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.
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.
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
CF. Elisabeth Stopp, “St. Francis de Sales at Clermont College,” in Salesian Studies, 6 (Winter 1969). pp. 42-43.
Wright & Power, p. 20.
Wright & Power, p. 22.
The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957, p. 305.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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”).
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.
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.
Le Belvédère: the House of Maurice Ravel from 1921 to his death in 1937 at Montfort L’Amaury.
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.
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.
FEATURE Image: Simon Vouet (1590-1649), Self-portrait, c. 1626–1627, Musée des Beaux-arts de Lyon. https://www.mba-lyon.fr/fr/article/simon-vouet In Simon Vouet’s self portrait painted in his final years in Rome he displays his signature rapid brushwork and desire for movement in the picture.
Simon Vouet was born into modest circumstances in Paris on January 9, 1590. After stays in England in 1604, Constantinople in 1611 and Venice in 1613 of which little is known, the French painter Simon Vouet (1590-1649) spent nearly 15 years in Rome starting around 1614. In 1624 Vouet was elected to lead the Accademia di San Luca, an artists’ association founded in 1593 by Federico Zuccari (1539-1609).
Most French painters born in the 1590s made a stay in Rome which influenced art in France in the 17th century. Vouet was in Italy, primarily in Rome, between around 1613 until 1627 and received a special privilege from the French crown in 1617. It was this traffic of young French, Flemish and other international artists between Italy and their home countries in the first third of the 17th century that, for France, helped revolutionize French art. This was achieved by way of the contemporary application of ideas and styles influenced by late Renaissance Italian realist artists such as the aesthetic of Caravaggio (1571-1610) and the history painting method of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), among many others, to which French artists were exposed while in Italy. In Rome Vouet, like other French artists such as Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), was patronized by Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) and Cavaliere del Pozzo (1588-1657), among others. In 1624 Vouet was commissioned to paint the fresco to accompany Michelangelo’s Pietà in St. Peter’s and while greatly admired it was destroyed in the 18th century.
In addition to Rome, Vouet traveled to Naples, Genoa in 1620 and 1621, and, in 1627, Modena, Florence, Parma, Milan, Piancenza, Bologna and again Venice where he copied Titian (1488-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594) and Paolo Veronese (1528-1588). During these visits Vouet studied the chief art collections that informed Vouet’s own style which amounted to a free form of temperate, classicized Baroque. This is the style, along with the latest Venetian-influenced brighter colors, vivid light, and painterly execution that Vouet returned and introduced to France in the 1630s. In France, Vouet had taken to himself as a painter his particular appreciation for the classicized compositions of Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and the cool colors of Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674).
In 1627, King Louis XIII (1601-1643) called Vouet back to Paris to be his court painter. Vouet refined Caravaggio’s innovations into a style that would become the French school of painting starting in the 1630s and extending into the middle of the 18th century. Until about 1630 it was Late Mannerism which dominated in French painting and included unnatural physiognomy, strained poses, and untenable draperies. This changed with Vouet’s return who brought back from Italy a style with classical, realist, and Baroque painting components that was unknown in France until then and which Vouet stamped with his own style.
This painting entered the Louvre as a work of the Neapolitan school. It was recent scholarship that attributed it to Vouet which would make it one of his earliest portraits in Rome. Building on the premise, scholars have proposed Francesco Maria Maringhi (1593-1653), a Florentine patrician and lover and protector of Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), as the model.
Vouet married twice. His first wife was a young Italian woman he met in 1625 – Virginia da Vezzo (1600–1638). In France Vouet’s wife, who bore him 4 children, was well received by the French court. After Virginia died in 1638, Vouet married Radegonde Béranger (b. 1615), a young beauty from Paris, in July 1640. Radegonde bore Vouet another 3 children (one died in infancy), and survived him.
The Birth of the Virgin was one of many paintings in a somber palette that Vouet produced in Rome influenced by Caravaggio though its mood is more vibrant. The composition is broad, low and somewhat setback from the picture plane. Amidst the swirling movement and vitality of the drawing and figures, including sumptuous draperies, it is observed that the head of the maid servant in the middle of the composition is modeled on one by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564). These early qualities that Vouet had taken from Italian painting were, when he returned to France, taken over by a heightened decorative style in the 1630s and 1640s.
As Vouet stayed in Italy he increasingly turned to a Baroque style of which The Crucifixion with Mary and John in Genoa is an early example. The Appearance of the Virgin to St. Bruno in the Carthusian monastery of San Martino in Naples is a later and more fully realized Baroque style example. The atmosphere of each showing saints in ecstasy is a clear element in Baroque’s intensified and elaborated religious representation. In Italy Vouet’s paintings are more restrained than the full contemporary Baroque art of Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669) and his followers such that the French painter’s figure of the Virgin in his Naples’ picture tends towards a classical Renaissance tradition that would be an important part of the expression of French taste in the 1630s and 1640s.
The painting by Vouet towards the end of his Roman period, the identity of the young man above is unknown though speculation by modern scholars is impressive (i.e., St. Thomas Aquinas, among others). The painting’s copies are numerous which points to the composition’s success. These copies can be found in major museums throughout Europe.
In 1627 Vouet painted Saint Jerome and the Angel featuring an elderly bearded saint and a winged curly-haired angel holding a trumpet that signifies the Last Judgment. While the composition is Caravaggesque in its naturalistic depiction of half figures, stark lighting, and dark-brown palette, Vouet’s painting features brighter colors in the robes and clothes which was a departure from the Caravaggesque tradition and, among some contemporary artists in Rome in the late 1620s, an aesthetic innovation. The painting demonstrates Vouet’s superb fluid handling of paint which he brought back to and deployed in France starting in the 1630s.
Vouet was a leading French artist in Rome when asked to return to France by the king in 1627. At his arrival, though embraced by King Louis XIII and his mother, Marie de’ Medici, Vouet was kept at a distance by Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) who viewed the ambitious artist as a social climber. Though modest compared to the great collections in London and Madrid, Cardinal Richelieu collected about 272 pictures, the canvasses listed in an inventory compiled by Vouet and his student, Laurent de la Hyre. Though Richelieu succeeded in getting Poussin to return to France from Rome in 1641and as “First Painter,” this direct competition to Vouet was short-lived. Richelieu died in 1642 and Poussin left for Italy the same year.
The king set Vouet to the task of painting portraits of the court nobility though just one survives today – that of Richelieu’s secretary. In 1648, when the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was established – an organization that held monopoly power over the arts in France for the next 150 years – Vouet was not invited to join. Vouet understood that the academy, which included his pupils Le Brun and Le Sueur, was established in part as a generational shift that challenged his influence and authority. Vouet countered by modernizing the old painter’s guild but did not live to see the battle joined. He died of exhaustion in June 1649. The Academy went on to school artists, provide access to prestigious commissions, and hosted the Salon to exhibit their work. After Vouet’s death, the Académie soon rose to prominence with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, First Minister of State from 1661 until his death in 1683 under Louis XIV, as its protector and Charles Le Brun as First Painter and the Académie’s director.
Upon Vouet’s return to France in late November 1627, his French style set to work mainly on religious subjects which were admired by the public, particularly in diocesan and religious orders’ churches of Paris. As late as 1630, the eye of the Paris art consumer was used to prevailing late 16th century mannerism. It took time for the French to better accept Vouet’s new Caravaggesque naturalism. Further, while France was a so-called eldest daughter of the Catholic Church, Parisians did not share the intense religious enthusiasm that was the art expression in the papal states. Parisians did not fully accept the swirling heavenly masses found in Italian Baroque. In France Vouet had to temper his stylistic synthesis of classicism, naturalism and baroque as the French expression of and contribution to a great international style.
Vouet’s new and tempered French style is exquisitely represented in Madonna and Child (1633). During the religious reformation period in the 16th century one of the Catholic Church’s responses was the renewal of devotion to the Virgin Mary. This cult of the Virgin, once blossomed in the 12th century, was in renewed full maturity in the 1630s and even inspired the French king to dedicate his North American empire to her in 1638. Vouet painted more than a dozen compositions of the Virgin and her son at half-length. While the blank background and figurative monumentality remain from his Roman days, Vouet’s mastery of light and use of bright colors signal the realization of the new French style. The monumental figure of the seated Virgin depicted in a Mannerist and Classical synthesis holds her son on her lap and looks at him with drooping eyes.Her arm supported by the foundation of a classical column, Mary’s dark hair is held back by a fabric band as her neck and shoulder are exposed. The Christ child reaches up to kiss his mother, his body in a Baroque twist as he caresses her face. The brilliantly executed moment expresses intimacy and tenderness while maintaining religious seriousness.
The Bible story of depravity that Vouet depicts is that of Lot and his daughters found in Genesis 19. The angels have warned Lot who is an upright man that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed for its sins. As Lot’s family escapes, they are warned not to look back on the Divine destruction. Lot’s wife disobeys and is turned into a pillar of salt. Despairing of finding husbands where they are going and so carry on their own people, Lot’s daughters devise to get their father drunk and lie with him. Both daughters become pregnant in this way.
Vouet depicts Lot of the Old Testament story as they break the taboo of incest to carry on the race in desperate times using Renaissance artistic language of a god from pagan mythology. In place of moralizing, Vouet composes a sensual scene showing Lot, a male figure of late middle age, tasting the company of two nymph-like young women in a canvas filled with the attraction of the flesh and drunken debauchery. The lines and forms of Vouet’s new painting give priority to its narrative power which will be the manner of his artwork following his return to France. It is noted that Vouet used a contemporary engraving of an ancient relief to model the figure of the seated daughter.
Commissioned by Cardinal Richelieu for his Palais Royal’s Gallery of Illustrious Men the painting ofGaucher de Châtillon was set into one of its bays. The portrait was greatly admired in that generation for the figure’s resolute pose as well as the execution of Vouet’s drawing and painting. Critics assessed that since the pose and head were so artistically beautiful Vouet’s subject was not modeled from life but inspired by Carracci. Seeing the subject turned and from behind was in the Mannerist tradition that Vouet loved and adopted for this historical figure of Gaucher de Châtillon (1250-1328), a constable of France and advisor to Capet kings, Philip IV the Fair (1268-1314), and then to his sons, Louis X the Quarreler (1289-1316), Philip V the Tall (1293-1322) and Charles IV the Bald (1294-1328). The Louvre’s picture has been restored.
Back in France Vouet had a successful career as the painter of large decorations and religious and allegorical paintings. His studio was the largest international workshop and school in Paris. Vouet was a most sought-after and beloved teacher and his art collaborators were numerous (Le Brun, Le Sueur, Mignard, Du Fresnoy, Le Nostre, among others). Per usual practice among professional artists in Europe, those with talent were encouraged to marry into the master’s family so to keep the training, skill and social connections “in house.”
