiss that’s just a token/Between friends.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).

“See, I revere/Everyone whose worship is sincere./Nothing is more noble or beautiful/Than fervor that is holy, not just dutiful. – Cléante, played by La Thorillière, Act I, Scene 4. From Tartuffe (1664).

 “What good would it do to dissent? A father’s power is great.” – Mariane, played by Mlle de Brie, Act 2, Scene 3. From Tartuffe (1664).

 “Don’t be deceived by hollow shows; / I’m far … from being what men suppose. – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 3, Scene 6. From Tartuffe (1664).

“There’ll be no sins for which we must atone,/Because evil only exists when it’s known.” – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 4, Scene 5. From Tartuffe (1664).

“Ah! Ah! You are a traitor and a liar!/Some holy man you are, to wreck my life, / Marry my daughter? Lust after my wife?” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 4, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).

Damn all holy men! They’re filled with deceit!/I now renounce them all, down to the man.” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).

“All that we most revere, he uses/To cloak his plots and camouflage his ruses.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 5, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).  

For Molière, the Ancien Régime was not yet dead as a doornail. The American and French Revolutions were a distant century in the future. The latest risk in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of the Apostolic church selling its religion for parts in exchange for a share at the table of the new global faith was not yet a necessary strategy for a powerfully splendorous, yet ever troubled, church in 17th century France.

While “mixing it up” in politics may be the Catholic church’s normal path, it was the irreligious observations of its outcomes in human life in the 17th century that proved a major theme in Molière’s wittiest dramas and brought him into trouble. While the young King Louis XIV (1638-1715) approved orders that banned some of Molière’s farces, the royal personage expressed his reluctance to do so. It had been the priests who were stung by Molière’s popular ridicule with its social danger of being overthrown by comic truths. Their well-connected desires to cancel Molière proved only partly successful in the mid17th century–and, soon after that, hardly at all.

King Louis XiV of France (1638-1715). The young king was reluctant to censor Molière (but did).

PHOTO credit: “King Louis XIV, 1638-1715 / Roi Louis XIV, 1638-1715” by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Writers of 17th Century French Literature

The 17th century continued the wealth of French literature in its many genres – poetry (Malherbe; La Fontaine; Boileau); novels and fairy tales (Cyrano de Bergerac; Perrault); essays (Pascal; La Rochefoucauld; La Bruyère); philosophy (Descartes); theology (St. Francis de Sales; Fénelon; Bossuet) and drama (Corneille; Racine; and Molière), and many others.

Molière’s Comedy – Wit And Types

Molière wrote based on actual facts of society and human nature and, using ludicrous incidents, looked straight ahead to a moral purpose – his plays were very instructive and had all the makings of high comedy. Further to attract us, Molière is the premier dramatist of wit.

His characters are not individuals but types – which allows for perhaps greater intensity than complexity. Though the French are not as known for comedy, the form is mostly indigenous, contrasted to tragedy as a dramatic form which came out of Italy.

The City of Paris Plays a Role

Paris is a theatrical city. Similar to today’s Beaubourg, there were outdoor performances at the Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine. The Hotel de Bourgogne on Rue Etienne Marcel was used in the 16th century by the Confraternité de la Passion for passion plays. In the mid1620s when America was a wilderness there would be street parades of comedians in Paris to lure spectators into the theatre. Stock farce characters included Aurlupin (mean spirited school teacher), Gros Guillaume (dressed in a flour sack), and Captain Fracasse (break things). At the permanent flea market of St. Germain de Prés, spectacles were put on stage. Goods were sold, some of it junk, because, as Daumier observed, “people are always fooled.”

Molière’s mother died when he was 10 years old and he was raised by a nurse maid. In his later plays there are often such maids and servant girls.

Public domain.

In Paris, three rival theatre groups coexisted: that of the Marais; that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne; and, that of the Palais-Royal, directed by Molière. After Molière’s death, the actors of the Marais joined Molière’s troupe of actors by royal order. This new troupe settles at the Hotel Guénégaud, rue Mazarine.

La Thorillière (1626-1680).
La Grange (1635-1692).

François de La Thorillière was Molière’s companion and kept the register of the company during the 1663/1664 and 1664/1665 seasons. He moved to the Hôtel de Bourgogne after Molière’s death. In 1680 La Thorillière, head of the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the last rival in Paris of Molière’s former troupe, died. The King ordered these two troupes of French actors established in Paris to play together going forward.

On August 25, 1680, the actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne and that of the Hotel Guénégaud – Molière’s former troupe now led by La Grange – gave their first joint performance.

On October 21, 1680, an official royal letter signed at Versailles, established the unique troupe, composed of 27 actors and actresses chosen by the King for their excellence, to have a monopoly of performances in French so to “make performances of comedies more perfect.” The repertoire includes Corneille, Molière, Racine, Jean Rotrou, Paul Scarron, and others.

