Grand Peintre du Grand Siècle
Charles Le Brun
1619 Paris 1690
First Painter to King Louis XIV
24 February 2019
As just 19-year-old 1638raised by public proclamation to Painter of His Majesty Louis XIII, the great Poussin, adored as model by the young man, uttered with presentiment on occasion of three works of his shown to him anonymously “If they were done by a young man, he will take his place among the great painters one of these days”.
Nicolas Poussin, whose style and technique he studied on occasion of a common 3-years stay in Italy, was the only authority accepted by him as artistically superior. Both finally celebrities on own field. That convinced Italian, heroic landscapist, this on a most widely fanned out field of art Paris hub and artistic authority pure and simple, the pope of his country’s great century and its Sun King grown into a “world-historical power part” (Weigand), the latter remained obliged to him in also personal interest till the end. With enormous diligence and great care in research. Ready and competent to meet in his person standards which to come up to it would have taken several otherwise. Means: great in thinking & doing. Furnished with the attraction of a magnet.
So banker Everhard Jabach II, hailing from Cologne and domiciled in Paris since 1638 and still in 1691 one of the “fort banquiers” there, insatiable collector-nimrod afflicted foremost from his father’s line, however, and himself afflicting for generations on, who in London 1650 on the sale of the art bequest of the executed Charles I routed whole royal dynasties to secure once and for all all works of Le Brun’s. Which were there, and which yet should come. And offered him just for the pure right to purchase 20 pistols (gold coin with a value of according to Meyer 1889 15.50 Mark) per day at complete freedom of creation. But Le Brun declined. “Fate had other things in store for the great master.” At least he painted, beside van Dyck, the family picture of the pester in even two versions, however not without adding his own portrait prominently in a mirror. “A first-rate work of art however is the much admired large family painting by the hand of Ch. Lebrun” (ADB XIII, 522), of which the great travelers up to Goethe thought of and which was sold at the 1836 sale to the Royal Museum Berlin and 1945 destroyed. The second version had come to England already 1791/94 and finally in 2014 was acquired by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
More fortunate however was – at first – the no less extravagant Minister of Finance, Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680). He dreamt of a new residence in Vaux near Melun. And he dreamt big. Too big also for just a First Painter. Required was competence for a Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of the arts pure and simple. A superintendence from the works of art through the gardens up to the festivities. And there was only one. Le Brun was “the perfect artist to create all of these glorious and triumphant works”. With a performance compensated for in gold. Aside from “a luxurious apartment for (him) and his wife … a generous pension of 12,000 pounds in addition to regular payments for each work that he produced. Fouquet assigned him the task of decorating the Château Vaux-Le-Vicomte.” The opening gala in honor of Louis XIV August 17, 1661, was princely. Orchestrated by Le Brun. Closing with “a dazzling exhibition of fireworks (drawing) interlaced L’s for Louis in the night sky”. That was too much for this. Too royal, and what is more, even too expensive for this presently, who had started to rule himself only with Mazarin’s death March 9 that year. Only Queen Mother Anna, infanta of Austria, prevented Fouquet’s arrest yet the same night. For it would be “incorrect for a guest to arrest his host in his own home”. Louis made good some weeks later by the accusation of embezzlement and treacherous intentions alleged by Colbert. The insolent building owner died 19 years later in his cell in Pignerol. – Contrary to Gareau Weigand, too, (this by the way with 1686 as Fouquet’s year of death) Meyer VI (1889), 469, sees the occasion less prosaic, rather the visit should have lulled the suspected into a false sense of security. At any rate the former defended himself “with extraordinary skill and knew to present himself as ‘booty of Mr. Colbert’” (Weigand 56).
“ Ironically it was at Vaux that Louis XIV first became aware of Le Brun’s incredible genius. After Fouquet’s arrest (Posner: perhaps already before this?), the king immediately took Le Brun into his own exclusive service. Le Brun had already laid the groundwork for the style that would become the inspiration for the future palace of the Sun King at Versailles, the style we know today as Louis XIV … It was the great century of art ”
(Michel Gareau, Charles Le Brun. First Painter to King Louis XIV , p. 30).