The 1630’s began an age of cultural realignment and reorientation in France that would remain until about the French Revolution. In 1634 the Académie Française was founded under Cardinal Richelieu. In 1637 René Descartes published in French his Discourse on Method (“Je pense, donc je suis” “I think, therefore I am”) ushering in radical subjectivity in philosophical thought. That same year Peter Corneille’s Le Cid was produced, the first great stage play. In 1640 the Imprimerie Royale was founded to publish scholarly books and improve societal erudition. The decade’s innovations continued to transform culture over the next 30 years. By the 1660s French artists, writers and others in France viewed their language, thought, and artistic culture as the world’s most refined and unparalleled in history. Vouet’s return in 1627 was well situated for him to contribute to this prolonged period of interest in artistic matters in France.
In the mid17th century, wealthy French patrons began to collect Italian and Italian-inspired art. This included Louis Phélypeaux de La Vrillière (1599-1681) who collected 240 major paintings for his house in Paris. Critics have observed about Vouet that as he played the role of art functionary by importing and translating Italian art tradition into France, he remained less of a truly profound original artist.
In the 1630s, classical understanding of Carraci from Domenichino (1581-1641) was giving way to a different understanding of history painting from Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647). Lanfranco viewed Caracci’s legacy as decoration in search of vitality more than a spatial or formal articulation which extended to include figures in action. Vouet worked rapidly to populate the churches, monasteries and abbeys, royal palaces and private mansions, many newly built, of Paris, with his artwork. Vouet also produced large public commissions, all of which expressed a prevailing Baroque potpourri.
Vouet’s most significant contribution to French painting is his innovations in decorative painting whose influence was felt in France into the mid18th century. Vouet’s influence may be out sized to his intellectual quality and artistic originality but he made a tremendous impression on his contemporaries and was the artist, in a city of intense competition, who was the leading figure of the new Italian art manner for the French public and in many different projects for over 20 years. Vouet’s position as painter is on par with architects Jacques Lemercier (c.1585-1654) and Louis Le Vau (1612-1660) as part of that same generation in France who formed the classicizing French Baroque. They used French art practice since King Francis I (1494-1547) and solid current Roman practice forged into a French synthesis associated with Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIII. Vouet’s pupils, Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), Nicolas Mignard (1606-1668). Le Sueur (1617-1655), and François Perrier (1590–1650) carried on the tradition of Vouet’s artwork.
For his decorative work Vouet collaborated with artists in other media such as sculptor Jacques Sarrazin (1592-1660). Vouet painted large-scale decorations for royal patrons such as Anne of Austria (1601-1666), wife and mother of French Kings, at Fontainebleau in 1644 and at the Palais Royal between 1643 and 1647. Vouet did a decorative series at the Arsenal. At Hôtel Séguier (no. 16 rue Séguier) in Paris for the chancellor of France, Pierre Séguier (1588-1572), Vouet painted the chapel, library, and lower gallery. In these projects, Vouet reintroduced forgotten French painting traditions of illusionism practiced by Italian artists at Fontainebleau in the 1530s. Vouet synthesized it with the new Italian style in the 1630s, including imitating the use of gold mosaic and big oval designs derived from Venice. Today these decorations survive only by others’ engravings of them.
Some of Vouet’s decorative schemes survive at the Château de Wideville west of Paris. The castle was originally built in the late 16th century and sold to King Louis XIII’s minister of finances, Claude de Bullion (1569-1640), in 1630. Starting in 1632, the new owner set about building and expanding the castle in the Louis XIII style, with red bricks, white quoins and a pair of chimneys. Bullion involved the best decorators including Vouet for painting as well as Jacques Sarrazin (1591-1660) and Philippe de Buyster (1595-1653) for sculpture. Château de Wideville later became base for Louise de La Vallière (1644-1710), maitresse d’amour of King Louis XIV.
Vouet completed a later decorative panel, Muses Urania and Calliope in or around 1640, with the help of his studio. Likely commissioned as an altarpiece for the private chapel of a wealthy Parisian, the painting depicts porcelain skin women, bejeweled drapery, and putti in a classical architecture setting.
With his patrons Vouet was an amenable creator and he was a facile painter. His wealthy and powerful patrons wanted showy decorative artwork painted in the modern Italian manner without very serious religious or political messages for their often newly-acquired or built residences. The Toilet of Venus is exuberant and intriguing though based on the latest Italian art of the day – the theme is inspired by a treatment of Francesco Albani (1578-1660) while the figure of Venus is derived from Annibale Carracci. Though the figures remain weighty in the mode of Italian Naturalism, Vouet transforms the group into curvaceous polished and floating interlocking forms.
As many of Vouet’s large-scale decorative and other works were virtually systematically destroyed in the Revolution so that the connoisseur must assess Vouet’s artistic merit by way of surviving decorative schemes more than individual canvases or fragments, The Presentation in the Temple is an important extant painting by the hand of Vouet that allows qualitative comparisons to other 17th century French artists such as Laurent de La Hyre (1606-1656), Eustache Le Sueur, Charles Le Brun, and Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet (1644-1717). Commissioned for the Jesuits by Richelieu in 1641 for what is today’s Saint-Paul-Saint Louis in Paris’s Marais it was part of a rich ensemble of artifacts whose overall artistic scheme was dedicated to Christ and the French monarchy. Vouet’s presentation theme evokes the birth of Louis XIV and the painting was flanked by sculptures of Jesuit saints and French political figures.
There remains some similarity to what Vouet had produced in Italy in the mid1620s, particularly in The Appearance of the Virgin to St Bruno in Naples, such as his use of diagonals. Yet 15 years later in France Vouet’s composition is more classical in orientation including a rational not emotional or supernatural treatment of the subject more in the style of Nicolas Poussin who was called back to France from Italy the year before.
To give the illusion of grandeur, Vouet provides a very low position at the bottom of the stairs surrounded by gigantic religious architecture of which he paints a fragmentary synecdoche. For depth, Vouet interposes firmly-modeled foreground figures that partly mask more distant such figures in statuesque draping. Vouet’s cool colors reflect the influence of Philippe de Champaigne and the Baroque turning movement extends into the entablature of the architecture of the temple of Jerusalem, as well as the inclined position of the two angels painted in the upper portion.
By 1762, 20 years after Vouet painted The Presentation, politics changed unpleasantly for the Jesuits as they were suppressed by the Pope and their Paris flagship church’s high altar ensemble was dismantled. The painting was housed in the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and later transferred to the Louvre during the French Revolution.
In 1651, two years after the death of Vouet, the painting above was inscribed in Latin to state that Vouet had painted the artwork and in the house of “very noble lord” Louis de Hesselin, one of the king’s advisors. The inscription also gives the meaning of the palm branch the Virgin holds – it is a sign of the means of her effectual assistance to the afflicted. Sieur Hesselin was a confident to the artist who was both godfather to Vouet’s eldest son in 1638 and witness to the marriage of Vouet’s daughter 10 years later. Two other known versions of the painting are found in the United States and in England. X-rays revealed that Vouet fully completed the neckline of the virgin before he added the painted golden robe upon it.
Louis XIV owned this painting of Christ being scourged by Roman soldiers at the pillar during his Passion. In the 18th century the painting was attributed to Eustache Le Sueur which still has its defenders today. Attribution to Simon Vouet began in the 20th century among scholars. In the 21st century scholars have proposed Charles le Brun (1619-1690) and the “Workshop of Simon Vouet” which the Louvre has settled upon. Preparatory drawings for the painting exist at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich and at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon. The artwork may have come from a chapel of the Château in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The painting was restored twice in the 18th century and in the 1960s.
Preparation drawing for a Last Supper picture.
At the same time that Vouet was painting religious subjects for churches in Paris he was painting allegorical and poetical artwork. For these paintings Vouet’s designs are freer, modeling looser and, in the Venetian style, the composition determined more by color and light.
Vouet painted this artwork and two other allegorical paintings for the decoration of the châteauneuf of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In the 17th century the painting was known as “Seated Victory.” The female figure holds a flaming heart in her right hand and palm leaf in her left hand as a Cupid-like figure of love places a laurel wreath on her head. Later, the allegorical figure was called “Faith.” The painting was heavily restored in the mid1960s.
The painting was made for the decoration of the Château Neuf de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In the 18th century the female figure wearing a laurel was described as “Victory” and holding Louis XIV in her arms. In the 19th century the female figure was viewed as an allegory for “Wealth” though other attributes such as the main figure’s foot resting on a cornerstone and strewn open books point to a figure representing “Christian Faith.” The standing cherub who offers her sparkling necklaces and the child on her lap have been interpreted as figures representing earthly and heavenly love, respectively.
Vouet depicts a scene on the standing silver vase of the nymph Daphne being pursued by Apollo, god of the arts. It is a classical mythological story which, despite aid from Cupid, the god of love, relates the vanity of earthly goods and pleasures. The scholarly theory of what is depicted in Vouet’s painting adds up to “Christian Faith” holding onto the figure of heavenly love as she is being tempted by baubles and pleasures of earthly love. The painting was restored in the 1950s and 1980s.
Beyond the thoughtful allegorical presentation, Vouet’s innovative style and reliance on lyrical emotion and sentiment more than ordered arrangement is in evidence as he presents a sensual winged goddess with healthy, chubby children in a fantasia of rich draperies and elegant linear architecture amid a metallic treasure hoard, all of which together enlivens the picture. Its languorous elegance derives from the Italian Baroque. Though a dictatorial teacher, unrivaled ambitious artist, and living in Paris during the grim era of the Thirty Years’ War, in Vouet’s painting for the French nobility there is no sense of unease and any subject’s forthrightness is tempered by superficiality.
A chasm of space between the two angels holding up the shroud and the three women at the tomb before dawn on the third day delineates the heavenly from the earthly although these figures are linked by vibrant colors and a reflective animation of spirals. Detailed drawing is forgone for conventional pose and vague, mannered forms. Vouet seems not to be interested in the Biblical story or its meaning per se but the vivacity of the narrative by way of its stylistic elements. In contrast to Poussin’s statuesque figures or Le Valentin’s introspective art, Vouet introduced Baroque lyricism and fancy into French art.
Saturn who represents Time in Roman mythology has tumbled next to a scythe and hourglass, his attributes. Holding him by the hair the bare breasted figure has been identified as Beauty but also Truth and is likely a portrait of Vouet’s Italian wife. Virginia da Vezzo. She holds a lance over him. To the left is Hope who holds out a hook, her symbol, as a trio of cupids pluck feathers from Time’s wings. The allegorical message may be that Love defies Time.
In another allegorical painting of the same theme, Saturn is Father Time. The old man is overcome by Love (Cupid), Beauty or Truth (a bare breasted figure, perhaps Venus), and Hope (holding an anchor, her traditional symbol). Above these in colorful robes is Fama, the figure of fame, who announces herself blowing her trumpet. Fama embraces Occasio, her hair traditionally blowing forward, holding an emblem of wealth, and signifying the fortunate occasion. In Vouet’s picture which synthesizes classical elements such as statuesque figures in the style of Poussin and swirling masses and vibrant colors of the international Baroque style, Time is the victim of what he usually despoils. The large painting originally hung in the Hôtel de Bretonvilliers in Paris.