Molière Schools in Paris and Orléans

Molière was a commuter student at the Collège de Clermont behind the Sorbonne. Founded in the 1560s by the Jesuits who had a tremendous hold on educating the young in this period, it was renamed Lycée Louis-le-Grand in the 1680s. Nobility and the well-to-do bourgeois schooled together though segregated by a so-called “golden barrier” of identity – an illiberal, reactionary practice. Molière received a strict, excellent education and was a Latinist. He went to Orléans to study law but didn’t pursue it. His father sent him to Narbonne to be a royal tapestry maker (the family business) but Molière was idealistic and chose to be in theater. Following his bliss, twenty-something Molière – around the time of the film scene – was close to penniless for the next 15 years.

Following the queen of the sciences (theology), cultural authorities officially ordered the boycott of theater as immoral. But the people in Paris mostly ignored these bought-and-paid-for kill joys of church and state and the theater life thrived.

Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris.

File:Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris 5e 3.jpg” by Celette is marked with CC BY-SA 4.0.

Molière’s first theater production flops; bailed out of debtor’s prison by a street contractor

By the 17th century the Renaissance social fad of tennis had faded away and Molière rented empty courts for the theater. He joined Madeliene Béjart, four years older, and from a family of actors, and established his first theater in June 1643 called the Illustre Théâtre (“Illustrious Theater”). The first performances in the tennis court featuring the 22-year-old Molière and the others opened on January 1, 1644.

Madeleine Béjart (1618-72) playing Madelon in “Précieuses Ridicules” by Molière, oil paint on stone, French School, 17th century (after 1659,). Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. Public Domain.

To build the theater, Molière fell into debt in 1644. The first performances were a complete flop and Molière was thrown into debtor’s prison for 3 days in July 1645.

There were two official theatre troupes in Paris in the mid 1640s– and Molière’s Illustre Théâtre was not one of them. The troupe did have a royal protector or sponsor, the king’s brother. But financial help was not to be had from Gaston d’Orléans (1608-1660). Rather, a paving contractor paid the bail to release the young actor/writer, a remarkable historical fact. Molière’s first theater was auctioned off with proceeds going to his creditors.

Gaston d’Orléans (1608-1660) by Anthony Van Dyck, 1634. Musée Condé. Molière’s noble sponsor was not financially responsible for the ill-fortune of the young actor’s first theatre troupe in Paris.

In 1646 Molière and Mme. Béjart joined a troupe led by Charles Dufresne (1611-1684). They relocated to the provinces, specifically to the west at Nantes and south. Success as an actor had been fleeting and Molière was very close to returning to his father’s business as a tapestry maker. Molière, like his fellow actors, could afford to wear only his street clothes on stage – or vice versa. Molière was part of just one theatre troupe among about 1,000 in France.

Others of the defunct Illustre Théâtre joined Molière in 1648. Dufresne handed over the direction of the troupe to Molière in 1650. He rechristened the troupe Comédiens de SAR le prince de Conti. The prince de Conti (1629-1666), fifth in line to the French throne, was Molière’s patron and friend. At the domaine de la Grange des Prés at Pézenas in Languedoc, the prince and the actor-playwright discussed plays and theater.

Armand de Bourbon, prince de Conti (1629-1666). The prince in Languedoc was a patron and friend of Molière in the 1650s. Le musée du Vieux Nîmes.
Anne-Marie Martinozzi (1637-1672) was the wife of the prince de Conti. She was also the niece of Cardinal Mazarin, successor to Richelieu. Though there were interludes of life together at Pézenas with the prince, much of their marriage they lived apart. The princess shows herself in love, writing her husband numerous letters. Château de Versailles.

In the 1650s, Molière’s troupe became moderately successful performing all over the Mediterranean in France. Though Molière kept a notebook to record his ideas and character types these personal items have been lost to history.

Portrait of Molière, c. 1658 , Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), Château de Chantilly. Pierre Mignard is one of the major classic French portrait artists. When he crossed paths with Molière in Avignon in 1658, after having worked in Orange and Saint-Rémy, a great friendship started between the two men, until the death of the writer in 1673. The painting in Chantilly probably dates from this meeting, because the model appears to be less than forty years old.

The prince de Conti, Languedoc governor, was the king’s cousin, and, upon marrying Anne-Marie Martinozzi (1637-1672) in 1654, an in-law of sorts to Cardinal Mazarin (Anne-Marie was Mazarin’s niece). The prince di Conti, however, lived with his mistress at Pézenas among Molière’s free-spirited actors. In 1655 the prince, being engaged in military campaigns in Spain and experiencing failing health, had a religious awakening. He discarded the mistress, returned to his wife and banished the theatre.  Molière was suddenly cancelled.