Represented by Molière, who had contributed a piece to the gala at Vaux, Racine, Lafontaine, who immortalized Le Brun’s Vaux orchestration, Corneille, and – exactly Le Brun. The latter since 1661 in the function of First Painter, since 1664 also officially and already in December 1662 ennobled by Louis XIV:
“ We wished to bestow on Sieur LeBrun, our First Painter, a mark of the esteem that we hold for him and for the excellence of his works, which, it is universally acknowledged, outshine those of the famous painters of the last centuries. ”
“ Between 1662 and 1668 Le Brun rose to the pinnacle of his glory … It was during this period that he (at the royal suggestion at Fontainebleau in 1661) dedicated a series of works to the history of Alexander the Great, and he did not miss the opportunity to make a stronger connection between the magnificence of Alexander and that of the great King … ‘In all of Le Brun’s works, there is none more vast or more expressive.’ It is in The Battles that we see the purest expression of Le Brun’s own style ”
(so in 1992 once more Michel Gareau).
Painted on five gigantic canvasses of 177⅛-185 × 278⅜-498 in (4) and 117⅜ × 178⅜ in resp. (4.50-4.70 × 7.07-12.65 meter and 2.98 × 4.53 meter resp.) each, with their 27⅜-28⅜ × 35½-62⅝ in (69.5-72 × 90.2-159.2 cm) the etchings done by Girard Audran (Lyon 1640 – Paris 1703; 4) & Gerard Edelinck (Antwerp 1640 – Paris 1707) from 1672/78 (Audran) & c. 1671 for the Cabinet du Roi tomes awarded primarily as royal dedication copies are no less grandiose
“ masterpieces of the chisel ”
(Christian Ludwig Hagedorn, Betrachtungen über die Mahlerey, 1762) and “in any impressions exceedingly rare” (p. 597).
Printed in the Royal Library by Jean Goyton (1629 – Paris 1714), the Cabinet volumes bore the arms supralibros of Louis XIV on both boards.
Here present, however, in ruby cow-hide design binding over wooden boards with Bourbon fleurs-de-lis in the corners of both boards, title stamp on the front board and large ligated RS monogram of the Red Series here on the back board:
The arms supralibros of Louis XIV on the Cabinet binding traded here
The signet of the Red Series by lüder h. niemeyer
(or The Battles or The Histories)
of Alexander the Great
Set of the 5 (3 folded) sheet (27⅜-28⅜ × 35⅝-62¾ in [69.6-72 × 90.4-159.3 cm] on guards) printed from 15 (not 16!) plates & joined in etching with engraving by Girard Audran (4) & Gerard Edelinck. Paris 1672/78 (Audran) & c. 1671. Imperial folio (30¾ × 21½ in [78 × 54.5 cm]). Copy-specific 2 leaves black stamped text & contents, 1 white leaf.
Ruby cow-hide design binding over wooden boards
with 4 ornamental raised bands enclosed by lines ,
spread over lines on the covers
with 4 large Bourbon fleurs-de-lis in each the corners ,
two-piece artist & title stamp on the front and
large ligated R(oi)S(oleil) monogram
as together also brand of the Red Series here as centerpiece on the back cover, black back-plates, brown inner covers & fly-leaves, the front inner cover & fly-leaf of which
with text and title resp.
Inner cover & fly-leaf front
Fly-leaf & inner cover back
accompanied by Bourbon fleur-de-lis ,
red series and niemeyer fine arts resp. on the inner covers’ lower edge as well as JayAitchDesign on the lower edge of the back cover, all gilt tooled in 23.5 carat in English.
with the name of the royal printer Goyton
on all five sheets and that of Audran with exception of the final sheet of 1678
with still “Pintre” instead of “Peintre” .
And all this in correspondingly
uniform wonderful , still blackening quality of impression
of vibrant chiaroscuro
at simultaneously practically greatest freshness ,
and surrounding margins of 2.2-4 cm for above & below and 3-11 cm for the sides
as noted exactly in detail in each case below. The lateral margins of the three large-sized sheets thus most generously, that is with 6 and 9-11 cm resp. downright spectacular.
On heavy laid paper with watermark J. Cusson (Auvergne, Thiers?), provable since the mid-17th century (“Nicolson, Cusson, Vimal, etc. … made sheets in very large sizes”, Carlo James, 1997), in combination with his little blossom close to Heawood 3295 (Paris, 17th century?) with the question mark already being done by the referred to Beaulieu sheets dating from since 1643. See also the referable Cusson pendant with heart instead of blossom with the van de Velde drawings in London & Rotterdam (each watermark 61 in Robinson) for partially ascertained events of 1673 (so London nos. 412/13). Otherwise with fleur-de-lis combination Heawood 3291/94 dating from the 18th century.
