L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The duc de Richelieu, by Jean-Marc Nattier, circa 1732

Behind the duc are arrayed the robes and accoutrements of the Order of the Saint-Esprit, the senior chivalric order of royal France.

Louis-François-Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, duc de Richelieu (13 March 1696, Paris – 8 August 1788, Paris), French soldier and diplomat, he participated in three major wars, eventually rising to the rank of Marshal of France, and was for a time French ambassador to the Imperial court in Vienna. A godson of Louis XIV, he was a close friend of Louis XV. His favor at court waned when he opposed the marquise de Pompadour, and was restored at her death and the rise of du Barry. But his intriguing nature and very unsavory reputation made him far from welcome at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. For he is best known, then and now, for his rampant, indiscreet womanizing. Married three times - his final marriage was consecrated when he was eighty-four - and his extramarital conquests were reckless and innumerable; it is said that the famous character Valmont in Choderlos de Laclos' Les Liaisons dangereuses was based on the duc de Richelieu. Despite years spent in battle and in amatory excess, he managed to survive to the extraordinary age - especially for the time - of ninety-two.

A copy after Nattier, circa 1732-42.


Jean-Marc Nattier (17 March 1685, Paris – 7 November 1766, Paris), French painter, certainly the most important court portraitist of the eighteenth century. The child of two artists, he enrolled in the Royal Academy in 1703, with aspirations of becoming a history painter. But he found portraiture to be much more lucrative, and was successful in his chosen career from an early age. He painted numerous portraits of the French Royal family - especially the daughters of Louis XV - and the aristocracy gathered at Versailles. His style is immediately recognizable. Cool, muted. And with a particular kind of calm, even when portraying the floating, fluttering drapery of his female subjects, got up as nymphs and goddesses, one of his most characteristic devices.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Jewel cabinet of the comtesse de Provence, Jean-Henri Riesener, circa 1787

Mahogany and gilt bronze on oak base. Surmounted by sculptural group with enjoined coat of arms, flanked by vases of fruit. Body includes
three drawers and two cabinet doors with trophy, flanked by two female figures, enclosing eighteen drawers and three shelves. On eight legs.

From the website of the Royal Collection, of which this remarkable work of art has been a part since the first quarter of the nineteenth century:

Long regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of furniture in the Louis XVI style, this objet de luxe combines cabinet-making virtuosity of a high order with quite exceptional gilt bronze mounts. The well-figured, plain mahogany veneers, characteristic of Riesener's output in the later 1780s, provide a deliberate foil to the mounts, jewel-like on the doors (as befits the purpose of the cabinet) and treated as sculpture-in-the-round at the front angles and on the cresting.

Although signed, the cabinet bears no French royal inventory number. However, the prominent coat of arms identifies the first owner as Marie-Joséphine-Louise of Savoy, who married Louis XVI's younger brother, the comte de Provence (the future Louis XVIII), in 1771. We know that, as ébéniste du roi, Riesener supplied furniture for the royal couple in the 1770s, and that he was working for them directly in the early 1780s. The jewel-cabinet stood in their apartments in the Palais du Petit-Luxembourg, but was originally made for the Princess's bedroom at Versailles. The maker of the bronzes is unknown, although the bronzier François Rémond, who certainly worked for Riesener, is a possible candidate. 

The subsequent history of the cabinet provides a fascinating commentary on changing tastes. Confiscated with the rest of the Provence property in 1793, it was initially reserved for display in a national museum. Three years later, as the financial situation in France worsened, the cabinet was sold off. In 1809 it was offered to the Imperial household for 30,000 francs by the then owner, who was said to have paid over 60,000 francs for it. Napoleon was strongly encouraged to acquire the cabinet for Saint-Cloud, but this advice was unequivocally rejected in 1811: 'S.M. veut faire du neuf et non acheter du vieux'. George IV had no such inhibitions when it came up for sale[...]; he purchased it for 400 guineas with the intention of using it at Windsor Castle.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

St. John the Baptist - plural

Francesco Solimena, circa 1730s.