Allowance of theater in society based on moral grounds would continue to evolve – though audiences always enjoyed its entertainment value. Finding a need and filling it, Molière sold drama as morality (and vice versa) and using dialogue and plot that cut things close to the bone.

Armande Béjart (1645-1700).

Armande Béjart was in Molière’s troupe in 1653 under the name of Mademoiselle Menou and played child roles. Married to Molière in 1662, she was the inspiration for all his heroines: the Princess of Élide, Charlotte, Célimène, Lucinde, Elmire, Alcmène, Élise, Angélique, Lucile, Hyacinthe, Henriette.

Armande and Molière’s daughter, Madeleine-Esprit, survived but their two sons did not. When Molière died in 1668, Armande encouraged the troupe, led by La Grange.

In 1677 Armande remarried a man not in the theater named Guérin d’Etriché and they had a son. She became Mademoiselle Guérin on stage in the troupe brought together by Louis XIV in 1680 and retired in 1694.

After being cancelled by the prince de Conti who became an implacable enemy of the theater until his death in 1666, the reputation of Molière’s traveling troupe was being critically appreciated at the highest levels. In 1658, the king’s brother, 18-year-old Philippe d’Orléans, le Monsieur (1640-1701), arranged an audition for Molière and his troupe in Paris. The result was that King Louis XIV approved the Troupe de Monsieur to share the royal theater, the Petit-Bourbon. Molière immediately premiered there on November 2, 1658. The troupe soon had to build up its cast and repertoire to meet the Paris audience’s expectations and Molière looked to provide them with original comedies. This was notably effected by the addition of 24-year-old La Grange, who would play young romantic lead roles, in 1659.

Also in 1659, having acquired the king’s favor, Molière set about to write the first of his great works: Précieuses Ridicules. In 1662 he married Madeleine Béjart’s younger sister (possibly daughter), Armande. The king was godfather to their child as Molière now performed at the Palais Royal for the king and royal family. In the next years, Molière wrote plays about marriage, jealousy, and adultery, including The Imaginary Cuckold in 1660; Don Garcie de Navarre and The School for Husbands in 1661; and, a great success, The School for Wives in 1662. Opening in December 1662, by the end of May 1663, audiences filled the theatre to watch The School for Wives, a play whose scheming plot is more straightforward than its characters, in over 60 performances. It was afterward attacked by critics who felt and feigned outrage for its sexual references and irreligiosity, but also, possibly, envy of its newness and blatant success. A flurry of artful broadsides between Molière and the King’s Actors at The Hôtel de Bourgogne followed in pamphlets and on their respective stages.

“People of quality know everything without ever having learned anything.” (Les gens de qualité savent tout sans avoir jamais rien appris.) – Mascarille, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 8. From Précieuses Ridicules (1659).

“A man’s not simple to take a simple wife. Your wife, no doubt, is a wise, virtuous woman. But brightness, as a rule, is a bad omen. And I know men who’ve undergone much pain because they married girls with too much brain. I want no intellectual, if you please.” – Arnolphe, Act 1, Scene 1. From School For Wives (1662).

“It must be confessed that love is a skillful instructor. It teaches us to be what we never were before. By its lessons a complete change in our manners is often the work of a moment. It overcomes obstacles in our very nature, and its sudden effects seem like miracles. It makes misers liberal in an instant, cowards become heroes, and, dear gentlemen, it turns the most inexperienced mind into a nimble wit, as it gives understanding to the most simple.” – Horace, Act 3, Scene 4. From School For Wives (1662).

Philippe d’Orléans (1640-1701). Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux. Le Monsieur, the king’s younger brother, wears an ostentatiously beautiful bow-tie. Pierre Mignard, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux.
Artist’s imaginary depiction of Lully’s Armide, Salle du Palais-Royal, 1761, by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin (1724-1780), Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

The middle 1660s was a high point for Molière’s plays: Tartuffe; Festin de Pierre (Don Juan) and Le Misanthrope were all written in these same two or three years (1664-1666). These greatest comedies of enduring genius, however, were not well received in their days by a mostly obliging audience yet who took governance and religion very seriously. In May 1664, Molière staged the first three acts of his later Tartuffe at Versailles. Called The Hypocrite, the play was immediately banned by Louis XIV. When it opened again in 1667 as The Imposter, it was once more immediately banned. Any further performance – and this extended to its audience – adventured excommunication. It was not until February 1669 that Louis XIV allowed the performance of Tartuffe in its completed five act form. It instantly became the hottest ticket in Paris.

A prosperous man wanting to retain his hard-earned social position and continue to practice his theory of the stage as the layman’s pulpit, Molière in these final years turned toward lighter, innocuous spectacles to teach and entertain French society. In 1665 Don Juan ran for 15 performances though it was censored and its financial proceeds had to benefit the Church.

“I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don’t really mean.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).

