Let’s continue our walk by tackling the Renaissance. At that time, Burgundy, which became a province of the kingdom of France again in 1477, was undeniably no longer a major centre of creation. Nevertheless, it remained an active centre, influenced on the one hand by Italy and on the other by the schools of the North and by Dürer. Moreover, many of the artists active in Burgundy in the 16th century came from Flanders or the Netherlands. This is the case of Grégoire Guérard, who comes from Holland. His « Arrest of Christ » takes up part of the composition of an engraving by Dürer. His painting is quite typical of the Burgundian production of the time with its very geometrical composition, its luxury of detail and a luminous chromaticism.
Burgundian artists are also present in the field of sculpture, as can be seen in the transi from Cîteaux Abbey. It is representative of a realist current in the representation of death which was expressed during this period marked by epidemics and conflicts. These representations of corpses were spread both on tombs and in cemeteries. Here, the emaciated skeleton was certainly brandishing the arrow that threatens us all with death and holding, in the other hand, a shield with an inscription inviting us to reflect on our inescapable destiny. This sculpture can be related to another, very similar, sculpture that decorated the cemetery of the Innocents in Paris.
In the field of decorative arts, Burgundy is dominated by the figure of Hugues Sambin, a complete man, at once carpenter, architect, sculptor and engineer, who found his inspiration in the Italian models he saw on the construction site of the Château de Fontainebleau in 1544. In this fan-shaped table (named after the shape of its base), the figures of winged chimeras circling an eagle are typical of his style, with their high and prominent chests and their necks dressed in a napkin.
The art of Fontainebleau is represented by the painting of the « Lady with her toilette » whose eroticism and precious elegance are emblematic of the French Renaissance. The feminine figure possesses the canons of beauty in vogue at the time: low waist, regular face, high chest, small mouth… More than a simple portrait, the work seems to have a symbolic or moral significance.
The French Renaissance is also represented by the beautiful treasure door of the Abbey of Saint-Bertin. The two shutters served as the door to a cupboard in the sacristy of the abbey of Saint-Omer in the north of France. They represent the life of Saint Bertin as well as the history of the foundation of the abbey.
Apart from French production, the museum presents mainly Italian and even Venetian works.
Veronese’s unmistakable figure is present with a work from the end of the artist’s career, « Moses saved from the waters ». The sacred subject is a pretext for the Venetian worldly evocation.
His contemporary, Jacopo Bassano, renews the iconography of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian by placing the scene in a Venetian palace. The body of the saint is not idealised. On the contrary, the artist seeks an anatomical truth in the young man’s stocky body. His boldly off-centre composition contributes, with the light projected on the saint, to making the scene more dramatic.
Finally, a beautiful portrait by Lorenzo Lotto concludes our Renaissance journey. His « Portrait of a woman » is both very realistic and, at the same time, very hieratic and of great rigour. Another panel, kept in Washington, representing an allegory of Chastity, formed like a cover by sliding over the frame of the painting. It probably served as protection and above all to inform about the virtues of the model.
At the beginning of the 17th century, the Mannerist style, which had triumphed in France with the School of Fontainebleau, began to run out of steam. It was from abroad that the novelty was to come, and notably from Rome, where many young artists went at that time. It was at this time that Philippe de Champaigne, originally from Brussels, arrived in Paris. There he received his first official commission in 1629 for a series of six paintings for the Carmelite church in the Faubourg Saint-Jacques. The « Presentation at the Temple » is one of the paintings in this cycle. The painter developed a new style of rigour and balance. The figures are presented in frieze, practically all aligned in the foreground, which will be typical of French classicism. At the same time, the grandiose décor shows Philippe de Champaigne’s interest in Baroque art.
For his part, the Burgundian François Perrier develops an original style with brilliant chromaticism, while looking towards the baroque with slightly theatrical stagings. « Le sacrifice d’Iphigénie » was intended to adorn the top of a fireplace. The theme of Iphigenia’s sacrifice was widespread for this type of decoration because the fire lit and the smoke reflected the reality of the chimney fire.
The reign of Louis XIII saw a multiplication of provincial workshops, notably in Nancy, residence of the Dukes of Lorraine and a flourishing town, which encouraged the development of talented artists, including Georges de La Tour. The subject of the « Souffleur à la lampe » (Blower at the Lamp) was quite common at the time. It favoured striking chiaroscuro effects. Emerging from the darkness, the child’s face is lit only by the glow of a firebrand. This luminous effect accentuates the deformation of the face and the geometry of the volumes.
At the time of the Counter-Reformation, Dijon again experienced an artistic boom thanks to numerous commissions from various religious communities. The painter Philippe Quantin was extremely productive and worked mainly for the convents and churches of Dijon. The figure of « Saint Bernard writing » expresses well his taste for sobriety and monumental figures. We also find in his work lighting from Caravaggio, with a violent light, the source of which cannot be seen.
Another important painter, Jean Tassel, divides his time between his home town, Langres, and Dijon. He too is a very prolific painter, working for many convents. It was for the Ursuline convent that he painted the portrait of Catherine de Montholon, of which she was the founder. The layout and the colours are extremely sober, in accordance with the piety of the model.