In the collection of Louis-Philippe d’Orléans (1725-1785) in the Palais-Royal in Paris before 1785, it entered the collection of Louis Philippe Joseph d’Orléans (1747-1793), known as Philippe Égalité afterwards, and was sold in 1800. In 1961 Friends of the Louvre acquired it in New York City and donated it to the Louvre that same year.
The young woman seated on an elevated throne wearing armor is, according to the influential Iconologia of 1593 by Cesare Ripa (1555-1622), the allegory for Reason. The pair of young women, one offering an olive branch and the other a palm branch, are allegories for Peace and Prosperity. The golden vase is decorated with a bacchanalia. Above the main scene are two cherubs bringing a palm frond and laurel with a twisted column wrapped with a vine that symbolizes Friendship.
Vouet painted this allegory of good government about Anne of Austria as she cooperated with Cardinal Mazarin’s peace policies. The painting was probably commissioned for the decoration of Anne of Austria’s apartment at the Palais-Royal around 1645. It was kept in the collection of the Dukes of Orleans at the Palais-Royal in the 18th century. and moved to London after the death of Philippe Égalité. It was purchased in New York by the Société des Amis du Louvre in 1961. The work was re-oiled with glue by Jacques Joyerot and restored in a pictorial layer by Jeanine Roussel-Nazat between 1979 and 1981.
Simon Vouet died in Paris on June 30, 1649 at 59 years old. His burial details are unknown.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
French Painting in the Golden Age, Christopher Allen, Thames & Hudson, London, 2003.
17th and 18th Century Art Baroque Painting Sculpture Architecture, Julius S. Held, Donald Posner, H.W. Janson, editor, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc. and New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1972.
French Painting in the Seventeenth Century, Alain Mérot, trans. by Caroline Beamish, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995.
Kings & Connoisseurs Collecting Art in Seventeenth-Century Europe, Jonathan Brown, The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Mannerism: The Painting and Style of The Late Renaissance, Jacques Bousquet, trans, by Simon Watson Taylor, Braziller, 1964.
Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio, Annick Lemoine, Keith Christiansen, Patrizia Cavazzini, Jean Pierre Cuzin, Gianni Pappi, Metropolitan Museum of Art; 2016.
FEATURE IMAGE: Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Allegory of Rome, 1628, oil on canvas, 330 x 245 cm, Villa Lante (Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation). Villa Lante in Rome is an example of the work of the 16th century Raphael school in the reign of the Medici popes. The Renaissance villa, which was a residence for Roman aristocracy, was purchased in 1950 by the Finnish state. The Institutum Romanum Finlandiae Foundation started operating there in April 1954.
Le Valentin de Boulogne (c.1591/1594-1632), sometimes called Jean Valentin, Jean de Boulogne Valentin, or simply Le Valentin, was a French painter. Born in Coulommiers-en-Brie about 35 miles east of Paris, Le Valentin may have been at least half Italian. His artwork was certainly influenced by Italian painting more than any other though he was familiar with Northern or Flemish painting. Le Valentin may have been in Rome as early as 1612 – German painter and art-historian Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) remarked in 1675 that Valentin reached Rome before Simon Vouet (1590-1649) who had arrived around 1614. Whether in 1612 or definitely by 1620 (Le Valentin appears in the census), Le Valentin spent the rest of his life In Rome. In the Eternal City Le Valentin was greatly influenced by Simon Vouet (French, 1590-1649) and Bartolomeo Manfredi (Italian, 1581-1622), a leading Caravaggiste or follower of Carravaggio (Italian, 1571-1610).
Le Valentin’s oeuvre is today around 55-60 paintings, most of them identified by modern scholarship (i.e., Jacques Bousquet; Roberto Longhi). Le Valentin’s major commissions date from the last seven years of his life. Opportunities to acquire his artwork was rare, though avid collectors such as Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661) and Louis XIV collected them.
In Rome Le Valentin forged close ties with other French artists and lived with many of them in and around the Piazza del Popolo to the Piazza di Spagna. Most French painters born in the 1590s made a stay in Rome – and influenced art in France in the 17th century. Reasons young painters fled to Italy in the early 17th century included depletion of opportunity in Paris due to the professionalization of artistic practice in and outside the capital although establishment French art was no longer flourishing. Conversely, Roman art – and not only the schools of Michelangelo and Raphael but new horizons afforded by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) and Caravaggio (1571-1610) -was at an apex. The Eternal City was drawing international artists from Paris and elsewhere and, between 1610 and 1630, the Roman style became internationalized. The dialogue among artists in Rome in this period was exciting – and its outcomes often unpredictable. The culture of Rome (and the papacy) could actually be liberating for foreign, usually destitute, often libertine talented young artists who had great ambitions for a prominent commission as they were exposed to Rome’s virtue and vice almost equally. Many of these young artists, even ones whose artworks survive, exist today virtually anonymously. Le Valentin de Boulogne is one of the better-known artists of the period, although his precise name is uncertain and his artwork requires connoisseurship based on modern scholarship.
In 1626 Valentin, in Rome several years, was invited by Vouet to organize with Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) the festival of the Accademia di San Luca ‘s patron saint. Around the same age, Vouet led the academy whose artists’ association was founded in 1593 by Federico Zuccari (1539-1609). This appointment signaled that Valentin was an active and respected rising French artist in Rome in these years. Though Caravaggio died in 1610 his influence was still felt very strongly in Rome in the 1620s.
Two of Caravaggio’s masterpieces—The Martyrdom of Saint Peter and The Conversion of Saint Paul—hung in the neighboring church of Santa Maria del Popolo which Le Valentin certainly had opportunity to study. In Italy, Valentin took swift, direct, and enduring inspiration from Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro and realistic depiction of characters drawn from Roman street life, including extensive use of half figures. As one of the young Caravaggisti, Valentin applies these elements to his artwork, whether genre or, later, Biblical subjects.
None of the works from Le Valentin’s earliest Roman years is documented, but it is believed he produced his Card Sharps (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), The Fortune Teller (Toledo Museum of Art), and Soldiers Playing Cards and Dice (The Cheats) (NGA) – and probably in this order – between 1615 and 1620.
In Le Valentin’s compositions which often contain several actors in a scene, the French artist’s realism and Caravaggio-inspired technique is often imbued with energetic rhythm in which diagonals and geometric concurrences play a role. This schematic suggests animation in the subject matter while retaining the human figures’ inner reserve and mystery. This creates a psychological quality in his artwork that is unique whichever drama is unfolding in the picture. Louis XIV who was an admirer of le Valentin acquired and hung several of his paintings in his bedroom at Versailles. Cardinal Mazarin, another art collector with a keen eye, acquired works by Valentin, some of which today are in the Louvre.
By way of Le Valentin’s important young patron, Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) – made a cardinal in 1624 by his uncle, Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) – Valentin became a competitor to his artist friend Nicholas Poussin. Le Valentin’s first documented work commissioned in May 1629 and completed in the spring of 1630 called Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian is a compendium to a slightly earlier work by Poussin–both in the Vatican (Poussin’s was a different stylistic statement called Martyrdom of S. Erasmus). Valentin had further won the patronage of Cavaliere del Pozzo (1588-1657), the secretary of Cardinal Francesco Barberini and one of Rome’s leading art patrons. Paid the handsome sum of 350 crowns for Martyrdom of SS. Processus and Martinian , after 1630 Valentin’s artwork continued to command high prices and prestige.
Though SS. Processus and Martinian is Le Valentin’s most important public work, he also produced many pictures for private commissions. There are several pictures by, or today attributed to, Le Valentin in many of the world’s leading art museums. Le Valentin produced artwork especially for the ruling Barberini family and their circle.
How Le Valentin died in 1632 is not certain though it was sudden and of natural causes. The professional artist who is admired in today’s major art institutions reportedly left no money to pay for a funeral. Identified as a “Pictor famosus” on his death certificate, Le Valentin was buried at Santa Maria de Popolo on August 20, 1632 paid for by Cassiano dal Pozzo (1588-1657).
SELECTION OF PAINTINGS BY LE VALENTIN DE BOULOGNE.
One of the most moving and beautiful stories in the Bible is the judgment of King Solomon in the case involving two disputing harlots over who was the mother of a living child (I Kings).
Both had had a child, though one died and the other lived. To have an offspring was considered a blessing. One harlot claimed that her living child had been taken from her bosom at night by the other harlot. She replaced the child with her dead child after “she had smothered him by lying on him” (I Kings 3:19).
Since this was a case of one harlot’s word against another’s Solomon had no simple and fair resolution at hand. King Solomon said: “Cut the child in two and give half to one woman and half to the other” (I Kings 3:25). Le Valentin shows the viewer what is at stake – a real flesh and blood child. The import of Solomon’s judgment could not be missed. Le Valentin’s women are modeled on those mothers and others the artist observed along Via Margutta.
When one harlot said, “Divide it! it shall be neither mine nor yours!” and the other harlot said, “Please, my lord, give her the living child. Please do not kill it!”, the king’s judgement changed.
Solomon spoke again and said, “Give her the child alive, and let no one kill him, for she is his mother” (1 Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon knew a woman privileged to be a mother would seek to see the child live most of all.
It is this final pronouncement that Solomon appears to give in Le Valentin’s painting, as the complete biblical episode can be readily seen in the gestures and expressions of its characters.
Acquired by Louis XIV at Cardinal Mazarin’s death in 1661, The Judgment of Solomon has long been presented as a counterpart to The Judgment of Daniel. These canvases, which may actually be pendants, share the same format and show examples of just judgment in the Bible. The Judgment of Solomon is dated later than The Judgment of Daniel. There is a variant of it by Le Valentin in Rome at the Barberini Gallery in the same format and oil medium. The Louvre painting was restored in 1966.
The subject is taken from chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel, the book’s addendum. In Babylon, a pair of wicked elders covet Suzanne, “a very beautiful and God-fearing woman” who was the wife of the “very rich” and “most respected” Joachim. After these wicked elders surprised Suzanne in her bath, she refuses their advances and they denounce her for adultery with the intent to put her to death.
Daniel condemns these wicked elders for “growing evil with age” including their past sins of “passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty.” Daniel interrogates them and, by their own words, shows the assembly they are lying. The painting depicts that moment of judgment.
Le Valentin depicts Daniel in the painting instead of Suzanne in her bath which was a more popular subject. Suzanne is at right, her hands across her chest, “As she wept, she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly” (Daniel 13:35). A guard seizes one of the wicked elders as the other shows surprise and incredulity. Young Daniel, at left, is seated on a throne under a red canopy and stretches out his hand in judgment over the scene for their sin. For each judgment by Le Valentin the artist was inspired in some of its details by Raphael’s artwork in Rome. Louis XIV acquired the painting in 1662.