“There’s a season for love and another for prudishness, and we may consciously choose the latter when the hey-day of our youth has passed—it may serve to conceal some of life’s disappointments.” – Célimène, played by Armande Béjart-Molière, Act 3, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).

“I’ll confront her in no uncertain terms with her villainy, confound her utterly, and then bring to you a heart entirely freed from her perfidious charms.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act , Scene . From The Misanthrope (1666).

“The failings of human nature in this life give us opportunities for exercising our philosophy, which is the best use we can put our virtues to. If all men were righteous, all hearts true and frank and loyal, what purpose would most of our virtues serve?” – Philinte, played by La Grange, Act 5, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).

“You shall observe me push my weakness to its furthest limit and show how wrong it is to call any of us wise and demonstrate that there’s some touch of human frailty in every one of us.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).

At rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris since 1817, Molière was denied a Catholic burial in 1673

The baptized Molière died in 1673 at 51 years old. He was denied a religious burial for the simple fact that he was a theater actor. The traditional wing of the Catholic Church constantly impugned Molière’s work. Educated by the more liberal Jesuits, Molière never renounced his Catholicism, and was probably not an atheist. He was secretly buried in a Catholic cemetery in the section of unbaptized infants. In 1792, during the French Revolution, Molière’s remains were transferred to the museum of French Monuments. In 1817, Molière was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery where he lies today.

Molière’s Tomb, Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, 1854, Etching in warm black on ivory laid paper, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Molière’s legacy

Tartuffe disguises himself as a virtuous man and is a hypocrite. As the French celebrate Molière’s 400th birth anniversary they reflect on the relevance of Molière’s drama for today. Some argue that false faces in democracy are just as numerous as those in mid17th century Paris though perhaps in a different way.

Cancel Culture derives from Tartuffe

The cancel culture can be said to derive of Tartuffe. Though not displaying a purely religious hypocrisy as in Molière’s original character, today’s Tartuffe hates the individual heart’s freedoms and hides their will to crack down on people by citing the “common good” or other platitude which usually includes a spectrum of needs and fears. Notions of superiority, duplicity, and simple stupidity are present in Molière’s Tartuffe – that is, the hypocritical type of 350 years ago. 

A supposed offense today is paired with Molière’s hypocrite of 350 years ago against a partisan viewpoint of the “higher interest” with its obligations and payments “overdue” to them from which as a penalty and means requires the ban, cancellation, and banishment –yet, almost conveniently, not of one’s fragile self, if opposed. While the perennial distrust of politicians is well known, today’s social breakdown is broader and endemic – with the inflation of hypocrisy a common denominator. 

Like a popular play on an outdoor stage in 17th century Paris, hypocrites can be better recognized, fortunately or not, by type. The brittle use of virtue signaling can offer one such type. When it becomes evident that it serves the practicioner’s hidden ends, the audience, assuming its role, heckles and boos such stock farce characters off the stage with gusto.

Though censorship and restrictions of thought and action of others in its many forms is hardly always the result of hypocrisy, hypocrites (whichever side of the fence their belief or opinion may fall) are certain to take the short route to do so.

Molière would have sufficient material today to write and perform another of his great dramas for the 21st century and whose production is under a similar menace of cancellation by such powers grown antagonistic to his content and close or lower the curtain when opportunity is seen to enter.

FURTHER READING:
https://www.gradesaver.com/tartuffe/study-guide/quotes in MLA Format Osborne, Kristen. Cedars, S.R. ed. “Tartuffe Quotes and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 8 January 2013 Web.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Moliere-French-dramatist#ref362537

https://www.comedie-francaise.fr/fr/la-troupe-a-travers-les-siecles

https://www.comedie-francaise.fr/fr/histoire-de-la-maison#

https://www.comedie-francaise.fr/fr/artiste/armande-bejart

https://www.sparknotes.com/drama/misanthrope/quotes/

Molière, Tartuffe and Other Plays, trans. Donald M. Frame, New York: Signet Classics, 2015.

Molière, The Misanthrope, trans. Henri van Laun (1876), New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992.

The Misanthrope.pdf

http://theatre-classique.fr/pages/pdf/MOLIERE_PRECIEUSESRIDICULES.pdf

George Saintsbury, A Short History French Literature, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901.

Last battles, death mask of NAPOLEON BONAPARTE (1769-1821) at the 200th anniversary of his death on remote Saint Helena island on May 5, 1821.

FEATURED image: Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.

The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, 1812, Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Major facts of the life of Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are well known. Known as Napoleon I, the French Emperor who died two centuries ago was a shrewd, ambitious and skilled military leader who conquered much of Europe in the early 19th century.

Born on the island of Corsica that had recently handed authority from Italy to France, Napoleon rose rapidly in the French military during the unsettled period of the French Revolution after 1789 and until 30-year-old Napoleon seized power in a coup d’état in 1799.

