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.
In Rome Simon Vouet adopted a Caravaggesque style coupled with elements from Michelangelo such as in this painting for an ancient church in Rome. While Vouet worked directly from the model and used closely observed poses from reality, the head of St. Francis of Assisi seems to be taken from one by Michelangelo.
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.
Molière was born into a well-to-do family on January 15, 1622 at Rue St. Honoré and grew up near the Bastille at Rue Saint-Antoine in Paris. The greatest genius of the French theater was baptized at St. Eustache as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. He adopted the stage name of Molière in the mid1640s after he founded his first theater troupe.
A type of Shakespeare of France – profound theater actor, writer and poet – Molière’s characters and wit are timeless – such as in Tartuffe (1664), Don Juan (1665), and The Misanthrope (1666).
Romain Duris as Molière and Laura Morante as Elmire
French actor Romain Duris as Molière and Italian actress Laura Morante as Elmire in a scene from the 2007 movie “Molière.”
The fictional film is told in flashback to 1645. It is a conflation of two different periods in Molière’s life into one earlier period. Indeed, in 1645, 23-year-old bachelor Molière was bailed out of debtor’s prison. When his great, most controversial play, Tartuffe, appeared in the mid1660s, Molière was married and much older.
For the film, a presumably historical Molière poses as “Monsieur Tartuffe” (a priest) who serves as tutor for Orgon’s children. In real life, Molière played a part in his play, “Tartuffe,” but as the householder and trusting husband, Orgon. In the film, young Molière as Tartuffe, similar to the play, falls in love with Elmire, the neglected wife of the household.
In this scene Molière delivers a letter to Elmire from her secret admirer which, unknown to her, was written by the debonaire M. Tartuffe (Duris as young Molière).
Whereas in the present day any type of true romance may be heart-warming, the 17th century viewed romance through a lens of means and ends, either of which could be scandalous.
Molière’s great plays Don/m Juan and Tartuffe were halted in their tracks by French religious and royal authorities who were concerned that their characters and plots would provoke popular scandal. In the mid1660s, the Archbishop of Paris condemned Molière’s work – and nearly the libertine Molière himself – and then turned to the highest state authority, the king, with whom the top bishop was privileged to be closely aligned, to carry out the sentence.
“But I ought to warn you, strictly between the pair of us, that in Don Juan my master you see the greatest scoundrel that ever walked on Earth. He is a madman, a dog, a devil, a Turk. He is a heretic who believes in neither Heaven, nor saint, nor God, nor the bogeyman. He lives the life of an absolute brute beast. He is an Epicurean hog, a regular Sardanapalus who is deaf to every Christian remonstrance, and looks on all that we others believe as nothing but old wives’ tales. You say he has married your mistress. He would have done far more than that to gratify his desires. He would have married you, and her dog and cat as well. It costs him nothing to marry. That is the best baited trap he has.” – Sganarelle, servant of Don Juan, played by Molière. From Don Juan (1665).
“You see him as a saint. … I see right through him. He’s a fraud.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“It’s true – those whose private conduct is the worst,/Will mow each other down to be the first/To weave some tale of lust, and hearts broken/Out of a simple kiss that’s just a token/Between friends.”– Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 1, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“See, I revere/Everyone whose worship is sincere./Nothing is more noble or beautiful/Than fervor that is holy, not just dutiful.“ – Cléante, played by La Thorillière, Act I, Scene 4. From Tartuffe (1664).
“What good would it do to dissent? A father’s power is great.” – Mariane, played by Mlle de Brie, Act 2, Scene 3. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Don’t be deceived by hollow shows; / I’m far … from being what men suppose.“ – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 3, Scene 6. From Tartuffe (1664).
“There’ll be no sins for which we must atone,/Because evil only exists when it’s known.” – Tartuffe, played by Du Croisy, Act 4, Scene 5. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Ah! Ah! You are a traitor and a liar!/Some holy man you are, to wreck my life, / Marry my daughter? Lust after my wife?” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 4, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).
“Damn all holy men! They’re filled with deceit!/I now renounce them all, down to the man.” – Orgon, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 1. From Tartuffe (1664).
“All that we most revere, he uses/To cloak his plots and camouflage his ruses.” – Dorine, played by Madeleine Béjart, Act 5, Scene 7. From Tartuffe (1664).
For Molière, the Ancien Régime was not yet dead as a doornail. The American and French Revolutions were a distant century in the future. The latest risk in the late 20th and early 21st centuries of the Apostolic church selling its religion for parts in exchange for a share at the table of the new global faith was not yet a necessary strategy for a powerfully splendorous, yet ever troubled, church in 17th century France.