Within iconography that is cyclonic, two Roman soldiers are placed on the rack to be tortured after they refused their commander’s orders to sacrifice to an idol. The soldiers had been converted to Christianity by Saints Peter and Paul when they guarded them in prison. The altar to Jupiter is on the upper left while, at right, the commander clutches his eye with his left hand after God blinded him in retribution for the idolatry. The foreground figures build on 16th century Franco Italian Mannerist style. One has his back to the viewer; another grinds the wheel of the rack; and, a third bends down with his arm outstretched. All are advanced expressions of realistic figural development and rendered in spatial perspective correctly.
Le Valentin’s powerful painting is an artwork with a psychological dimension. To the left, a hooded figure, Lucina, is a Christian woman who encourages the martyrs to be steadfast as an angel out of heaven extends a palm of martyrdom. To the right, realistically portrayed, is a Roman soldier indifferent to another brutal slaying by the authoritarian government in the face of nascent, meddling, heroic, and expanding Christians in their pagan global empire.
With his attention to detail, Le Valentin’s picture accomplishes an exciting imagined drama based on Renaissance-inspired natural world observation and by way of colorful contemporary 17th century formulations that give a viewer visionary immersion into a complex and significant Bible scene.
Some of Le Valentin’s great ambition as an artist is demonstrated by this large format canvas whose composition includes eight realistically delineated figures including 5 musicians and 3 singing youths. The five instruments are depicted accurately as well as the demeanors of the musicians and singers. Instruments have been identified by others as a polyphonic spinet, an alto, a chitarrone, a bass viol and a cornetto.
The painting had been dated at around 1626, though more recent connoisseurship dates it to around 1628 or 1630. It was restored in 1940. It was owned by that avid art collector, Cardinal Mazarin.
Le Valentin painted seven figures gathered around a classical bas-relief. There are a pair of drinkers, one in the foreground, the other in the background; two singers; and three musicians – a violinist, guitarist and lutenist.
The painting, filled with mystery and gravity, is Caravaggesque and not merely telling a story or depicting a genre scene of performance. The painting has been dated to as early as 1622 by some connoisseurs. It was owned by Cardinal Mazarin and restored in 1959. It entered the collection of the Louvre in 1742.
Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings as attested by Concert with Eight Figures and Fortune Teller (both Musée du Louvre, c. 1628), and what is thought to be his very last painting, the Gathering with a Fortune Teller (Vienna, Liechtenstein Collection) in 1632.
This is a tavern scene with impromptu music-making among transitory musicians. They are playing for a pair of drinking soldiers. Le Valentin’s painting is Caravaggesque with its interplay of shadows and light, dark palette, and depiction of realistic figures, and a psychological vivacity that is imbued by Le Valentin. It is by his passion and energy for Caravaggio that Le Valentin helped revolutionize art in 17th century Europe.
In Matthew’s Gospel the Pharisees were plotting to entrap Jesus by his own words. They sent some of their followers along with local government types (“Herodians”) to flatter Jesus as a truthful and humble man. They asked him to reply to a question: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” (Mt 22:17).
Jesus, knowing their motivation, responded hardly very nicely, by calling them “hypocrites.” He asked them to show the coin that paid Caesar’s tax.
Le Valentin’s painting depicts the moment when the Pharisee’s henchmen show Jesus the coin with Caesar’s image and inscription on it. Jesus tells them: ”Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mt 22: 21).
Owned by Louis XIV it was put in his dressing room at Versailles in 1680. The Louvre acquired it during the French Revolution in 1793.
This painting is inspired by Caravaggio’s The Cheats in the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Le Valentin’s painting, only discovered in 1989, shows a group of soldiers idling in Rome and identifiable by their piecemeal armor and other livery. The crowding of the figures into the picture space adds to the scene’s tension.
In this early painting in Rome, Le Valentin presents a scene of its contemporary street life. These figures are seriously gaming at a table where two players (center and right) roll dice and two others (left and center) play cards. A fifth figure in the background signals to his accomplice what is in the hand of the card player in a feathered hat. It is an early artwork that Le Valentin gives a psychological dimension.
As had been Caravaggio’s practice, the artwork is painted alla prima, that is, directly onto the prepared canvas without under-drawing or any preliminary work which works to give it greater spontaneity. The painting is indebted to Caravaggio not only for its subject, but for its vivid sense of actuality with which Le Valentin invested his protagonists as well as for the chiaroscuro, and a thinly and rapidly-applied brushed execution.
This painting is one of the first genre pictures Le Valentin painted in Rome. It is a pair of figures to which Le Valentin would soon numerically expand in his pictures. The composition is simple and sturdy.
Erminia, the king’s daughter, escapes her persecutors and asks a peaceful shepherd family for shelter. The scene is based on a contemporary (1576) epic poem The Liberated Jerusalem by Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). The picture was a private commission whose patron was likely a Roman art collector and cognoscente. Valentin’s painting combines Caravaggesque chiaroscuro with exquisite coloring. In this realistic depiction of a human encounter between characters who represent contrasting social experiences, the subject matter is rendered psychologically sensitively.
One of the great artworks of Le Valentin’s early phase in Rome, biblical subjects painted before 1620 such as The Crowning of Thorns of Christ were interpreted in the street-life idiom, with expressive protagonists and bystanders resembling the cast of characters in his genre paintings. Although the painting was earlier believed to be by Caravaggio, it may have been a pendant to Le Valentin’s much-later Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (c. 1629) in The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
This is Le Valentin’s most ambitious of 3 such “crowning with thorns” pictures. The artist in horizontal-format depicts Jesus before his going to Calvary. Christ is mocked and tormented; a crown of thorns is pressed onto his head (Matthew 27: 27-31; Mark 15:16-21; Luke 23:11; John 19: 1-3). With its dramatic lighting and shadows, the naturalistic depiction of Christ’s body and soldiers in contemporary costume is Caravaggesque.
Le Valentin’s scene adheres to the Bible episode: a whole cohort of soldiers surrounded Jesus, stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak on him. Henchmen have weaved a crown out of thorns and are placing it on Jesus’s head. Another puts a reed as a faux scepter into Jesus’s right hand. To mock him they kneel before him and say: “Hail, King of the Jews!” The soldiers spit on Jesus and then take the reed away and strike him repeatedly with it. When they were done with these violent actions, the soldiers stripped Jesus of the military cloak, dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to be crucified.
Le Valentin’s Passion theme is a later vertical-format picture of a subject he had painted masterly before. In these last years the subject matter had gained in classical beauty as well as psychological involvement compared to Le Valentin’s earlier artwork. The painting covers over a discarded portrait of Cardinal Barberini which suggests Valentin’s close relationship with the ecclesial prince, very likely being in his employ. What caused the artist to revisit the subject of a brutalized Christ is unclear though it may have been based on the artist’s own struggles or that of his employer whose portrait he painted over.
St. Laurence (d. 258) became a popular early Roman martyr. Laurence has been continually honored by the church since the 4th century and is a patron of Rome.
In the mid 3rd century, Laurence was a deacon to a new pope, Sixtus II (257-258). Sixtus II was martyred along with his seven deacons, including Laurence, during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Valerian (199-264).
Following the pope’s martyrdom, Laurence was arrested and ordered to collect and hand over church treasures to the secular authority. Instead, Laurence distributed any goods to Rome’s poor which infuriated the emperor against him. These paupers appeared in Le Valentin’s painting to the left.
The emperor ordered the Catholic deacon to sacrifice to Rome’s gods which Laurence refused to do (in prison Laurence converted his guard). Laurence was martyred after being tortured and then roasted alive over a fire on a spit. The saint is famously quoted as telling his executioners: “One side is roasted, so you can turn me over and roast the other side.”
In the Prado Le Valentin gives orderly arrangement to a complex scene of 15 figures and a horse. It shows the saint during his martyrdom isolated in the center of the composition. As with Caravaggio’s figures, the soldiers are in modern costume, use of chiaroscuro is evident, and further drama is added by the use of diagonals whose construction suggest movement that add to the tension of the naturally rendered figures. However, Le Valentin uses these derived elements unconventionally.
Dating from the years 1624-1626, le Valentin painted all four Evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) for the same religious order in Rome whose name is unknown. They entered the collections of the Sun King in 1670.
For his The Last Supper, Le Valentin was, at least through engravings, aware of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (c. 1495–1498) in Milan and Raphael’s Last Supper (1518-1519) in Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican. Le Valentin explores the 12 apostles’ reactions. Commissioned by Asdrubale Mattei (d. 1638), one of Rome’s nobili, to decorate a gallery in his family’s palace, the picture depicts a central event presented in the gospels. The moment that is depicted in these Last Supper paintings is when Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him. Judas, in the foreground left, was treasurer for Jesus’s disciples and betrayed Jesus for a bribe payment of 30 pieces of silver. The picture, with its simple and monumental composition, so impressed Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) in 1779 that he copied it and sent it from Rome to Paris.
An Old Testament Judge, Samson was born in a miraculous fashion and with an angel telling his mother and father, “No razor shall touch his head” (Judges 13:5). Samson is often depicted with his locks unshorn. As a youth Samson displayed an incredible physical strength attributed to “the spirit of the Lord rushing upon him” (Judges 14:6).
Le Valentin’s picture presents Samson’s legendary strength by showing the solid demeanor of his physical body as well as objects which hold symbolic value of his strength. These include that he killed a lion with his bare hands and liberated the Israelites by slaughtering a thousand Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone (Judges 15: 15-16). The strength of his arm is displayed as his fingers curl under his jaw as his wandering gaze looks off with intense interiority. One contemporary allusion in the painting is Samson’s breastplate which is joined at the shoulder by a clasp in the form of a bee which was the emblem of the Barberini family who commissioned the painting. It is speculated that the facial features of Samson in a picture before his fateful meeting with Delilah (Judges 16), may be a self-portrait of Le Valentin.
The story of Judith in the Old Testament relates of a woman of great beauty and reverence to the God of Israel who is highly respected by her people and its leaders. The nation, desperate for survival, turns to Judith who is given the opportunity to kill their enemy’s military leader which she believes she can and must do and that all believed impossible as Israel’s military defeat by their enemies was a foregone conclusion.
The story has a femme fatale aspect as Holofernes was captivated by Judith’s physical appearance, but the Biblical episode of the execution, while a climax of her mission, pales in comparison with the relating of Judith’s overall dedication to her people and her God, a femme forte, which carries on into her long life of blessedness to her natural death. Le Valentin chooses that sacred element of the Bible book when he shows an iconic Judith, triumphant woman of Israel, holding in her hands the decapitated head of one of Israel’s once-formidable mortal enemies. Judith is shown as a heroic woman with her hand raised as she admonishes: “But the Almighty Lord hath disappointed them by the hand of a woman.”
For Le Valentin’s artwork, Judith is an icon of God’s justice to his obedient people. Purchased for French King Louis XIV from German banker Everhard Jabach, the picture was installed in the king’s bedroom at Versailles to be especially admired.
The picture belongs to Le Valentin’s period of maturity for it displays the artist’s full interpretation of the realism of Caravaggio and Manfredi though, as expressed here, with a new appreciation for colors. The pretext of a Judith who, according to the Bible, had adorned herself in her best finery so not to dissuade Holofernes’s gaze (Judith, 13, 14), allows le Valentin to illuminate the dress’s rich fabrics with monochrome refractions, while the jewels and hair are bathed in ethereal light.