In 1804 Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in the presence of the pope. In the next decade Napoleon successfully waged war against various coalitions of European nations and expanded his empire. Following his disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 explored in some detail in this post, Napoleon abdicated his throne in 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba not far from his native Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea near Italy.

In 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France where he briefly returned to power in his Hundred Days campaign. He received a crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in today’s Belgium and was exiled until his death on May 5, 1821 to the remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon Bonaparte was just 51 years old at the time of his death stemming from mysterious circumstances, though likely something such as stomach cancer.1

Napoleon on St. Helena, Franz Josef Sandmann (1805-1856), c. 1820. Musée national des châteaux de Malmaison et de Bois-Préau.

In 2021, the bicentenary of the death of Napoleon I is commemorated. While 200 years is a long time ago, in terms of History it is a relatively short span amount of time. In other words, Napoleon, who might have come to the United States (New Orleans) after his exile, is not very far away from modern times.

Napoleon Bonaparte, born in Corsica which had just switched allegiance from Italy to France, was born in 1769. In 1821 when he died on May 5 he was 51 years old. The former French emperor died far away from Europe on the island of Saint Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Napoleon had been exiled there following his defeat at Waterloo in Belgium in 1815 and escape from Elba in the Mediterranean, the British Government’s first location for his confinement.

Between the continents of Africa and South America, St. Helena is much more remote. The island built its first airport only in 2011.

Napoleon lived on St. Helena for about 6 years and died there, somewhat unexpectedly, at Longwood House. Napoleon’s permanent residence was completed for him in December 1815.

Napoleon was buried on St. Helena. In 1840, stirring old wounds of controversy, the remains of the warring General and French despot were transferred to Paris. Napoleon’s tomb in Les Invalides had been a military hospital whose construction was by Louis XIV (1638-1715).

Napoleon’s plaster death mask, known as the Malmaison mask, May 1821.

The death mask was made on Saint Helena about two days after the former French Emperor’s death there on May 5, 1821 at Longwood House. (see http://www.lautresaintehelene.com/autre-sainte-helene-articles-malmaison2.html – retrieved May 5, 2021).

On St. Helena, Longwood House was Napoeleon’s permanent residence completed for him by his British captors in Decemeber 1815. “Longwood House (c) St Helena Tourism” by sthelenatourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

In 1858, French emperor Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon I, purchased Longwood House and various other lands associated with Napoleon I on St. Helena for the French government. Though Napoleon’s remains were returned to France in 1840, Napoleon III’s purchase on St. Helena remains the property of France . It is administered by a French representative under the authority of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. (see – https://fondationnapoleon.org/en/activities-and-services/preserving-heritage/operation-st-helena/retrieved May 5, 2021).

IN THE YEAR 1812 – A BAD ECONOMY, CONTINENTAL BLOCKADES, AND A DISASTROUS INVASION OF RUSSIA BY NAPOLEON

During the War of 1812 which had ramifications for the U.S., world domination by Napoleon was being attempted within a sagging, uncooperative economy in Europe.

France had 300,000 French troops and a rafter of French generals occupying Spain to keep the blockaded British from invading. Napoleon, in a near constant state of war since 1793, had created an Empire whose subjected parts didn’t cooperate. In 1812, Napoleon had to choose between losing his blockade in Spain or in Russia.

Since the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 which followed the Battle of Friedland where Napoleon defeated the Russian army, Russia continued to transact business with England. This was a violation of the agreement and the pretext for Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812.

While over 1,500 miles away from Paris, Napoleon wanted to shut down Russia’s economy and take full control. For Russia, Napoleon’s invasion required the defense of their homeland.

NAPOLEON’S NEW WAR CAMPAIGN NEEDS 700,000 CONSCRIPTED SOLDIERS

Napoleon needed fresh conscripts but a third of Napoleon’s French draftees didn’t report for duty. Many of Napoleon’s generals advised the dictator to stay in Paris and enjoy life’s spoils. Napoleon refused. He explained that he would not rest until he fulfilled the dream to form a United States of Europe.2

Napoleon assembled 700,000 men with the monumental task to pay for it. For years the Emperor had been stockpiling supplies along the route to Russia and even arranged for their delivery on the battlefield.

Napoleon left St. Cloud for Moscow in June 1812. His high stakes gamble would affect not just Napoleon’s fortunes but the Empire’s inhabitants.

Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), Campaign of France, 1814, 1864. Oil on wood, 51.5 x 76.5 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay.

Ernest Meissonier’s Campaign of France, 1814, was the artist’s first painting produced in a cycle of Napoleon’s conquests. Though the episode Meissonier depicts was painted for the fiftieth anniversary of Napoleon’s invasion of France from Elba in 1814, it captures the overall desolation that surrounded the former French Emperor by the time of his invasion of Russia in 1812.