While “mixing it up” in politics may be the Catholic church’s normal path, it was the irreligious observations of its outcomes in human life in the 17th century that proved a major theme in Molière’s wittiest dramas and brought him into trouble. While the young King Louis XIV (1638-1715) approved orders that banned some of Molière’s farces, the royal personage expressed his reluctance to do so. It had been the priests who were stung by Molière’s popular ridicule with its social danger of being overthrown by comic truths. Their well-connected desires to cancel Molière proved only partly successful in the mid17th century–and, soon after that, hardly at all.
The 17th century continued the wealth of French literature in its many genres – poetry (Malherbe; La Fontaine; Boileau); novels and fairy tales (Cyrano de Bergerac; Perrault); essays (Pascal; La Rochefoucauld; La Bruyère); philosophy (Descartes); theology (St. Francis de Sales; Fénelon; Bossuet) and drama (Corneille; Racine; and Molière), and many others.
Molière’s Comedy – Wit And Types
Molière wrote based on actual facts of society and human nature and, using ludicrous incidents, looked straight ahead to a moral purpose – his plays were very instructive and had all the makings of high comedy. Further to attract us, Molière is the premier dramatist of wit.
His characters are not individuals but types – which allows for perhaps greater intensity than complexity. Though the French are not as known for comedy, the form is mostly indigenous, contrasted to tragedy as a dramatic form which came out of Italy.
The City of Paris Plays a Role
Paris is a theatrical city. Similar to today’s Beaubourg, there were outdoor performances at the Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine. The Hotel de Bourgogne on Rue Etienne Marcel was used in the 16th century by the Confraternité de la Passion for passion plays. In the mid1620s when America was a wilderness there would be street parades of comedians in Paris to lure spectators into the theatre. Stock farce characters included Aurlupin (mean spirited school teacher), Gros Guillaume (dressed in a flour sack), and Captain Fracasse (break things). At the permanent flea market of St. Germain de Prés, spectacles were put on stage. Goods were sold, some of it junk, because, as Daumier observed, “people are always fooled.”
Molière’s mother died when he was 10 years old and he was raised by a nurse maid. In his later plays there are often such maids and servant girls.
In Paris, three rival theatre groups coexisted: that of the Marais; that of the Hôtel de Bourgogne; and, that of the Palais-Royal, directed by Molière. After Molière’s death, the actors of the Marais joined Molière’s troupe of actors by royal order. This new troupe settles at the Hotel Guénégaud, rue Mazarine.
François de La Thorillière was Molière’s companion and kept the register of the company during the 1663/1664 and 1664/1665 seasons. He moved to the Hôtel de Bourgogne after Molière’s death. In 1680 La Thorillière, head of the troupe of the Hôtel de Bourgogne and the last rival in Paris of Molière’s former troupe, died. The King ordered these two troupes of French actors established in Paris to play together going forward.
On August 25, 1680, the actors of the Hotel de Bourgogne and that of the Hotel Guénégaud – Molière’s former troupe now led by La Grange – gave their first joint performance.
On October 21, 1680, an official royal letter signed at Versailles, established the unique troupe, composed of 27 actors and actresses chosen by the King for their excellence, to have a monopoly of performances in French so to “make performances of comedies more perfect.” The repertoire includes Corneille, Molière, Racine, Jean Rotrou, Paul Scarron, and others.
Molière Schools in Paris and Orléans
Molière was a commuter student at the Collège de Clermont behind the Sorbonne. Founded in the 1560s by the Jesuits who had a tremendous hold on educating the young in this period, it was renamed Lycée Louis-le-Grand in the 1680s. Nobility and the well-to-do bourgeois schooled together though segregated by a so-called “golden barrier” of identity – an illiberal, reactionary practice. Molière received a strict, excellent education and was a Latinist. He went to Orléans to study law but didn’t pursue it. His father sent him to Narbonne to be a royal tapestry maker (the family business) but Molière was idealistic and chose to be in theater. Following his bliss, twenty-something Molière – around the time of the film scene – was close to penniless for the next 15 years.
Following the queen of the sciences (theology), cultural authorities officially ordered the boycott of theater as immoral. But the people in Paris mostly ignored these bought-and-paid-for kill joys of church and state and the theater life thrived.