The Four Ages of Man is a painting commissioned by Cardinal Barberini. It is an allegorical work whose human figures are painted by Le Valentin in natural poses. Groups of figures around a table were common in the work of Caravaggio and his northern followers. The allegory of the ages of man was a common subject for paintings during the sixteenth and seventeenth century, though its quantity of ages varied.
The allegory presents humanity in four categories of age – childhood (holding an empty bird trap); youth (playing a lute); adulthood (with a book and victor’s laurel); old age (with coins of wealth and delicate glassware).
The theme had its origin in classical literature: Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Dante’s Inferno acknowledged the stages of human life according to physical growth and decline. Contemporary poems were written on the subject that Le Valentin may have known.
In the 17th century, the painting was owned by Michel Particelli, seigneur d’Emery (1596–1650) in Paris. In the 18th century it was in the Orléans collection at the Palais Royal. During the French Revolution and the dispersal of the collection in 1791, the painting was brought to England where it is today.
Le Valentin painted many half- or three-quarter-length figures of saints, prophets and narrative scenes including this painting. The scene of Christ expelling the moneychangers from the Temple of Jerusalem is told in all four gospels of the New Testament. Le Valentin adapted the method of half-length, full size street figures depicted in dark, precisely lighted spaces and emerging in relief from the shadows from the Caravaggistes.
Gospel readers would recognize that the cleansing of the temple was prophesied in the Old Testament as a sign of the ushering in of the Messianic Age (Zechariah 14:21). In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) the episode appears at the close of Jesus’s public ministry and in John’s gospel at the start (2:13-17). The chronology of the episode in Jesus‘ ministry is generally not considered its most important element.
Le Valentin shows the “whip of cords” held by Christ, a detail mentioned only in John (Jn 2:15). There are overturned tables, a bench, and scattered coins. Le Valentin depicts the gestures, movements and emotions of the characters involved, focused on a wrathful Christ and fear of the unrighteous.
While in Synoptics the point of the episode appears to be the dishonesty of the Temple money changers, in John’s gospel Jesus’s wrath is directed to the Temple institution itself. In John’s Gospel Jesus declares the Temple is to be “My Father’s house.” Though not a term unique to John, he uses it more than any other Gospel writer (27 times).
Derived from Caravaggio are the types of ordinary people, distinct contrasts of light and shade and the natural plasticity of the figures involved in the composition.
The painting entered the Hermitage collection in 1772.
The painting’s structural asymmetry lends energy to the scene. With Christ’s raised arm, he is a menace to the money changers. Le Valentin, taking inspiration from Caravaggio, unabashedly renders a scene in grand format of violence in the gospels. The painting was rediscovered in Rome in the mid19th century.
The oil painting called Allegoria d’Italia by Le Valentin was originally called Historia d’Italia. Its massive volumes imbued with inner life are rendered using a brown palette and highlights that retained the Caravaggiste tradition. Le Valentin’s redoubling his commitment to Caravaggio in the late 1620s was on display in this painting as other leading painters, such as Vouet, Poussin, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647) and Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669), were deploying brighter “modern” colors.
In March 1628 Cardinal Barberini gave Le Valentin the commission for the Extraordinary Jubilee of 1628 and paid 113 crowns for it. This major painting which renewed Caravaggio-inspired technique in the late 1620s attracted greater attention to Le Valentin’s artwork not only by Caravaggeschi but the broader Roman art circles.
A young Roman girl wears an emperor’s cuirass, holds a spear and shield, as the personification of Italy. At her feet are the fruit and nuts of the land’s bounty. Below her image are two male figures, naked and bearded, who represent the Tiber and the Arno, Italy’s great rivers. The figure of the Tiber is joined by Romulus and Remus and the suckling wolf who founded Rome and the later Papal States. The Arno that runs through Florence is joined by its symbol of the lion. In the top left corner, a tree stump with a bee swarm symbolizes the Barberini.
The gospel story that Le Valentin depicts using the typical Caravaggiste method (half-length, full size street figures in shadow and light) is from John 8. The story had been painted by the Flemish and the Venetians. The plump young woman in a torn garment exposing her shoulders and full-formed breasts is taken into custody by soldiers in armor to Jesus. According to the law the woman should be publicly stoned for adultery. The Pharisees lay verbal and other traps repeatedly in the gospels for Jesus to say or do something that is expungable. Jesus’s response moves past their premise. Whereas Jesus will soon be arrested, tried, and condemned by the authorities for his “transgressions,” the focus of le Valentin’s artwork is Jesus showing mercy to the sinful woman. From a theological viewpoint, Jesus’s innovative teaching is again based on the appeal to an extant biblical tradition of God’s anger towards, and forgiveness of, harlotry or unfaithfulness when such sin is repented (Hosea 5:4). Jesus tells her: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). While the woman’s disheveled look suggests the nature of her sin, she represents humankind and points to Christ, the God-Man and prophesied suffering servant (Isaiah 53). Christ takes the harlot’s place as the arrested agitator and manhandled by soldiers along the Via Dolorosa. In that episode, Christ goes to the cross to shed his blood in the new covenant whose outcome for “adulterous” humankind is eternal forgiveness of sins and rising to new life.
The image of a young soldier singing in armor breastplate a love madrigal is unique in Valentin’s oeuvre. The painting was part of the collection of Cardinal Mazarin, minister to Louis XIV.
One of Jesus’s most famous parables, The Prodigal Son tells the story of a young man who demanded his “full share of [his father’s] estate that should come to [him],” and departed to waste it “on a life of dissipation” (Luke 15). When the lost son falls on hard times, he seeks his father’s house though “only as a hired servant.” The forgiving father who has been on the look-out for his lost son (dressed in rags) since the day of his departure welcomes him back as a son “who was dead and has come back to life.” Which of the other figures may be the older brother who is unhappy about his dissolute brother’s return is not clear. Le Valentin treats the parable as a human story of repentance, forgiveness, and unconditional love.
The attribution to Le Valentin and its dating for this artwork is the result of modern scholarship. Art historians can thereby draw conclusions and make conjectures about the development of Le Valentin’s early artwork in Rome -he uses a larger format, growing complexity of compositional qualities and its subject matter, and the retention of low-life characters and stylistic indebtedness to Caravaggio as he moves beyond him.
A dark tavern filled with low-life characters provides the setting for a scene of fortune and deceit. As a gypsy fortuneteller reads the palm of a young soldier he is looking pensively as she speaks his fate, there are carousers and thieves in the scene. The picture is emblematic of Le Valentin – the techniques of a somber palette and dramatic lighting and tabletop groupings but also a mysterious mood and psychological depth to the complex interplay among its characters.
The prelate is dressed in the robes of a papal chamberlain. Modern scholarship has proposed various individuals as the sitter from cardinals to lawyers.
Moses led the Israelites out the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land during the Exodus. The event is told and retold in the Old Testament and Moses as Liberator and Law Giver is its most significant figure. Le Valentin shows him holding a miraculous rod that he used to open the Red Sea (Exodus 14), struck the rock to produce water (Numbers 20) and, after its transformation into an iron snake, healed the ill (Numbers 21). Moses points to the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments of God (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). This late work by Valentin is characteristic in its dark and pensive tone that is reminiscent of Caravaggio.
The picture is one of Valentin’s last paintings before his death in 1632. Prince Hans Adam Il von und zu Liechtenstein (b. 1945) acquired the work in 2004. Throughout his painting career, Le Valentin never ceased producing genre paintings.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collection of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Philip Conisbee and Frances Gage, Washington, D.C., 2009 pp, 413-414.
Art for the Nation, text by Philip Conisbee, National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, 2000.
French Painting From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Chatâlet and Jacques Thuillier, trans. from French by Stuart Gilbert, Skira, 1963.
FEATURE image: Ulysses and Penelope, Francesco Primaticcio called Le Primatice (1504-1570), Toledo Museum of Art, c. 1560, oil on canvas, 44 3/4 x 48 3/4 in. (113.6 x 123.8 cm).
Jean Perréal’s most important attribution is this portrait of Louis XII who was King of France from 1498 to 1515. Louis XII was married three times – the first annulled; the second leaving the king a widower, and, in his last three months of life, to Mary Tudor (1496-1533), the favorite sister of King Henry VIII of England. Despite these wives, the king had no living sons. The Salic Law prohibited his line to continue on the French throne through his daughters. When Louis died in 1515, his throne eventually passed to his cousin, Francis I.
Jean Perréal (c.1455-1530) was Court painter to the Bourbons and later worked for the kings of France starting with Charles VII. Perréal journeyed to Italy several times. In 1514 he went to London to paint Mary Tudor’s portrait and supervise her new dresses as Mary, aged 18 years, sister of the English king, married the 52-year-old King Louis XII of France.
The Master of Saint Giles was a Flemish or Flemish-trained painter who was active in France. He is named after artworks in London attributed to the artist called Scenes from the Legend of St. Giles. As the artist’s identity is obscure, the saint depicted in his artwork is shrouded in legend.
St. Giles is possibly an 8th century hermit in France who became the patron saint of beggars, the handicapped, and blacksmiths which was an important trade in the Middle Ages. In one work, the artist depicts a famous story about St. Giles. Before King Flavius’s hunting party, he protected a deer from their bows and arrows. The king was apologetic and Giles persuaded him to establish a Provençal monastery in which St. Giles served as its first abbot.
France conducted wars in Italy starting in 1494 that continued into the 16th century. By this pugilistic means, many of the Italian Renaissance’s ideas and practices were brought back to France. It had been just the opposite in the 12th century when French ideas, particularly that of troubadours and chivalry, were brought back to Italy following trade expeditions by merchants.
After fighting ceased, King Francis I invited Italian artists into France, most famously Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) in 1516. Following more war in Spain, Francis I began in earnest a revolution in art in France in 1526. The king made the Château de Fontainebleau one of the most active artistic centers in Europe, attracting many Italian artists such as Le Rosso (1495-1540) and Primaticcio or Primatice (c. 1504-1570). The French Renaissance, under the influence of these Italian masters, synthesized French and Italian art whose style was later described as the School of Fontainebleau.
Le Rosso or Rosso Fiorentino was a friend of Pontormo (1494-1557) and worked under Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), a founder of Italian Mannerism. He first worked in Florence (1513-1523) and then in Rome (1524-1527). With the sack of Rome in 1527 by German troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), Rosso wandered about Italy for a while. In 1530 he was in Venice and, in that same year, went to France.
Rosso arrived to Fontainebleau and, with Primaticcio, became one of the founders of the Fontainebleau style which had a tremendous influence on French painting. Reputedly a neurotic person, Rosso’s death was accounted a suicide by Vasari though that is unconfirmed. The classic style found in Rosso’s The Fountain of Youth was increasingly replaced by his later emotionally charged style.