The series made by the 49-year-old artist, an admirer of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch small-format painting, captures the desolate landscape the Grande Armée endured. It also depicted a solitary, unusually unkempt, and tenuous figure of Napoleon who is leading the General Staff and troops in an over-extended military campaign that spelled defeat.

For the painting, the artist’s imagination was informed by historical documentation including interviews of surviving eyewitnesses, including the detail of the Emperor’s grey coat. Its realist style was a prevailing aspect of mid-19th century artistic taste during the Second Empire headed by Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870.

(see https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting/commentaire_id/campaign-of-france-1814-8947.html?tx_commentaire_pi1%5BpidLi%5D=509&tx_commentaire_pi1%5Bfrom%5D=841&cHash=41368ad16b#:~:text=Campagne%20de%20France%2C%201814%20%5BCampaign,demonstrates%20his%20nimble%2C%20polished%20style. – retrieved May 5, 2021.

FAILURE OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN

The army marched 1,200 miles to Lithuania to defeat the Russian army. But the Russians had retreated. Napoleon’s men had to march another 550 miles to Moscow. The generous supply lines got snarled. French troops turned sick and exhausted.

In the Battle of Smolensk, the French invaders—viewed by some to be fighting for a united liberal Europe over small state autocrats—set that town on fire. Napoleon’s criminal reputation preceded him – he murdered without mercy and often by treachery. Royalists criticized him but also articulate liberals like Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) and François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848). The emperor was the enemy of liberty. Chateaubriand wrote: “Les Français vont indistinctement au pouvoir, ils n’aiment pas la liberté, l’égalité est leur idole. Or l’égalité et le despotisme ont des liaisons secrètes” (“The French go to power indiscriminately, they don’t like liberty, equality is their idol. But equality and despotism have secret links”).

With casualties for the Battle of Smolensk around 15,000 for both sides, the Czar appointed Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) as commander of Russian forces. Napoleon called Kutuzov, “The sly old fox of the north“ (cited in Roger Parkinson, The Fox of the North, 1976). At 67 years old, Kutuzov was lazy and lecherous, but knew how to fight—and, regarding Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, how to retreat strategically. It made Napoleon’s thirst for further battle on his own terms impossible.

Portrait of Mikhail Kutuzov, 1829, George Dawe (1781–1829). Oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace War Gallery, St. Petersburg, Russia.

70 MILES WEST OF MOSCOW, THE BATTLE OF BORODINO PITS 242,000 TOTAL COMBATANTS WITH OVER 1,000 BIG GUNS ON SEPTEMBER 7, 1812

In his address to troops before the Battle of Borodino General Kutuzov told his men: “Napoleon is a torrent we are yet unable to stem. Moscow will be the sponge that sucks him dry.”3 Napoleon knew what he was up against. Without supplies, Napoleon ordered his men to keep marching: “Motion alone keeps this army together.”4

The march from Smolensk to Moscow took 3 weeks. Many soldiers of the Grande Armée died on the march. Kutuzov set up a defensive position in Borodino, about 70 miles west of Moscow. On Sept. 7, 1812, French forces engaged the Russians. Both sides were evenly matched – Napoleon had 587 guns and 130,000 troops and the Russians had 640 guns and 112,000 troops.

Hanging over the battlefield was the feeling that the destiny of Europe lay in the balance. The battle’s outcome was a draw. The French were masters of the field as the Russians retreated. It was another day for war’s slaughter— combined French and Russian losses was 80,000 soldiers.

Battle of Moscow (or Borodino), the Capture of the Great Redoubt. Engraving by unknown artist, 1820’s. State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
Battle of Moscow (or Battle of Borodino) in 1812. Attack of the Lithuanian Life Guards Regiment, oil on canvas, 1912, Nikolay Semyonovich Samokish (1860-1944). State Borodino Military Historical Museum, Russia.
General Uvarov at Borodino, Auguste-Joseph Desarnod (1788-1840), State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

In the War of 1812 Fedor Petrovich Uvarov (1769 -1824) commanded the 1st Cavalry Corps and then the Cavalry of the 1st and 2nd Russian Armies. With the Cossacks of Matvei Platov (1753-1818), Uvarov distinguished himself in the Battle of  Borodino when he turned the left flank of the French army and made a raid to its rear. The Russian attack of the main French forces delayed Napoleon’s battle plans for two crucial hours.

Napoleon near Borodino, Vasily Vereshchagin (1842–1904), 1897, oil on canvas, State Historical Museum, Moscow.

The image of a sullen dictator (above) seated on his field chair with boots raised onto a battle drum, as his General Staff views in their spyglasses the men of the Grande Armée in harm’s way at the Battle of Borodino, can be seen as indicative of Napoleon’s exercise of arbitrary power as the first of modern history’s tyrants.