Molière’s first theater production flops; bailed out of debtor’s prison by a street contractor
By the 17th century the Renaissance social fad of tennis had faded away and Molière rented empty courts for the theater. He joined Madeliene Béjart, four years older, and from a family of actors, and established his first theater in June 1643 called the Illustre Théâtre (“Illustrious Theater”). The first performances in the tennis court featuring the 22-year-old Molière and the others opened on January 1, 1644.
To build the theater, Molière fell into debt in 1644. The first performances were a complete flop and Molière was thrown into debtor’s prison for 3 days in July 1645.
There were two official theatre troupes in Paris in the mid 1640s– and Molière’s Illustre Théâtre was not one of them. The troupe did have a royal protector or sponsor, the king’s brother. But financial help was not to be had from Gaston d’Orléans (1608-1660). Rather, a paving contractor paid the bail to release the young actor/writer, a remarkable historical fact. Molière’s first theater was auctioned off with proceeds going to his creditors.
In 1646 Molière and Mme. Béjart joined a troupe led by Charles Dufresne (1611-1684). They relocated to the provinces, specifically to the west at Nantes and south. Success as an actor had been fleeting and Molière was very close to returning to his father’s business as a tapestry maker. Molière, like his fellow actors, could afford to wear only his street clothes on stage – or vice versa. Molière was part of just one theatre troupe among about 1,000 in France.
Others of the defunct Illustre Théâtre joined Molière in 1648. Dufresne handed over the direction of the troupe to Molière in 1650. He rechristened the troupe Comédiens de SAR le prince de Conti. The prince de Conti (1629-1666), fifth in line to the French throne, was Molière’s patron and friend. At the domaine de la Grange des Prés at Pézenas in Languedoc, the prince and the actor-playwright discussed plays and theater.
In the 1650s, Molière’s troupe became moderately successful performing all over the Mediterranean in France. Though Molière kept a notebook to record his ideas and character types these personal items have been lost to history.
The prince de Conti, Languedoc governor, was the king’s cousin, and, upon marrying Anne-Marie Martinozzi (1637-1672) in 1654, an in-law of sorts to Cardinal Mazarin (Anne-Marie was Mazarin’s niece). The prince di Conti, however, lived with his mistress at Pézenas among Molière’s free-spirited actors. In 1655 the prince, being engaged in military campaigns in Spain and experiencing failing health, had a religious awakening. He discarded the mistress, returned to his wife and banished the theatre. Molière was suddenly cancelled.
Allowance of theater in society based on moral grounds would continue to evolve – though audiences always enjoyed its entertainment value. Finding a need and filling it, Molière sold drama as morality (and vice versa) and using dialogue and plot that cut things close to the bone.
Armande Béjart was in Molière’s troupe in 1653 under the name of Mademoiselle Menou and played child roles. Married to Molière in 1662, she was the inspiration for all his heroines: the Princess of Élide, Charlotte, Célimène, Lucinde, Elmire, Alcmène, Élise, Angélique, Lucile, Hyacinthe, Henriette.
Armande and Molière’s daughter, Madeleine-Esprit, survived but their two sons did not. When Molière died in 1668, Armande encouraged the troupe, led by La Grange.
In 1677 Armande remarried a man not in the theater named Guérin d’Etriché and they had a son. She became Mademoiselle Guérin on stage in the troupe brought together by Louis XIV in 1680 and retired in 1694.
After being cancelled by the prince de Conti who became an implacable enemy of the theater until his death in 1666, the reputation of Molière’s traveling troupe was being critically appreciated at the highest levels. In 1658, the king’s brother, 18-year-old Philippe d’Orléans, le Monsieur (1640-1701), arranged an audition for Molière and his troupe in Paris. The result was that King Louis XIV approved the Troupe de Monsieur to share the royal theater, the Petit-Bourbon. Molière immediately premiered there on November 2, 1658. The troupe soon had to build up its cast and repertoire to meet the Paris audience’s expectations and Molière looked to provide them with original comedies. This was notably effected by the addition of 24-year-old La Grange, who would play young romantic lead roles, in 1659.