Primaticcio (c.1504-1570) was a founder of the Fontainebleau School in France with his fellow Italian artist Le Rosso in the 1530s. Primaticcio was a talented artist of universal range – from painting and interior decoration to sculpture and architecture.
From the mid1520s to 1532 Primiticcio trained in Mantua under Giulio Romano (c. 1499-1546). He was called to France by King Francis I in 1532 where he worked at Fontainebleau with Le Rosso. Between 1540 and 1542 the artist represented the king in Italy on an art buying expedition. In that time when he was away Rosso died, and Primiticcio, upon his return to France, began working with Niccolò dell’Abbate (c. 1509-1571) at Fontainebleau. It was in this period that he produced decorations in the galerie d’Ulysses that have been lost. In 1546, and again in 1563, Primaticcio went to Italy where on one trip he made casts of Michelangelo’s sculpture and in the other met Vasari.
The style of the painting is Mannerist which predominated in the 16th century. Mannerists went beyond the depiction of nature to flights of imagination and invention. For a stylistic statement, forms were twisting and elongated giving them greater pliability. Mannerists rejected the High Renaissance’s reliance on strict perspective and symmetry and preferred to construct compressed spaces with shaded tones, harsh colors, and the overall feeling of dreaming while awake.
After battling the Trojans and other subsequent troubled adventures, Greek hero Odysseus (Ulysses) has returned home to his wife, the faithful Penelope. Into the night, the reunited lovers recount their lives apart from one another. While Penelope counts the number of suitors on her hands who she held at bay, Ulysses cradles her chin in a gesture of tenderness and compassion. The composition is based on one of 58 wall frescos of scenes from Homer’s Odyssey at the palace of Fontainebleau near Paris. Unfortunately, the Gallery of Ulysses, Primaticcio’s masterpiece, was destroyed in 1738 after it had been allowed to decay over 200 years.
A preparatory drawing by Primaticcio in the Louvre for a lost composition of the cycle of L’Histoire d’Alexandre painted in the Room of the Duchess of Etampes in Fontainebleau. It was the masquerade that brought about the fire in Persepolis, an historic event that took place in 330 BCE when Alexander the Great conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire following the battle of Guagamela the year before.
It is not disputed in history that after Alexander arrived to the Persian capital city of Persepolis it was looted and burned to the ground, destroying many great cultural treasures. Though recorded by several historians, accounts vary. The first century Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus wrote that while drunk during a large celebration with his companions, attendants and courtesans, Alexander himself started the fire as the rest joined in. (see – https://www.worldhistory.org/article/214/alexander-the-great–the-burning-of-persepolis/
Niccolò dell’Abbate was from Modena in Italy. He was influenced by the sculptural and optical illusion achieved in the artwork of Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506). He was also influenced by Correggio (1489-1534), a master of chiaroscuro. By 1552 dell’ Abbate was in France helping Primaticcio at Fontainebleau with the royal chateau’s interior decorations though most of his artwork has disappeared. The Death of Eurydice is a fine example of the Mannerist landscape which the artist is responsible for having introduced into France.
Le Maître de Flore is a French painter of the mid16th century Fontainebleau School. The use of the moniker Maître de Flore derives from this and another artwork.
The painting above by the Master of Flore in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is seen as depicting the birth of Cupid, with attendants in the birthing room assisting Venus. The composition, which is animated and decorative, is an example of the School of Fontainebleau, the high art style developed in 16th century France by Italian artists under the sponsorship of the French king.
Perhaps the most famous artwork to come out of the School of Fontainebleau is an anonymous work in the Louvre entitled Diana the Hunter. With influences of both Le Rosso and dell’ Abbate, Italian masters of the school, it is believed to depict Diana de Poitiers, the legendary French beauty and mistress of Henry II.
A recurring theme of the Italian masters and French artists in the 16th century is that of the naked woman, shown half-figure in her bath, or dressing. Some have an allegorical significance, others are combined with a portrait. This particular work which depicts some beauty of the day was so admired that there are known 16th century copies of it in Basel and in Massachusetts.
Jean Cousin was born in Sens and died in Paris. He was a French painter, engraver and sculptor.
St. Mammès was martyred under Emperor Aurelian in Cappadocia around 275. In Asia Minor he was highly revered by early Christians. In the 8th century his relics were taken to France and into Langres cathedral. Around 1540, eight tapestries were produced for the cathedral chancel depicting scenes from the saint’s life. Three of the tapestries survive: two in Langres and one in the Louvre.
In the Louvre tapestry, St. Mammès is accompanied by a lion to visit Aurelian who condemned him to death. In the background building the saint’s execution is already taking place. The tapestry’s elements point to the wave of influence that was the Italian Renaissance: its expansive landscape; its compositional use of perspective; and its classicizing architecture and buildings’ decoration, all of which came together in Francis I’s School of Fontainebleau. The tapestry’s varied and nuanced use of color lend a painterly appearance to the woven artwork.
The picture displays a scene at one of the likely nearby hôtels that housed merchants, diplomats and others so to be close by the king. It is evident by Félix Chrétien ‘s artwork that creative activity went far beyond the confines of the royal chateaux. Many painters whose names and works are unknown flourished in 16th century France. Italian Renaissance techniques are used in the painting such as its correctly rendered spatial perspective, realistic figural development, and the typical gestures found in the latest Franco-Italian Mannerist style.
Jean Clouet was the Court Painter to King Francis I. While Clouet was an influential artist in the establishment of Renaissance portraiture in France, his only documented painted portrait is that of Francis I’s librarian, Guillaume Budé (1467–1540).
A leading humanist of the sixteenth century, Budé’s fingers hold his page and a quill in the midst of writing. The words on the page in Greek presents an epigram: “While it seems to be good to get what one desires, the greatest good is not to desire what one does not need.”
Jean Clouet, also called Jean Clouet II and Janet, was probably the son of a Flemish painter who was the Court Painter to the Duke of Burgundy. Jean Clouet II made a number of portrait drawings of the Court that survive, most in Chantilly.
François Clouet was the son of Jean Clouet II and succeeded him as Court Painter to the king in 1541. Like his father, he was also called Janet and specialized in portrait drawings, most of which are housed in Chantilly. Francois Clouet’s first signed painting was the 1562 portrait of Pierre Quthe in the Louvre. Its style was influenced by the Florentine artists, particularly Angelo Bronzino (1503-1572).
The identity of Clouet’s model has long been debated. She may have been Marie Touchet, the mistress of Charles IX, or possibly Diane de Poitiers, the legendary French beauty and mistress of Henry II. The painting is boldly composed as it evokes poses of Venus, the love goddess, found in Italian art but also in its presentation of fecundity such as the nurse suckling a child and a bowl of ripe fruit of the season. The raised curtain is a device used in royal portraiture though here it may be just decorative.
Corneille de Lyon (active 1533-1574) was born in The Hague and worked in Lyons, France for over 30 years starting around 1540. A contemporary and rival of François Clouet (c. 1520-1574), Corneille de Lyon is well documented as a popular leading painter in the French style. As the artist did not sign or date his works, it is virtually impossible to positively identify his artwork. It was only in 1962 that his first work –and nearly all of them are miniature in scale – was positively identified. The nature of his work was described by contemporaries. In 1551 the Venetian ambassador who visited the artist’s studio observed: “We paid a call to an excellent painter who…showed us the whole Court of France, both gentleman and ladies, depicted with the utmost likeness on a great many small panels.”
Working in oil on wood panel, Corneille de Lyon was Peintre et Valet de Chambre du Roi to Henry II (1519-1559) and Charles IX (1550-1574). Corneille likely did paint the entire court. Portraits usually show half-length figures dressed in dark colors against a neutral, somewhat iridescent and greenish background. Groups of such portraits are of uneven quality marking studio artists supervised by the master. The precise drawing of facial features with its smooth planes and enamel-like techniques conveys sitters of placid expression whether their gaze is distant or engaged. Costumes are portrayed with detailed realism yet in a rich, modulated and less definite form.
Painter to the king since 1551, Corneille became a landowner by gift of the king in 1564. In June 1564 one of the artist’s high-born visitors to his home was Catherine de‘ Medici (1519-1589), then regent. Before his death in 1574, the Netherlandish-born Corneille, with his family and household, became Roman Catholics after working in the French Court for nearly 35 years.
Towards the close of the 16th century, there were two families of French artists who were active – namely, the Dumonstiers and the Quesnels.
The Dumonstiers were descendants of one of Le Rosso’s fellow workers at Fontainebleau in the 1530s. Pierre Dumonstier (c.1545-c.1610) was one of three brothers, all of whom were portrait painters. The brothers had close links to the royal house, particularly to Catherine de’ Medici. Pierre produced several drawings, many in color giving them a somewhat painted appearance. Portrait of an Unknown Man is a chalk drawing with watercolor.
In terms of style, what in the beginning of the 16th century produced precise drawing of facial features in portraiture gave way by the end of the century to greater modeling fluency so to achieve intense expression. Portraiture’s overall format, however, remained constant: a face isolated on a neutral background rendered with close analytic attention.
The Quesnel artistic dynasty began with a court painter to James V of Scotland (1513-1542). One of that painter’s sons, François Quesnel (1543-1619), produced many drawings. His painted portrait of Mary Ann Waltham is signed and dated by the artist. Quesnel concentrates on rendering the face with the rest of the body and costume handled perfunctorily. This dichotomy of attention to form was the case in the drawings as well. It may be that the master produced the face in these portraits and left the body and costume to studio assistants.
A Dictionary of Art and Artists, Peter and Linda Murray, Penguin Books; Revised,1998.
La Peinture Française: XVe et XVIe Siècles, Albert Châtelet, Skira, Genève Suisse, 1992.
French Painting: From Fouquet to Poussin, Albert Châtelet and Jacques Thuillier, Skira, 1963.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nicolas Froment worked in the south of France and was painter to Réne d’Anjou. The triptych is a documented artwork by the artist.
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.
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 (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.
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
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.
FEATURE image: Main Lobby. The Art Institute of Chicago (2014).
The Bunworth harp is inscribed: “made by Iohn Kelly for the Revd Charles Bworth Baltdaniel 1734″. The wire-string harp was made by Catholic instrument maker John Kelly for the Reverend Charles Bunworth, also of Baltdaniel, who was the Protestant rector of Buttevant, County Cork. The many aspects of the instrument—from soundbox, harmonic curve, fore-pillar, tuning pegs, and ornamentation and color— invite interest. Though it may be the female head at the top of the harmonic curve that at first most intrigues. (see – https://harp.fandom.com/wiki/Bunworth_Harp and http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/harpmakers/ – both retrieved October 14, 2021).
Robert Fagan was an Irish painter who was born in London but spent most of his artistic career in Rome and Sicily (Fagan first arrived into Italy in 1781). Though an expatriate, Fagan’s oil on canvas depicts a woman who represents Ireland careessing the strings of the harp, the country’s national instrument and symbol. Seated next to an Irish wolfhound, she holds a scroll that reads: “Ireland Forever” (“Erin go bragh“).