Beyond two stains, not impairing the pictorial effect by any means, only quite isolated tiny dirties of 340 years of age which to name pedantically would be downright impertinent in view of a really dreamlike general state.
The binding – on folds for plain comfortable display – follows the historic sequence. In parentheses Le Brun’s respective period of the painting’s creation as per Posner, not Gareau, and their sizes as well as the latter’s separate descriptions accompanied by splendid color illustrations of the oils.
Lyon 1640 – Paris 1703
“He who attacks first will terrify the enemy”
The Passage of the Granicus
May 334 B.C.
The First Major Battle of the Alexander Campaign
1672 – 4 sheet on 3 plates in the same direction – 28⅛-28¼ × 55⅛ in (71.5-71.7 × 139.9 cm)
edition identifier: 700 impressions
margins: above & below 25-3.5 cm, sides 6 cm
(1662/65 – 185 × 476 in [4.70 × 12.09 m] – G. pp. 208-213)
1674 – Printed from 4 plates in the same direction – 28⅛-28⅜ × 62⅝ in (71.3-72 × 159.2 cm)
edition identifier: 700 impressions
margins: above & below 2.3-2.5 cm, left 9 cm, right 11 cm
(C. 1666/68 – 185 × 498 in [4.70 × 12.65 m] – G. pp. 214-219)
The World Conqueror
receives the Homage of the Ancient City
Alexander’s Entry into Babylon
Fall 331 B.C.
1675 – Printed from 2 plates in reverse – 28 × 36½ in (71.2 × 92.7 cm)
edition identifier: 800 impressions
margins: above & below 2.3-3.5 cm, left 5 cm, right 3 cm
(1662/65 – 177⅛ × 278⅜ in [4.50 × 7.07 m] – G. pp. 202-207)
1678 – Printed from 4 plates in the same direction – 28-28⅛ × 62¾ in (71-71.3 × 159.3 cm)
edition identifier: 800 impressions
margins: above & below 2.2-4 cm, sides 10-11 cm
(C. 1666/68 – 185 × 497⅝ in [4.70 × 12.64 m] – G. pp. 220-225)
Antwerp 1640 – Paris 1707
C. 1671 – Printed from 2 plates in reverse – 28⅜ × 35⅝ in (69.6 × 90.4 cm)
edition identifier: 900 impressions
margins: above & below 3.7-4 cm, left 7 cm, right 3.5 cm
(1661/62 – 117⅜ × 178⅜ in [2.98 × 4.53 m] – G. pp. 196-201)
This then the authorized grandiose edition of engravings
at request of Louis XIV of
Le Brun’s gigantic cycle of paintings
on canvasses between 2.98-4.7 × 4.53-12.65 m (sic!)
(117⅜-185 × 178⅜-498 in) from the years 1661-1668 as one of those immortalizations of Louis XIV for which for his 1st minister Colbert “no expense was too large when the fame, la gloire, of the king was in question”. Here then the Sun King in the assumed character of “Alexander the Great as Master of the Battles”. So then also in the present case
“ the final consensus was
that no one other than Le Brun
could have created The Battles ”.
As in turn it was Le Brun’s belief that no one other than Audran (and Edelinck) would be able to master the absolute reproduction in copper.
“ L.s bearing is not limited to his performance as ingenious decorator and ‘grand peintre du grand siècle’, but also rests in the universal personality ruling and determining all fields of the arts and crafts, to which the art of that epoch imparts its grandiose homogeneousness and downright stamps L. as the creator of the style Louis XIV ”
And prior Jean-Jacques Olier de Verneuil (1608-1657; founder of the Society of Saint-Sulpice with the still existing seminary, laid 1649 the foundation-stone for Église Saint-Sulpice), admiring the progress of his order:
“ Sir ,
you are truly fortunate ,
to be able to wield your brush
to produce such a beautiful expression of the glories of Heaven. ”
Rendered here in stamping in the preliminaries.
Offer no. 15,272 / price on application
“ The prints arrived today in great condition! I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. Thank you so much for working with me … ”
(Mr. M. C., September 25, 2014)