A 17th century Ceiling Drawing Pre-empted by the Louvre

28/3/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - In the now established tradition of events held during the Semaine du Dessin, the département des Arts Graphiques at the Louvre was active this week during the auctions organized in the capital, reflecting also the current art scene by pre-empting last Wednesday three studies for painted ceilings at precisely the same time it is staging a very beautiful exhibition on the subject (see article). The first two sheets, works by Romanelli acquired at Drouot, were discussed two days ago in a news item. At almost the same time, at Christie’s however, the Louvre acquired a beautiful drawing preparing the central compartment of a ceiling, representing The Apotheosis of Romulus (ill. 1).

1. Circle of Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)
The Apotheosis of Romulus
Black chalk, brown lavis, white chalk - 52.5 x 47 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : Christie’s Paris

2. Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)
The Apotheosis of Romulus
White chalk, lead pencil, black chalk, - 47.3 x 66.9 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : RMN-GP/C. Chavan

The work was presented as being "attributed to Charles Le Brun". Precaution is indeed not to being taken lightly when identifying the author. There is no question that the style is close to that of the "premier peintre du roi" who represented the subject on the ceiling of the Grand Salon at the Hôtel Aumont, rue de Jouy, today destroyed (there remain only the arches). The entry in the Christie’s catalogue points out the description made by Nivelon in his Vie de Charles Le Brun and the existence at the Louvre of a very sketchy drawing on the theme (ill. 2). However, a comparison of the three (the description and the two drawings, both now at the Louvre) would appear to indicate that this acquisition is perhaps preparatory for another ceiling. Indeed, the first drawing (ill. 2) - currently on view in the exhibition "Peindre les Cieux" - is much less finished than the one just acquired, but corresponds to Nivelon’s description (four horses, Romulus presenting an object ("small simulacrum in gold") to Jupiter, both figures preceded by a Fame, above them there is a flying Victory, etc.). True, Ganymede Holding the Golden Cup Containing the Nectar of the Gods for the Recently Appointed Deity does not yet appear clearly in this study, but neither is it present in the more finished one pre-empted by the Louvre.
Therefore, these two sheets probably prepare different ceilings since it would appear illogical for what seems to be a first draft to be so similar to the final composition but have a more accomplished drawing which is so different. We thus await the publication of this drawing by the Louvre in order, we hope, to be further enlightened and, why not, discover the name of the artist as well.

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Didier Rykner, vendredi 28 mars 2014

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