Henry Moore’s 16-foot sculpture was made when the 84-year-old British artist was concerned with the construction of three-dimensional space, internal forms within solid volumes, and placing his work in a natural setting.
Moore had worked primarily in stone but as these formal concerns emerged, he shifted to modeling and bronze casting.
Large Interior Form explores mass and void as well as gravity and growth within a nature-inspired artist-created form.
Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955) studied in Paris from 1897 to 1904, working in the studio of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Yet Milles departed from the prevailing naturalism that dominated sculpture in the Belle Époque era, and embraced ideas and forms that reflected the artist’s independent spirit, his knowledge and appreciation of classical and Gothic sculpture, and his Nordic roots. Speaking of the fountain, Milles observed: “The great classicists knew that it was impossible to reproduce the appearance of flesh in marble, and they set themselves to create forms of pure beauty that would merely suggest and symbolize the living creature, and then to invest those forms with a meaning that mankind would feel intuitively to be universal and significant. This is what I have tried to do.”
The headdresses at the right and at the left are Gelede headdresses. The headdress in the middle is perhaps a Gelde or Efe headdress. The headdress at the left is made of wood and the oldest of the headdresses. It was made in Nigeria or Benin by the Yoruba community in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
Gelede headdresses often portray women. The headdresses in the center and at right depict women. One is wearing a head tie and the other is showing a woman with a plaited hairstyle. These were made in Nigeria by the Yoruba community in the early 20th century.
The Gelede festival of the Yoruba community in western Africa is a public spectacle which uses colorful masks that combines art and ritual dance to educate, entertain and inspire worship. Gelede includes the celebration of “Mothers,” a grouping that includes female ancestors and deities as well as the elderly women of the community whose power and spiritual capacity in society is convoked. The Efe is a nighttime public performance held the day before the Gelede.
The artist, born in Sweden, moved with his family to Toledo, Ohio, as a child. Lungren wanted to be an artist but his father objected, wanting him to be a mining engineer. For a brief time, in 1874, Lungren attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor to study his father’s preferred subject. But after two years, Lungren’s father still opposed to his being an artist, the younger Lungren rebelled and prevailed. In 1876 he was able to study under Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) at the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia. In winter 1877 the 20-year-old Lungren moved to New York City. With his first illustration published in 1879, he worked as an illustrator for Scribner’s Monthly (renamed Century in 1881) as well as for Nicholas (a children’s magazine) and as a contributor until 1903. He later worked for Harper’s Bazaar, McCLure’s and The Outlook. Lungren’s illustrations included portraits, and social and street scenes.
In 1882 Lungren traveled to Paris via Antwerp. In a brief stay in Paris he studied informally at the Académie Julian, and viewed French Impressionist artworks. Lungren returned to New York City in 1883 and, soon afterwards, established a studio in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1892 he visited Santa Fe, New Mexico for the first time and, in the following years painted artworks inspired by his contact with American Indian culture and the desert landscape. In 1899 he showed these American desert works at the American Art Galleries in New York and afterwards at the Royal Academy in London and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.
When Lungren was in London he made pictures of street life and met several artists, including James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903). In late 1900 Lungren traveled to Egypt and returned to New York via London in the next year. Lungren had married Henrietta Whipple in 1898 and they moved to California in 1903, settling in Santa Barbara in 1906. Lungren lived and work in California—including several notable trips to Death Valley—until his death in 1932. Most of Lungren’s artwork, including hundreds of his paintings, were bestowed to what is today the University of California, Santa Barbara.
SOURCE: J.A. Berger, Fernand Lungren: A Biography, Santa Barbara, 1936.
Acquired by the museum in 1966, photographs show that the statue stood in an open location by a garden pool at the museum. In 1991 following a whirlwind of euphoria associated with the successful completion of Operation Desert Storm, a victory celebration at the Mall in June of that year involved hovering military jets and helicopters. Their downdraft sent gravel footpath debris flying in the air that scratched and cracked several statues in the sculpture garden. Though none appeared to sustain damage beyond some repair, the Nymph—Central Figure for the Three Graces suffered the most damage as the nude female statue had pitted indentations on her backside. In 2010 when this photograph was taken, the sculpture was located in front of a protective garden wall. See- https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1991-06-12-1991163158-story.html
Aristide Maillol’s Nymph at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in June 1975. Fair Use.
The Safety Patrol considers the potential of a group of children as future caretakers of the world led by a boy in a sash with outstretched arms whose duty it is to protect the others.
Bisa Butler uses the technique of appliqué quiltmaking to create her work. For the figures, the artist cuts, layers, and pins together fabrics and arranges them on the ground fabric. This comprises the quilt top. Between this quilt top and a backing fabric is a layer of fiber “batting” or stuffing. These layers are stitched to form the quilt with the thread lines part of the structure, texture and details of the image. Butler seeks to use fabric colors and patterns to contribute to the quilt’s subject and narrative.
When Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886-1980) painted Lady In Red in the Milwaukee Art Museum he was a starving artist living in Berlin. At 24 years old Kokoschka became associated with Berlin’s avant-garde and its writers, artists, and theatre actors. The artist knew some of the artists and others of Die Brücke and those associated with Der Sturm, the art and literary magazine. But Kokoschka’s involvement with the German Expressionists was limited as the young artist was dedicated to pursuing his own artistic ideas and forms. Commenting on this independence, Kokoschka wrote that he was “not going to submit…to anyone else’s control. That is freedom as I understand it.” (Oskar Kokoschka, My Life, translated from the German by David Britt, New York, Macmillan, 1974, p. 67). As Kokoschka developed the art of “seeing,” with his emphasis on depth perception, the local press saw young Kokoschka’s volatile unpredictability and called him “the wildest beast of all.”
Though Kokoschka studied art of the past masters to develop a unique individual style, he and Die Brücke did interact on ideas and formal problems which generated an artistic atmosphere in Berlin and Vienna. In 1912, Kokoschka started a disastrous affair with Alma Mahler (1879-1964), the widow of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911). Its ending led to Kokoschka volunteering for the front lines in World War I and being seriously wounded in Russia in 1915.
The Expressionists’ emotional involvement with world events affected each of their creative processes. In these experiences of personal and social upheaval, Kokoschka maintained that as an artist – and he viewed this role as an existential fact more than a choice – his life had less to do with often prefabricated ideologies, programs, and parties and, rather, with searching and crafting his unique outlook as a creative individual. “There is no such thing as a German, French, or Anglo-American Expressionism!” Kokoschka would argue, “There are only young people trying to find their bearings in the world.” (Kokoschka, My Life, p. 37).
Kokoschka’s individualism made him one of the supreme masters of Expressionism, an -ism he defied. His tempestuous canvases with harsh colors and disjointed angles produced compositions that were emotionally aggressive and meant to prod the viewer into discomfort and rage. As Kokoschka eschewed the main modernist movement of Expressionism for the discovery and practice of his own unique style, he became one of the few major artists (Max Beckmann is another) who will often not appear in the annals of mainstream 20th century modernism, though this exclusive outcome is likely what would satisfy “the wildest beast of all.”
St Patrick’s Hall had long been a key location for Ireland’s political, military and social elite to gather (B. Rooney, Creating History, Stories of Ireland in Art, 2016, p.179). These dance proceedings are overseen by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and his wife visible at the end of the hall.
The 1840s was a period of fashion indulgence. The social ball with attendees in sumptuous costume took place during the period of the Irish famine (1845-1849) where approximately one million people died. Another one million or more emigrated out of the country at the same time, many to the United States.
Court dress for gentleman allowed personal expression in fabric and style for the waistcoat. Military officers and political office holders wore court uniforms indicating their position and rank. For ladies, to signal their marital situation, unmarried women wore jewelry and fresh flowers in their hair. Conventionally-minded single ladies added two ostrich feathers behind one ear. Matrons sported a third ostrich feather in their hair and wore lace ribbons.
African Chief in The Art Institute of Chicago was recently exhibited in a 2017-2018 monographic retrospective at the Prado in Madrid. The show, simply entitled “Fortuny (1838-1874),” reflected the Prado’s holdings of many of this artist’s masterpieces. The Prado’s collection is due to their own acquisitions but mainly the generous bequests of the artist’s oils, watercolors, and drawings by late 19th century Mexican collector Ramón de Errazu (1840-1904) as well as the painter’s son, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo.
Fortuny’s artwork is often Orientalist in style that reflects the many trips he made to North Africa. In his career, Fortuny was noted for his precision of anatomy and archaeological scrupulousness though African Chief tends to the modern broken brush style for which the Spanish artist was prescient following his many trips to Paris.
Pompeo Batoni was a leading 18th-century Roman painter. The artist was known for his portraits and commissioned large format historical and religious paintings. The painting entitled “Allegory of Peace and War” represented the mythological figure of the god Mars being restrained by a semi-nude embodiment of peace. Peace lays her hand on War’s sword and bears to him an olive branch.
The painting was the result of Batoni’s own invention – no one commissioned this artwork – and it stayed in the artist’s studio until at least the early 1780s.
Statue of Aphrodite, called Venus de Milo because it was found on the Greek Island of Milos in the Aegean Sea. It dates from around 150 B.C. In the Louvre in Paris, the Venus de Milo is one of the most famous statues in the world. Its soft, sensual handling of the marble was characteristic of the late Hellenistic period. She is monumental – the topless, armless Venus de Milo stands, independent of her base and pedestal, six feet five inches in height.
In the course of the second half of the 19th century, the Venus de Milo became a favorite statue of Parisians and its visitors. It was around 1875 that it was moved away from the wall which it stood against and placed in the middle of a 17th century room so that it could be viewed completely around. It was accorded this baroque effect first used at Versailles at the start of the 18th century so to isolate monumental sculpture for display to produce maximum impact and enjoyment of the artwork.
SOURCES: Masterpieces of the Louvre, Marcel Brion, NY: Abrams; Creators Collectors and Connoisseurs, Niels Von Holst, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
FEATURE image: P.A.-Renoir, A Luncheon at Bougival, 1881, The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. The Seventh Impressionist Exhibition – 1882.
By John P. Walsh
In the five years between the “balanced and coherent” Third Impressionist Art Exhibition in April 1877 and the penultimate Seventh Impressionist Art Exhibition in March 1882 which included Gustave Caillebotte’s The Bezique Game, significant changes had occurred in the art world.
One major development that was especially impactful for the band of independent and ever-varying avant-garde artists known as the “impressionists” was that, after 1877, the group had fallen apart.
The Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 organized by Caillebotte and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) demonstrated the benefit of a detailed marketing plan within a professional arts organization. Caillebotte’s attempted follow-up to host an impressionist exhibition in 1878, however, failed to get off the ground.
It wasn’t for any lack of his trying. In 1877, Caillebotte could measure success in the Third show by 18-count modern artists under a new brand name, along with 230 works. Show attendance numbers were up from the first and second exhibitions almost four fold. Picture sales were up.
