Enfilade

New Book | The Sovereign Artist: Charles Le Brun

Posted in books by Editor on March 25, 2017

From Paul Holberton:

Wolf Burchard, The Sovereign Artist: Charles Le Brun and the Image of Louis XIV (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2017), 288 pages, ISBN: 978  19113  00052, £40.

The first monograph to examine the wide artistic production of Louis XIV’s most prolific and powerful artist, Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), illustrating not only his paintings but the magnificence of the interiors and decorative works of art produced according to his designs. Revealing Le Brun’s extraordinary versatility and exploring his work at the Academy, the Gobelins and Savonnerie manufactories, and the royal building sites of the Louvre and Versailles,  it is also the first book to explore in depth his artistic relationship to the Sun King.

In his joint capacities of Premier peintre du roi, director of the Gobelins manufactory and rector of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Le Brun exercised a previously unprecedented influence on the production of the visual arts—so much so that some scholars have repeatedly described him as ‘dictator’ of the arts in France. The Sovereign Artist explores how Le Brun operated in his diverse fields of activities, linking and juxtaposing his portraiture, history painting and pictorial theory with his designs for architecture, tapestries, carpets and furniture. It argues that Le Brun sought to create a repeatable and easily recognizable visual language associated with Louis XIV, in order to translate the king’s political claims for absolute power into a visual form. How he did this is discussed through a series of individual case studies ranging from Le Brun’s lost equestrian portrait of Louis XIV, and his involvement in the Querelle du coloris at the Académie, to his scheme for 93 Savonnerie carpets for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre, his Histoire du roy tapestry series, his decoration of the now destroyed Escalier des Ambassadeurs at Versailles.

One key theme is the relation between the unity of the visual arts, to which Le Brun aspired, and the strong hierarchical distinctions he made between the liberal arts and the mechanical crafts: while his lectures at the Académie advocated a visual and conceptual unity in painting and architecture, they were also a means by which he attempted to secure the newly gained status of painting as a liberal art, and therefore to distinguish it from the mechanical crafts which he oversaw the production of at the Gobelins manufactories. His artistic and architectural aspirations were comparable to those of his Roman contemporary Gianlorenzo Bernini, summoned to Paris in 1665 to design the Louvre’s East façade and to create a portrait bust of Louis XIV. Bernini’s failure to convince the king and Colbert of his architectural scheme offered new opportunities for Le Brun and his French contemporaries to prove themselves capable of solving the architectural problems of the Louvre and to transform it into a palace appropriate “to the grandeur and the magnificence of the prince who [was] to inhabit it” (Jean-Baptiste Colbert to Nicolas Poussin in 1664). The comparison between Le Brun and Bernini, made in the book, not only illustrates how France sought artistic supremacy over Italy during the second half of the 17th century, but further helps to demonstrate how Le Brun himself wanted to be perceived: beyond acting as a translator of the king’s artistic ambition, the artist appears to have sought his own sovereign authority over the visual arts.

Wolf Burchard is an art and architectural historian. He is the National Trust’s Furniture Research Curator and was formerly Curatorial Assistant at the Royal Collection Trust.

Exhibition | The Tweeddales: Power, Politics and Portraits

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 25, 2017

Attributed to Sir John Baptiste de Medina, The Family of John Hay, 1st Marquess Tweeddale, Lord High Chancellor of Scotland, ca. 1695, oil on canvas, 141 × 184 cm (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, purchased with the aid of the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund 1999).

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Now on view at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery:

The Tweeddales: Power, Politics and Portraits
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 23 April 2016 — 28 May 2017

Wealthy, influential, and politically savvy the Tweeddale family was at the heart of Scottish society in the second half of the seventeenth century. At the head of the family was John Hay (1626–1697), 2nd Earl and later 1st Marquess of Tweeddale. His marriage to Lady Jean Scott (1629–1688), second daughter of the Borders landowner Walter Scott, 1st Earl of Buccleuch, brought him wealth, opportunity, and a large family—the couple had several children. Members of the Tweeddale dynasty married into some of the noblest families in Scotland and England.

While several members of the Tweeddale family are acknowledged for their contribution to politics, the military, and for their strategic marriage matches, their role as patrons of the arts and architecture is often overlooked. The family were enthusiastic art collectors who commissioned portraits and landscapes by established and little-known artists, particularly those of Dutch, Flemish, and German origin including Sir Anthony van Dyck, Sir Peter Lely, Gerard Soest, and Sir John Baptiste de Medina. Paintings by each these artists feature in the exhibition. The highlight of the exhibition is the fascinating group portrait of the Marquess and his family, attributed to the Flemish artist Sir John Baptiste de Medina, which was painted around 1695.