A Claude Vignon painting acquired by the Louvre

Claude Vignon (1593-1670)
Saint Catherine Being Forced
To Adore the Idols

Oil on canvas - 147.5 x 210.5 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre

29/01/2008 — Acquisition — Paris, Musee du Louvre — The Paintings Department has just acquired a work that appeared at the last Maastricht Art Fair from a French art dealer.

This beautiful Claude Vignon was unpublished, or rather was known only from archive references and thought to be lost [1]. In her monographic study on the artist [2], Paola Pacht Bassani catalogues it under the number MC73 : . Despite its “considerable” size, “it was executed in twenty-four hours after a bet with a friend who was a silversmith”. The painting met with immediate success as stated by Guillet de Saint-Georges : “…All of Paris went to admire the painting, which earned M. Vignon the nickname of the betting painter.” The last time the work was listed was in 1703 in the inventory drawn up after the death of Vignon’s son.

It is easy to understand why his contemporaries admired the canvas so much : although the artist worked rapidly, he produced a brilliant work of outstanding quality. We know — and the 1993-1994 retrospective proved it — that Claude Vignon was capable of executing great but also mediocre works, probably due to the frequent contributions of his workshop and the speed of his production. This painting, which he must have done entirely on his own because of the bet, shows that the artist had the talent and ease that might qualify him as the French “Fa presto”.

The Louvre was still lacking a Vignon canvas of this style. The Young Singer of the Roman period is a typical Caravaggesque work, as is The Death of Saint Anthony, although the second, with an uncertain date, shows more of an influence by Orazio Borgiani ; Solomon and the Queen of Sheba reflects a late Mannerist style, and The Death of Seneca takes up again, after the painter had settled in Paris for quite some time, a Caravaggesque tone.
Paola Pacht Bassani [3] dates it from 1623, that is shortly after Vignon’s return to Paris. Saint Catherine Refusing To Adore the Idols, with an obvious Venetian influence, is the equivalent of Roman Baroque painting at that time. Vignon is much more modern here than he is later on at the end of his life when he persists in an outmoded Mannerist vein.

Version française

Didier Rykner, mardi 29 janvier 2008


[1] There is a possibility that this could be a reference to another painting but that seems remote. The dimensions were of 5 feet by 6 feet, that is very close to the ones of the work acquired by the Louvre which is of 4 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 6 inches. Measurements were often approximate or rounded off.

[2] Paola Pacht Bassani, Claude Vignon 1593-1670, Editions Arthena, Paris, 1992. The work also served as a catalogue for the exhibition which took place in Tours, Arras and Toulouse from December 1993 to September 1994.

[3] Statement made by Paola Bassani in speaking with Sylvain Laveissiere who was kind enough to share it with us.

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