In less than one year, the enterprise devolved to nothing tangible. This was because of a lack of collective coherence among the artists in terms of artistic and business outlook. Seeds of destruction among this klatch of mostly young, avant-garde artists became increasingly evident during the “glorious” 1877 show.
Caillebotte’s genius in the Third Exhibition was to know strengths to promote and problem to ignore. He avoided the veritable train wreck coming from associated artists who were antagonistic creatively by keeping them mostly literally physically apart.
The Impressionists had two major factions. One was led by classically-trained Edgar Degas (1834-1917) with his realist urban figure drawing. The other was the nonacademic, “broken-brush” innovators or strict impressionists such as Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) who explored the effects of light.
For the duration of the Third Impressionist exhibition, all of Degas’s 25 beach and ballet works hung in a room of their own.
As a business seeks popular and financial success, a caveat towards that objective for the third and upcoming 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th impressionist art shows was “the terrible Monsieur Degas.”
Although Degas had an argumentative personality, major reasons for Degas’s dispute with Caillebotte’s impresionist show were not Degas’ making. After 1877, the battle line which ensued between Degas and his group of trained artists and Monet and his nonacademic group affected every next impressionist show up to the 8th and last one in 1886.
The catalyst for the Impressionists’ artistic divisions was their different understandings of what became another major development to affect the art world and all contemporary artists.
Throughout the 1860s, the Salon continued to be anti-democratic. By the late 1870s, there was a clear trend towards a more liberalized Salon. In 1881, the French government took itself out of the Salon. Even before that, in 1878, the year of the scrapped 4th Impressionist show, the government allowed strict or “broken brush” Impressionists like Monet and Renoir to participate in their “Exhibition of Living Artists.”
Biggest art show in Paris.
Whatever its drawbacks, the Salon remained the biggest art show in Paris.
While Caillebotte’s Third Impressionist Exhibition in 1877 attracted 15,000 visitors in its one month run—a remarkable statistic—the Salon attracted 23,000 visitors per day.
The Salon displayed around 23x more art than the Impressionist show and attracted 50x more visitors. Opportunities for sales and new clients at one of these nineteenth-century warehouse events was immense.
In 1878, after years of fighting for greater participation in the Salon— the Salon des Refusés took place in 1863—innovative Impressionists were finally allowed to freely hang their artwork in an annual show that for hundreds of years had been the institurional enclave of the Paris art world’s elite.
Yet, In terms of the 4th impressionist art show, the bourgeois Degas devised an ingeniously small-minded idea that he presented ennobled by some principle.
Despite this historic opening of the Salon to young avant-garde artists—Monet and Renoir were in their late 30’s, Degas in his mid 40’s—the older and financially secure artist insisted that all impressionists must make a choice.
Either exhibit in the Salon or with the Impressionists.
Degas’s ultimatum was crafted to pressure the “broken brush” impressionists such as Renoir, Monet, Sisley and Cézanne to break ranks to the Salon—and likely improve their sales and reputations in a rapidly changing art market—and leave the impressionist art organization to Degas and his followers.
Degas’s wedge actually worked. By 1880, the “broken brush” impressionists were purged from the Impressionist exhibitions by their own choice to exhibit in the Salon. Though they saw no conflict with the Impressionist art organization per se that broken brush artists helped found, Degas’s ultimatum had been permitted to stand for the 4th, 5th, and 6th impressionist art shows and helped secure these Impressionist shows of 1879, 1880, and 1881 under the leadership of Degas.
The 4th, 5th, and 6th exhibitions featured Degas and his favorite artists. It was in these Degas-led shows that the public had their first in-depth look at Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), among others.
Not all of the Impressionists’ original members and strict impressionists decided to exhibit in the Salon. Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) chose to stay in the independent art group and continued doing so for the eight shows. (Morisot had a baby during the 4th and didn’t participate).
Gustave Caillebotte had invested his talent, reputation and resources into the independents since 1876 and continued to organize and exhibit with them in 1879 and 1880. Before the 6th show in 1881, Caillebotte himself finally broke with the Degas regime in a dispute nominally over a advertising issue.
As the calendar proclaimed a new decade, new opportunities for Impressionist exhibitions began percolating in Caillebotte’s head as he painted The Bezique Game (1880) within the shifting artistic environment.
The game of Bezique is a 64-card game for two players and curiously French. In the game two singles players sit across the net to compete to 1000 points. The rest are score keepers or observers. As the game carries on, card “tricks” pile up on the table.
Some art critics viewing Caillebotte’s contemporary subject of a popular game identified the painting as a “legible and tightly ordered” image out of the long-held pictorial tradition of card playing. Yet idiomatic clichés related to card playing such as “playing one’s cards right” or “holding one’s cards close to the chest” may be read into the painting. It is one of the canvasses painted by impressionist artists during this time that relate to the Impressionist group’s recent and ongoing exhibition experiences.
Nineteenth-century art critics usually grouped together the artwork of Caillebotte and Degas, Neither artist was among the “strict” impressionists such as of Monet and Renoir. Several critics wondered aloud in the newspaper why Caillebotte would even have dealings with those “broken-brush” daubers now at the Salon with Édouard Manet.
Competition between Degas’s partisans and the mostly younger strict impressionists such as Claude Monet, Renoir, and others, resulted in a schism in 1879. In addition to himself, Degas recruited talented newcomers such as Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931), and Federico Zandomeneghi (1841-1917) for the 4th.
The Third Impressionist Art Exhibition held in April 1877 is known as “Caillebotte’s Exhibition.” It is the highlight of the eight Impressionist exhibitions held between 1874 and 1886. While scholars agree that the Third Impressionist Exhibition was in every sense “glorious,” the show’s euphoria was short lived. Two weeks after the show closed, as hope for picture sales grew high, there was a Constitutional crisis in the French government. The political turmoil resulted in a consolidation of Republican power defeating Royalists which led to a national economic recession. The Impressionist group, conceived and carefully built to unity by Gustave Caillebotte, resorted to squabbling as the artists jostled to survive in receding good times.
Gustave Caillebotte’s efforts for a fourth impressionist exhibition in 1878 were stymied and the next 3 exhibitions would be under Degas’s rule. In 1879 Degas exclude the “broken brish” artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne and Alfred Sisley. In 1880, Degas cast out Claude Monet. The destructive outcome of these intramural politics was not lost on Caillebotte.
Caillebotte built the group’s brand in the Third Impressionist Art Exhibition in 1877 largely on “broken brush” impressionists nwho were excluded from Degas’s shows. Caillebotte, however, worked with Edgar Degas and his artistic coterie in 1879, 1880 and 1881. Oy was before the opening of the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881 that Caillebotte finally departed the Degas-led organization. Caillebotte cited differences on an advertising issue.
Yet Caillebotte’s nonparticipation with the Impressionists was short lived.
The 32-year-old Caillebotte looked to a retro-style vision for an Impressionist Art Exhibition in 1882. His emerging partner was 51-year-old Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922).
The Fifth exhibition lost Monet to the Salon which per Degas’s ultimatum excluded the figurehead through which the term “impressionism” received its label in 1874 from exhibiting with the group of independents in 1880. Other broken or free brush painters such as Camille Pissarro and Berthe Morisot did continue to exhibit in the 5th show. Ironically, critics responded to the truncated, Degas-led show, by wondering out loud what made this Impressionist show any different than a recently liberated Salon. While Morisot and American Mary Cassatt’s artwork received especial attention and praise in the 5th show, the month-long April 1880 show also introduced important newcomers to its Paris audience such as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Jean-François Raffaëlli (1850-1924).
Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot continued their impact as the most progressive impressionists according to critics during the 6th Impressionist show in 1881. Morisot’s Nurse and Baby was startlingly abstract to viewers of the 1881 show. Zandomeneghi’s Place d’Anvers quietly inspired artists to explore anew early Renaissance Italian mural painting. Raffaëlli, displaying over 30 works in the 6th show, made a huge impact for his realist, socially aware artwork. The 6th show’s centerpiece was Degas’ statuette of the ballet student in a fabric tutu that put impressionism in 3D and affected modern sculpture going forward. Gustave Caillebotte who had participated in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th impressionist exhibitions (and would the 7th) as well as organized the 3rd, 4th, and 5th (and would the 7th), bowed out of participating at all in the 6th show.
The Seventh Impressionist Art Exhibition: Caillebotte and Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
The changing art market in the 1870s had taken a financial toll on the art dealer’s modern art business. Durand-Ruel re-tooled his dealership to focus not on large-scale group shows but small shows of individual artists. Overall the French economy had sunk into hard times and big shows cost more money. Following the disastrous Hôtel Drouot auction in 1875—which Durand-Ruel believed was an attempt by his critics to discredit him as an art dealer—the well-stocked Impressionist art dealer reluctantly agreed to go forward with Caillebotte’s exhibition plan for 1882. Caillebotte convinced the dealer that the Seventh show would earn a small profit.
Caillebotte’s main hook was to re-integrate the excluded “broken brush” or “strict” impressionists including Renoir and Claude Monet. Degas and his faction of artists including Mary Cassatt stayed away from the Seventh Impressionist exhibition though Paul Gauguin was represented. Also missing was the artist of Aix, Paul Cézanne, who was experimenting with volumes in the south of France. Cézanne would not be seen in a Paris art show until 1895 when a huge body of his work was featured in a landmark retrospective exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery.
Caillebotte’s first move was to secure the popular Renoir for the upcoming March 1882 show. Renoir sent 24 new works, including his iconic large-format A Luncheon at Bougival (Un déjeuner à Bougival). Durand-Ruel insisted on a standardized presentation, including simple white frames for every work. In addition to Monet and Renoir, the seventh show hailed a triumphant return for Alfred Sisley. Camille Pissarro displayed several paintings of peasant girls. His tiny pseudo-pointillist brushstrokes overlaid with occasional dabs of thicker paint, built up an uneven surface that integrated the figure and background which worked to visually mimic the textures of the sitter’s wool clothing.
Caillebotte sent 17 works to the show. The Bezique Game (Partie de bésigue) painted in 1880, was joined by Rising Road (Chemin Montant) painted in 1881. This latter work’s path hardly rises—a feature that contributed to the canvas’s mystery. The question was asked whether it was a reprise of the “enhanced perspective” that aggravated critics in 1876 when they saw it in The Floor Scrapers.
Rising Road is painted with a free handling of colors in the loose brushwork style of Monet and Renoir whose closer re-acquaintance Caillebotte made. One critic poked fun at the painting’s mysterious pair as viewers wondered with him who is “the conjugal couple…seen from the back” ? Their identities and location are uncertain although speculation has put Caillebotte in the painting with his lifelong companion Charlotte Berthier.
Rising Road (Chemin Montant) has had only two owners since 1881. It sold in 2003 for nearly $7 million ($6,727,500) at Christie’s in New York City,
Gustave Caillebotte and Impressionist art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel organized the exhibition which marked the triumphant return of the broken-brush or strict Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In many ways it was Renoir’s wide-ranging artwork that was the star of the 7th show.