Also in 1659, having acquired the king’s favor, Molière set about to write the first of his great works: Précieuses Ridicules. In 1662 he married Madeleine Béjart’s younger sister (possibly daughter), Armande. The king was godfather to their child as Molière now performed at the Palais Royal for the king and royal family. In the next years, Molière wrote plays about marriage, jealousy, and adultery, including The Imaginary Cuckold in 1660; Don Garcie de Navarre and The School for Husbands in 1661; and, a great success, The School for Wives in 1662. Opening in December 1662, by the end of May 1663, audiences filled the theatre to watch The School for Wives, a play whose scheming plot is more straightforward than its characters, in over 60 performances. It was afterward attacked by critics who felt and feigned outrage for its sexual references and irreligiosity, but also, possibly, envy of its newness and blatant success. A flurry of artful broadsides between Molière and the King’s Actors at The Hôtel de Bourgogne followed in pamphlets and on their respective stages.
“People of quality know everything without ever having learned anything.” (Les gens de qualité savent tout sans avoir jamais rien appris.) – Mascarille, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 8. From Précieuses Ridicules (1659).
“A man’s not simple to take a simple wife. Your wife, no doubt, is a wise, virtuous woman. But brightness, as a rule, is a bad omen. And I know men who’ve undergone much pain because they married girls with too much brain. I want no intellectual, if you please.” – Arnolphe, Act 1, Scene 1. From School For Wives (1662).
“It must be confessed that love is a skillful instructor. It teaches us to be what we never were before. By its lessons a complete change in our manners is often the work of a moment. It overcomes obstacles in our very nature, and its sudden effects seem like miracles. It makes misers liberal in an instant, cowards become heroes, and, dear gentlemen, it turns the most inexperienced mind into a nimble wit, as it gives understanding to the most simple.” – Horace, Act 3, Scene 4. From School For Wives (1662).
The middle 1660s was a high point for Molière’s plays: Tartuffe; Festin de Pierre (Don Juan) and Le Misanthrope were all written in these same two or three years (1664-1666). These greatest comedies of enduring genius, however, were not well received in their days by a mostly obliging audience yet who took governance and religion very seriously. In May 1664, Molière staged the first three acts of his later Tartuffe at Versailles. Called The Hypocrite, the play was immediately banned by Louis XIV. When it opened again in 1667 as The Imposter, it was once more immediately banned. Any further performance – and this extended to its audience – adventured excommunication. It was not until February 1669 that Louis XIV allowed the performance of Tartuffe in its completed five act form. It instantly became the hottest ticket in Paris.
A prosperous man wanting to retain his hard-earned social position and continue to practice his theory of the stage as the layman’s pulpit, Molière in these final years turned toward lighter, innocuous spectacles to teach and entertain French society. In 1665 Don Juan ran for 15 performances though it was censored and its financial proceeds had to benefit the Church.
“I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don’t really mean.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 1, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“There’s a season for love and another for prudishness, and we may consciously choose the latter when the hey-day of our youth has passed—it may serve to conceal some of life’s disappointments.” – Célimène, played by Armande Béjart-Molière, Act 3, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“I’ll confront her in no uncertain terms with her villainy, confound her utterly, and then bring to you a heart entirely freed from her perfidious charms.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act , Scene . From The Misanthrope (1666).
“The failings of human nature in this life give us opportunities for exercising our philosophy, which is the best use we can put our virtues to. If all men were righteous, all hearts true and frank and loyal, what purpose would most of our virtues serve?” – Philinte, played by La Grange, Act 5, Scene 1. From The Misanthrope (1666).
“You shall observe me push my weakness to its furthest limit and show how wrong it is to call any of us wise and demonstrate that there’s some touch of human frailty in every one of us.” – Alceste, played by Molière, Act 5, Scene 4. From The Misanthrope (1666).
At rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris since 1817, Molière was denied a Catholic burial in 1673
The baptized Molière died in 1673 at 51 years old. He was denied a religious burial for the simple fact that he was a theater actor. The traditional wing of the Catholic Church constantly impugned Molière’s work. Educated by the more liberal Jesuits, Molière never renounced his Catholicism, and was probably not an atheist. He was secretly buried in a Catholic cemetery in the section of unbaptized infants. In 1792, during the French Revolution, Molière’s remains were transferred to the museum of French Monuments. In 1817, Molière was laid to rest in Père Lachaise Cemetery where he lies today.
Tartuffe disguises himself as a virtuous man and is a hypocrite. As the French celebrate Molière’s 400th birth anniversary they reflect on the relevance of Molière’s drama for today. Some argue that false faces in democracy are just as numerous as those in mid17th century Paris though perhaps in a different way.
Cancel Culture derives from Tartuffe
The cancel culture can be said to derive of Tartuffe. Though not displaying a purely religious hypocrisy as in Molière’s original character, today’s Tartuffe hates the individual heart’s freedoms and hides their will to crack down on people by citing the “common good” or other platitude which usually includes a spectrum of needs and fears. Notions of superiority, duplicity, and simple stupidity are present in Molière’s Tartuffe – that is, the hypocritical type of 350 years ago.
