Friday, August 19, 2016

European Paintings from the 18th century

Louis Michel Van Loo
Diana in a Landscape
1739
Prado

Louis Jean François Lagrenée
Mercury with Herse and Aglaura
1767
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

An 18th-century story 

Among the bastard children of Louis XV, the son of Mademoiselle de Romans was privileged to have an allusive name. On a certain December day, the king dispatched from Versailles one of his rare personal notes, which has since passed through the hands of many collectors: "I was well aware, ma grande, that when you left, you had something in your head, but I could not guess exactly what it was. I do not want our son to be given my name on the baptismal certificate, but neither do I wish to make it impossible for me to acknowledge him in a few years' time, if it pleases me to do so. I should like, therefore, for the certificate to show the child's name as Louis Aimé or Louise Aimée, son or daughter of Louis le Roy or of Louis Bourbon, whichever you prefer ... I also want the godfather and the godmother to be poor folk, or servants; other sorts of people will not be considered."

"Ma grande" Louis XV called her, because in Mademoiselle de Romans (according to the penetrating eye of Sophie Arnould) "nature, abandoning her own rules of good taste, had amused herself by creating a great exaggeration. Mademoiselle de Romans was well made, and everything about her was perfectly proportioned, but that perfection was colossal ... Next to her the king himself, though a very handsome man, looked like a shcoolboy or a half-king." Too often Louis XV went to visit her in Passy, and too often he sent a carriage with six horses to fetch her. Choiseul was beginning to worry about the possible political consequences, and Madame de Pompadour was alarmed. Only the Maréchale de Mirepoix could find words to reassure her: "I am not going to tell you that he loves you more than her; and if at the wave of a magic wand she were transported here and dined with us this evening and all were aware of her tastes, perhaps you would have some cause for worry. But princes are, first of all, men of habit. The king's affection for you is the same that he has for your private rooms, for all that surrounds you. You are suited to his ways; you know all about him. He never feels any embarrassment with you, is never afraid of boring you. How could he have the courage to uproot all this in a single day, to rearrange his life so thoroughly, and make a public spectacle of himself by altering the décor to such an extent?" But fear was mingled with curiosity: after the bastard's birth, it was said that Mademoiselle de Romans went to the Bois de Boulogne covered in lace, with the infant in a wicker basket, and nursed him there, sitting by a secluded path. One day Madame de Pompadour, making the faithful Madame du Hausset walk ahead of her and concealing her own face with her bonnet and with a handkerchief she held to her mouth, pretended to be casually strolling along that path in the Bois. Mademoiselle de Romans was nursing the baby; she had drawn back her jet-black hair and fastened it with a diamond-studded comb. Madame de Hausset approached and said, "'What a pretty child!' 'Yes,' she replied, 'I can say so myself, though I am the mother.'  Madame de Pompadour, who was clinging to my arm, trembled, and I did not feel very sure of myself. Mademoiselle de Romans asked me, 'Do you live nearby?' 'Yes, Madame,' I answered. 'I live in Auteuil with this lady, who at the moment has a terrible toothache.' 'Ah, I feel very sorry for her; it's an ailment that I, too, have often suffered.'"

The king soon grew weary. His archers came to take away the child, who was to be raised far from his mother. There were many letters, querulous and insinuating, from the mistress fallen out of favor. But at Versailles, long before Hollywood, Busby Berkeley's maxim was à propos: "There's no comeback for a has-been." All the mother could do was await the son's future: when Louis XV died, she sent the new king her son's baptismal certificate  and the fourteen-year-old Abbé de Bourbon was received at Court. His figure reminded many of the slender and well-proportioned physique of Louix XV. While waiting for appointment to some rich abbey, the bastard was sent to Rome to Cardinal de Bernis, the last of the four great cardinals who for a time had governed France. Now, in his palace on the Corso, he welcomed French nobelmen. He lodged the Abbé de Bourbon with attentiveness, with affection, with that "mixture of geniality, refinement, nobility, and simplicity" which made Madame de Genlis declare him "the most agreeable man I have ever known." But in Paris they had already begun to forget the young abbot of royal blood. There was no further talk of abbeys  and they neglected to send him money. He wandered around Italy. Bernis, his last patron, complained, "He is the Wandering Jew. It pains me to see a man with such a name roaming idly from one Italian inn to another. Either he should have been forbidden to bear an illustrious name or that name should be respected in his person. I confess that in this matter, as in some others, my ideas are somewhat old-fashioned; but then, I myself am old-fashioned." The Abbé de Bourbon died in Naples, of chicken pox, during his aimless wanderings."

 from The Ruin of Kasch by Roberto Calasso, published in Italian in 1983, translated into English by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli and published by Harvard University Press in 1994

Angelica Kauffman
Portrait of the Earl and Countess of Derby with their Son
ca. 1776
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Giuseppe Traversi
St Margaret of Cortona speaking with an Angel
1758
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Isaac de Moucheron
Garden Terrace
early 18th century
British Museum

Isaac de Moucheron
Garden Terrace
early 18th century
British Museum

Charles Louis Clérisseau
Temple of Diana at Baia
18th century
Morgan Library, New York

Thomas Frye
Girl building a house of cards
ca. 1750
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Thomas Lawrence
Portrait of Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby
1790
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg
Landscape
late 18th century
Prado

Gaetano Gandolfi
Head of a Bishop
ca. 1770
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jean-Baptiste Greuze
Study Head of a Woman
ca. 1780
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jacopo Amigoni
The Cup in Benjamin's Sack
ca. 1749
Prado

Jacopo Amigoni
Jael and Sisera
ca. 1739
Ca'Rezzonico, Venice