Battle of Borodino, 7th September 1812, 1822, Louis-François Lejeune (1775-1848).

WHEN LEJEUNE’S BATTLE-PICTURES WERE SHOWN IN LONDON, EAGER CROWDS CAME TO SEE THEM FOR THEIR REALISTIC, DETAILED DEPICTIONS OF SIGNIFICANT CONTEMPORARY EVENTS.

In the French invasion of Russia in 1812, Lejeune was made général de brigade and chief of staff to Davout (1770-1823). During the retreat, Lejeune was frostbitten on the face and left his post where he was subsequently arrested on Napoleon’s orders.

During his military service, Lejeune produced a series of important battle-pictures based on his experiences. They were generally executed from sketches and studies made on the battlefield. Known for their lofty perspective which, according to Chase Maenius in The Art of War[s], “offer[ed] a panoramic view of the totality of the battle’s events,” the Battle of Borodino… of 1822 is considered his masterwork.

In his Memoirs of Baron Lejeune, aide-de-camp to marshals Berthier, Davout, and Oudinot (translation, 1897), Lejeune related one of the many wretched scenes that the Napoleonic Wars produced. He wrote: “As we were pushing on the next day, we came upon two poor creatures at a turn in the road whose condition tore our hearts. They were a handsome well-built man of about forty and a woman of about thirty, also with a fine figure, both stark naked. They approached us and said to us in very good French, ‘Our home has been sacked by Cossacks, who stripped us of everything and left us as you see us. For pity’s sake help us.’ We could do nothing for them but give them a little food, and we felt very wretched as we turned away. The next day at a bivouac some distance off a fresh irresistible demand was made upon our pity, and our stock of provisions was so much reduced that I don’t know what we should have done but that some German peasants brought us a few sheep, with which we replenished our larder.” (p. 158, https://archive.org/details/memoirsbaronlej01maurgoog/page/n170/mode/2up
—retrieved May 5, 2021.)

The bodies of dead soldiers of Napoleon’s Grand Armée left on the bridge over the River Kolocha after the Battle of Borodino, 1812.  Christian Wilhelm von Faber du Faur (1780-1857), published 1830’s.
Gen. Kutuzov at the conference of Fili deciding to surrender Moscow to Napoleon, Aleksey Kivshenko (1851–1895), 1880, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

Following the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812, the Russian army retreated towards Moscow and camped near Fili. A military council led by General Kutuzov assembled in a hut in Fili where, despite objections from younger generals, Kutuzov insisted on his plan to abandon Moscow.

The action not only saved the remains of the Russian army but worked to stymie and ultimately defeat Napoleon’s invasion drive. The personalities in the painting include Prince Michael Andreas Barclay de Tolly (1761-1818), who was replaced by Kutuzov on order of the Czar and sits in the corner below the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus icon. Fyodor Uvarov sits near Barclay holding a paper. Nikolay Raevsky (1771-1829) sits by the window with his fingers locked together. Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov  (1777-1861) stands on the far right. The much younger Yermolov resented old general Kutuzov’s plan and demanded to fight the enemy.

Napoleon and about 100,000 French troops reached Moscow on September 8, 1812, Napoleon found only Russia’s poor and displaced. Moscow was Russia’s largest city, its capital, and its Holy City—and French troops of the Enlightenment set it ablaze. The fires burned for 4 days as Napoleon’s army looted it.

Napoleon wrote a letter of apology and condolence to the Czar, Alexander I Pavlovich, the Blessed (1777-1825). One result was that Tthe Russians resolved never to surrender to their would-be conqueror. Only some of the wealthy in Russia looked to negotiate with Napoleon mainly out of fear of losing their assets, that is, the serfs. Napoleon surmised, “I beat the Russians every time—but that does not get me anywhere.”5 Old general Kutuzov’s inaction attained his objective to defend Russia whereas 43-year-old Napoleon failed to rally his men for his Empire these many hundreds of miles from home.

Posthumous Portrait of Czar Alexander I of Russia, 1826, George Dawe, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Napoleon’s interest became retreat. There was an intended coup d’état in Paris that Napoleon had to raise more fresh recruits to crush. Other parts of the Empire also raised their head following Napoleon’s inglorious retreat. But it grew worse to become one of world history’s worst defeats.

Weather in Russia turned to snow and ice. The Russians retreated into Mother Russia before they were defeated. The French retreated to the west in defeat. Reports of cannibalism among Napoleon’s army is recorded. Turning back to Paris, the French army lost another half of their men. All of Napoleon’s supply lines had been sacked. Adding further injury, the French were chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s 80,000 troops.

Famous tell-all graph by French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870) showing the size of Napoleon’s Grande Armée as it marched towards Moscow (top gray line, left to right) in summer of 1812 and its retreat (bottom black line, from right to left) in the late fall of 1812. Frozen temperatures during the humiliating retreat are plotted on the bottom graph.