I'm often quite amused - and confounded - by the range of expression and gesture found in Renaissance and Baroque representations of saints, gods and goddesses, etc. This selection of St. John the Baptists exemplifies some of that unintentional humor and/or incongruity. The Regnier looks heavily medicated while the González y Serrano positively scowls; perhaps he's really tired of posing. The gym-bodied Titian holds his drapery rather seductively, but looks ready to burst into tears. The van Dyck is distracted from his zealous pursuits and lolls about, completely lost in a good book, while the Strozzi appears to have got his bottom stuck in the scenery and can't get out. The Solimena, though, is merely vivid and quite beautiful.

Titian, 1542.
Bartolomé González y Serrano, circa 1600.
 Nicolas Régnier, circa 1615-20.
Anton Raphael Mengs, circa 1760s.
Bernardo Strozzi, circa 1615-20.
Anthony van Dyck, circa 1624-25.
Caravaggio (attributed to), second half of the sixteenth century.
Guido Reni,circa 1636-7.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Portrait of Margaret Kemble Gage, by John Singleton Copley, 1771

Margaret Kemble Gage (1734 - 1824) was the American-born wife of General Thomas Gage, the commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America who went on to lead the British army during the American Revolutionary War. The great-granddaughter of mayor of New York City Stephanus Van Cortlandt, she was the daughter of Peter Kemble, a well-to-do New Jersey businessman and politician. She married Gage in 1758, and together they had eleven children. Their first son, the future 3rd Viscount Gage, was born in 1761.

It has been rumored that, out of sympathy for the Revolution, she provided information to the American side regarding her husband's raids at Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War. There was only circumstantial evidence of her being an informant, though it appears her husband was convinced of her betrayal, and on his orders she was sent to England a few months later. Gage remained in America for another year, until he was recalled, being replaced by General Howe. The couple were reunited in London, but were now completely estranged. Gage was considered a failure for his performance in America, and his health soon declined. He died in 1787. His wife remained in England for the remainder of her long life, dying there - nearly thirty-seven years after her husband - at the age of ninety.

The thirty-seven year old sitter is dressed in a vaguely Turkish costume of the sort very popular for portraits of the time. (I've discussed the Turkish vogue a bit in my posts about the artist Liotard - and here.) The drapery is perfect, and I love the way the pattern of the pearls decorating her turban-like headdress and sleeve is continued in the sofa's nailhead trim. The painting shows Copley at the height of his powers; the cool, high contrast lighting and precision of line are exemplary of his "American period". From a family of Royalists, in 1774 he left for England. Soon followed by his family, he would spend the rest of his life there. Most feel his work began to deteriorate after this point.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Anita Louise as Titania in Max Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Warner Brothers, 1935


Anita Louise (9 January 1915, New York City – 25 April 1970, West Los Angeles), American film actress best known for her performances in A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Story of Louis Pasteur, Anthony Adverse, and Marie Antoinette. She made her acting debut on Broadway at the age of six, and later worked steadily in Hollywood, frequently on prestige pictures. But as the Thirties wore on she was increasingly cast in supporting roles, and by the 1940s began to make fewer film appearances. With the advent of television, her career picked up again; one of her best known roles was as the mother on My Friend Flicka. Married to film producer Buddy Adler from 1940 until his death, she was also known as one of Hollywood's great hostesses. After Adler's death, she married again but died of a stroke at the age of fifty-five.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragón, 9th Duke of Medinaceli, by Jacob Ferdinand Voet, circa 1684

Luis Francisco de la Cerda y Aragón, 9th duque de Medinaceli (2 August 1660, El Puerto de Santa María - 26 January 1711, Pamplona), Spanish noble and politician, eldest son of Valido Don Juan Francisco de la Cerda and Doña Catalina de Aragón Folc de Cardona y Córdoba. From his father he inherited the dukedoms of Medinaceli and of Alcalá de los Gazules, along with the marquisates of Cogolludo, of Tarifa, and of Alcalá de la Alameda. From his mother he inherited the dukedoms of Segorbe, of Cardona, of Lerma, and the maquisates of Denia, of Comares, and of Pallars. Moreover twice a Grandee of Spain, he was one of the most important Spanish aristocrats of his time.