A supposed offense today is paired with Molière’s hypocrite of 350 years ago against a partisan viewpoint of the “higher interest” with its obligations and payments “overdue” to them from which as a penalty and means requires the ban, cancellation, and banishment –yet, almost conveniently, not of one’s fragile self, if opposed. While the perennial distrust of politicians is well known, today’s social breakdown is broader and endemic – with the inflation of hypocrisy a common denominator.
Like a popular play on an outdoor stage in 17th century Paris, hypocrites can be better recognized, fortunately or not, by type. The brittle use of virtue signaling can offer one such type. When it becomes evident that it serves the practicioner’s hidden ends, the audience, assuming its role, heckles and boos such stock farce characters off the stage with gusto.
Though censorship and restrictions of thought and action of others in its many forms is hardly always the result of hypocrisy, hypocrites (whichever side of the fence their belief or opinion may fall) are certain to take the short route to do so.
Molière would have sufficient material today to write and perform another of his great dramas for the 21st century and whose production is under a similar menace of cancellation by such powers grown antagonistic to his content and close or lower the curtain when opportunity is seen to enter.
FEATURE image: The Westwork of the Collegiate Church of St. Gertrude in Nivelles, Belgium, fronts an expansive historical building of the 11th century. Photograph by author, March 1992. Nivelles is an ancient settlement about 25 miles south-east of Brussels in Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia.
St. Gertrude of Nivelles (c. 628-659) was the daughter of Blessed Pepin of Landen (c. 580-640) and Blessed Ita of Metz, O.S.B. (592-652) who founded Nivelles monastery. Gertrude was born about 45 miles north east of Nivelles in Landen, Belgium on the boundary of Wallonia in Flanders.
In the 7th century, the territory was part of the Austrasian Frankish kingdom and Pepin had established a personal presence there. Following Pepin’s death when Gertrude was about 12 years old, the bishop of Maastrict in today’s Netherlands encouraged Ita to transform Pepin’s royal villa into a monastery. Pepin and Ita’s daughter, Gertrude, become the monastery’s first abbess.
Ita joined her daughter in the monastery to live out their days in a life of work and prayer. In the distant past, older well-endowed individuals often retired to monasteries or convents. A modern corollary may be that some retirees today choose to establish themselves in church-sponsored retirement villages. Ita’s other daughter (Begga) also eventually became an abbess; another son (Bavo), a hermit. One final son (Grimoald) took his father’s place as Mayor of the Palace. (see – http://www.santiebeati.it/dettaglio/37900 and https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06533c.htm)
In addition to being the patron of cats and gardeners, St. Gertrude was an early medieval patron of travelers. From her birthplace of Landen to Nivelles, Belgium, it is a distance of around 40-45 miles, or a one or two-day journey on foot.
St. Gertrude was superior of the monastery her parents established and, though a young abbess, Gertrude was known for her wise rule. St. Gertrude died at a young age on account of her personal austerities and was venerated as a saint.
The impressive appearance of the westwork of the Collegial Church of St Gertrude in Nivelles is the result of a reconstruction finished in 1984 following severe damage it sustained during World War II by bombing from the German Luftwaffe (air force) in May 1940.
The church was built in the 11th century to serve as a Benedictine abbey of cloistered nuns whose first abbess was St. Gertrude of Nivelles. The community of nuns developed so that by the 15th century Nivelles became professionally staffed and was designated a collegiate church. The dramatic church building is classified a major European Heritage site and remains one of the finest examples of the pure Romanesque style in Belgium.
Its Romanesque crypt is one of the largest of its kind in Europe where tombs of the Merovingian (5th-7th centuries) and Carolingian (7th-9th centuries) periods have been found.
IMAGES OF ST.GERTRUDE, PATRONESS OF CATS, GARDENERS AND TRAVELLERS:
Another image of St. Gertrude of Nivelles. Her feast day is March 17—the same as Ireland’s St. Patrick.
In addition to being the patron saint of cats, St. Gertrude of Nivelles is also the patron saint of gardeners and travellers.
St. Gertrude de Nivelles, from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, c. 1522. Opaque water-based paint mounted on board by Flemish artist Simon Bening (c.1484-1561). Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
SOURCE: The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary, edited by John Coulson, Guild Press, New York, 1957.