On the retreat, surviving warriors fought among themselves over any existing supplies. Napoleon’s retreat included the humiliation of being chased out of Russia by Kutuzov’s redeployed 80,000 troops. The old man’s hot pursuit did not allow Napoleon, the once young Enlightenment military figure, to rest.

Under military surgeon Baron Dominique Jean Larrey (1766-1842), the Grand Army’s medical and sanitary measures were the finest in the world but the retreat route offered no food and no medical care. As a remedy for possible future ills, including his capture, Napoleon convinced his doctor to give him a vial of poison which the dictator could ingest if conditions deteriorated to become inescapably dire.

Portrait of Dominique-Jean Larrey, oil on canvas, 1804, Marie-Guillemine Benoist (1768-1826), Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France.

Baron Dominique Jean Larrey was a French surgeon and military doctor who distinguished himself during the near endless wars of the French Revolution and under Napoleon. Baron Larrey served as the Grand Army’s medical and sanitation leader and was an important innovator in triage who is considered the first modern military doctor and surgeon.

Napoleon: Retreat, 1812. /Ncrossing The Beresina River In Russia During The Retreat Of The Grand Army Under Napoleon Bonaparte, December 1812; Baggage Carts And Ambulances Have Been Abandoned In The Foreground. Watercolor, c. 1812, attributed to General François Louis Fournier-Sarlovèze (1773-1827).

During the Russian Campaign, Fournier commanded a brigade of light cavalry composed of French, German, and Central European horsemen, and led a noted cavalry charge at the Battle of Smolensk.

Generals Kutuzov and Wittgenstein attacked at a bridge crossing in what today is Belarus. Hundreds of Frenchmen drowned. To slow the attack, Napoleon ordered the bridges destroyed. In the process the general stranded hundreds of his troops to enemy gunfire.

Napoleon now told his aide-de-camp, Armand-Augustin-Louis de Caulaincourt, what the Russian campaign taught him: “I can hold my grip on Europe only from the Tuileries.” In Warsaw, Napoleon met Abbé de Pradt, his ambassador, and told him: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step.”6

As Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with its famous climax using cannon fire, ringing chimes and brass fanfare, commemorates a Russian defensive victory, French losses were staggering. Of Napoleon’s 700,000 men led into Russia, only 30,000 survived. Only 1,000 soldiers returned to active duty.7

NAPOLEON IN RUSSIA, HIS FORCES LOSE THE PENINSULAR WAR IN SPAIN; THE FOLLOWING YEAR, IN 1813, NAPOLEON LOSES THE BATTLE OF LIEPZIG, THE LARGEST LAND BATTLE UNTIL WORLD WAR I.

Simultaneous with the debacle of Napoleon’s Russian invasion, French forces lost the long fight (since 1808) in Spain and Portugal to keep the British off the Continent.

Significant losses in the east and west of the Empire were followed in 1813 by the Battle of Leipzig, Napoleon’s penultimate defeat by an international coalition that included Austria, Prussia, Russia and Sweden.

NAPOLEON FORCED TO ABDICATE IN 1814. EXILED TO ELBA; DEFEATED IN 1815 AT WATERLOO.

After Napoleon withdrew into France, in March 1814 these allied forces captured Paris. By early April 1814 Napoleon was forced to abdicate as Emperor. Napoleon had to go for his pursuit of glory had become a menace to his country and the world.

With the Treaty of Fontainebleau, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and, following his brief escape into France in 1814, he was defeated for the final time at the Battle of Waterloo and exiled to St. Helena which held him until his death at 51 years old on May 5, 1821.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps, Jacques-Louis David, 1801, oil on canvas, 102 1⁄3 × 87 in., Château du Malmaison.

NOTES:

1. see- https://www.history.com/topics/france/napoleon

–retrieved May 5, 2021.

2. The Age of Napoleon, Will and Ariel Durant, Simon & Schuster: 1975, p. 698.

3. A Dictionary of Military Quotations, edited by Trevor Royle, Routledge: 1989, Section 105, quote 13.

4. http://www.military-info.com/freebies/maximsn.htm

5. The New York Times, “The Napoleon Legend—A New Look; How can we know the man whose transformation into a myth began long before his death?; Napoleonic Legend,” April 5, 1964. https://www.nytimes.com/1964/04/05/archives/the-napoleon-legenda-new-look-how-can-we-know-the-man-whose.html#:~:text=When%20he%20failed%2C%20he%20never,in%20defense%20of%20their%20country.–retrieved May 5, 2021.

6. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 13th edition, p. 199.

7. https://slate.com/technology/2012/12/napoleon-march-to-russia-in-1812-typhus-spread-by-lice-was-more-powerful-than-tchaikovskys-cannonfire.html 

— retrieved May 5, 2021.