On the contrary, in « L’Adoration des Mages », from the Dijon seminar, Tassel shows that he can be a refined colourist.
The great French Century also distinguished itself in the field of sculpture, whether for royal building sites or for a provincial town like Dijon. It was the elected representatives of the States of Burgundy who commissioned Antoine Coysevox to create a bust of Louis XIV to decorate the Salle des Etats. Coysevox was then the king’s sculptor in Paris. The model is depicted with a concern for realism, with slightly impastoed features. The influence of the Baroque style is noticeable in the treatment of the clothes and the wig where the movement is perceptible.
In Dijon, the sculptor Jean Dubois is very successful and produces, with his workshop, many sculptures in a baroque spirit. His work also leads him to be an architect and decorator. It was to decorate a series of chimneys in the Palais des Etats de Bourgogne that he made terracotta sketches. The iconographic programme is designed to highlight, through allegories, the personality of Louis XIV, as well as the great moments of his reign.
he museum also offers a fine collection of decorative arts which shows the know-how and excellence of 17th century craftsmen, in particular the Parisian cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle, represented here by a Mazarin desk and a clock. Boulle created a new process that consists of cutting the same motif out of copper and tortoiseshell. He then obtains a first panel, the « part », in copper on a tortoiseshell background (this is the case of our desk) and a second panel, the « counterpart », in tortoiseshell on a copper background.
Collections of foreign paintings give pride of place to Flemish and Dutch works.
Jan Brueghel known as Velvet is the son of the famous Pieter Brueghel the Elder. He is the official court painter of the Dutch governors Albert and Isabella of Habsburg. It was they who commissioned him to paint the « View of Mariemont Castle », which is their country home. The painting has exceptional dimensions for a landscape. The horizon line, placed abnormally high, makes it possible to embrace the entire estate. It is first of all a luxuriant countryside that the artist paints, relegating the castle to the background of the perspective. He combines both a panoramic view and, at the same time, a sense of detail in the depiction of everyday scenes. His palette, full of shades of green and blue, testifies to his great talent as a colourist.
Rubens is present in the collections with a beautiful altarpiece panel depicting « The Virgin presenting the Child Jesus to Saint Francis of Assisi ». It was commissioned by the guild of stonemasons for his chapel in the collegiate church of St. Gommare in Lierre, Belgium. The scene is linked to a vision of St. Francis who had seen the Virgin handing over the Child Jesus to him. The figures are seen in a slight underwater perspective and stand out against a landscape with a tormented sky. As usual, Rubens excelled in his mastery of colour and his monumental characters give great strength to the scene.
Frans Hals, for his part, renews the art of portraiture through the spontaneity of his models’ poses and virtuoso execution with large brushstrokes. Even though it is a work of his youth, the « Portrait of a Gentleman » presented here already bears witness to this very personal way of painting.
In the 18th century, Burgundy remained an active artistic centre, notably thanks to the creation of the School of Drawing in 1766, as we have already seen. For the school, as well as for the creation of a museum, the States of Burgundy had a new wing built, whose historical rooms are included in the museum’s itinerary. The collections also offer reconstructed atmospheres that allow visitors to immerse themselves in 18th century decor.
It is to decorate this room of statues that the States of Burgundy commissioned the painter Prud’hon to paint a large decorative canvas which still adorns the ceiling. They forced the artist to copy the ceiling painted by Pierre de Cortone in the Barberini Palace in Rome in 1633. Prud’hon offers a very free adaptation by retaining only the central part of the Roman ceiling, which he transforms into a glorification of Burgundy and of the Prince de Condé, then governor of the region.
In the field of sculpture, Claude-François Attiret, works a lot for Burgundy. He proves to be a great portraitist, particularly gifted in rendering the expression of physiognomies. His portrait of a young girl, « La chercheuse d’esprit », whose title is taken from a comic opera in fashion at the time, is particularly refined. The artist highlights the girl’s smile, grace and innocence.
In painting, the Dijon-born Jean-François Gilles dit Colson is a prolific portraitist and the author of a famous painting devoted to childhood. « The rest » shows a young girl asleep in a familiar setting, while a drama is played out between a cat and the bird sitting next to her. It can be read, in the second degree, as a symbol of the loss of virginity. The painting has a counterpart, « The Action », showing a young boy firing a cannon, which reinforces this two-way reading.
At the end of the century, painting turned towards neo-classicism. The museum presents a typical painter of the Age of Enlightenment, Leonard Defrance, who was very close to revolutionary ideas. His painting, « A l’égide de Minerve », is a celebration of the Enlightenment and advocates knowledge and tolerance. The subject was inspired by an edict of tolerance promulgated in the Netherlands by Emperor Joseph II, which abrogated Catholicism as the state religion. It shows Catholic and Protestant clergymen shaking hands in front of a bookshop selling books on the philosophy of the Enlightenment. The message is clear….
(To be continued…)