During the reign of King Charles II of Spain he served in Italy, being ambassador to the Holy See of Pope Innocent XII, and in 1684 he was made Viceroy and Captain General of Naples; this portrait was likely painted in commemoration of that appointment. He was twenty-four.

From 1699 he was a member of the Spanish Council of State. And when Charles II died his successor, King Philip V, appointed the Duke of Medinaceli Prime Minister of Spain at the beginning of the War of Spanish Succession. More and more opposed to the strong French influence at the Spanish Court, in 1710 he leaked a secret plan to the English about efforts being made to conclude a separate peace between France and the Dutch Republic. For this, he was incarcerated in the Alcázar of Segovia and later transferred to the castle of Pamplona, where he died a prisoner the next year. He was fifty years old.

In 1678, at the age of eighteen, he had married María de las Nieves Girón y Sandoval, daughter of Gaspar Téllez-Girón, 5th Duke de Osuna; she survived him. Their only child had died at the age of three, and at the Duke's death all of his titles were inherited by his nephew, Nicolás Fernández de Córdoba, son of his sister, Feliche María de la Cerda y Aragón. Today, the 19th Duke and head of the house of Medinaceli is Marco de Hohenlohe-Langeburg y Medina, born in 1962, grandson of the 18th Duchess and son of Prince Maximilian von Hohenlohe-Langenburg; a relatively rare mingling of German and Spanish princely blood.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Portrait of an Unknown Lady, by an unknown artist, probably Italian, circa late 1780s

A very fashionably dressed woman of indeterminate age sits at a table on which rests a cabinet filled with casts of ancient carved gems. In one had she holds a magnifying glass, and in the other a framed cast. Castings of intaglio carved gems were often collected along with (or instead of) the actual antique - and often very costly - engraved stones. For the student of the art form, they had the advantage of bringing out detail difficult to see in the original, and were often duplicated in sets. The rolled sheets of music and the paintbrush may also be allusions to the lady's other very cultured pursuits.

Like so many paintings of unknown sitters by unknown artists, this one finds much of its charm in a delicate balance of awkwardness and refinement. She's not a pretty woman or, at least in the pose the painter gave her, very graceful. But she's elegantly dressed and well-groomed. And she chose to have the symbols of her scholarly interests included in her portrait; posterity may not know her name, but we know a good deal about her, nonetheless.

The lace and ribbon and embroidery are beautifully described, while the ostrich feathers are quite naïvely done.
A fragment of text - Quell' occhietto lang[uido] non mi (that languid little eye, not to me) - is discernible on the scrolled music.
The flat gold rings of the chain from which the portrait miniature is suspended are exquisitely realized.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The male artist and self-observation - a selection of images

David Wilkie (1785-1841), circa 1804-5.
Boris Kustodiev (1878-1927,1910.
John Luke (1906-1975), 1928.
Alexander Bogdanovich Willewalde (1857-after 1906), 1888.
Kazimierz Pochwalski (1855-1940), 1895.
Jean-Augustin Franquelin (1798-1839, 1820.
Detail of above.
Gilbert Mason (1913-1972), date unknown.
Eduard Daege (1805-1883), date unknown (circa 1820-30s).
Maarten van Heemskerck (1498-1574), circa 1550.
Robert Hannaford (born 1944), 1981.
Léon Bonnat (1833-1922), 1855.
Jan Lievens (1607-1674), circa 1629-30.
Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931), 1892.
Theodor Kern (1900-1969), circa 1920s.
Carl Joseph Begas (1794-1854), 1820.
Rolf Armstrong (1889-1960), 1914.
José (of Josep) Benlliure y Gil (1858-1937), 1914.
Scipione Pulzone (circa 1550-1598), 1574.
Pierre van Hanselaere (1786-1862), 1817.
Xavier Robles de Medina (born 1990), 2014.
Same as above,