A Cretey Painting for the National Collections

Louis Cretey (vers 1630-after 1702)
The Prophetess Deborah Exhorting Barak
to Fight the Armies of Sisara

Oil on Canvas - 104 x 139 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo : D. R.

14/01/12 - Acquisition - France, National Collections - A painting by Louis Cretey (from the Michel Descours collection) has joined the French public collections through acceptance in lieu (ill.). The Ministry of Culture has assigned the canvas to the Louvre which did not previously own any works by the artist. However, there is speculation that the painting will be placed on deposit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, the artist’s hometown, where he had been highlighted in an exhibition last year (see article) [1].

The painting, presented at auction by Chenu, Scrive et Bérard on 19 October 2003 and sold for 78,000 € bore the title then of Mary Magdelene at Christ’s Tomb and had a matching pair in Christ and the Pilgrims at Emmaus. It was presented at the exhibition in Lyon, under a more cautious title, Reclining Woman Talking with a Soldier since, as pointed out by the curator Aude Henry-Gobet, the feminine figure did not show any of Mary Magdalene’s attributes such as the flowing hair, the perfume bottle, or even her woeful aspect, but rather a particularly tranquil air. As for the presence of soldiers, this would be best explained in a subject such as Aeneas and the Sibyl from Cumeae, another canvas by Cretey. Finally, Jean-Christophe Stuccilli has suggested seeing Deborah beneath the Palm Tree Consulted by Barak ; this theme is taken from the Old Testament, in the Book of Judges : "At this time, Deborah, a prophetess married to a certain Lappidoth, was a judge in Israel. She sat under Deborah’s palm tree, between Rama and Bethel, in the mountainous region of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go up to be judged. She called for Barak, the son of Abinoam, a native of Kedesh-Nephtali, and said to him : "The Eternal, the God of Israel, has given you the following order : Go, set out in the direction of Mount Tabor taking ten thousand men from the tribes of Nephtali and Zebulun. I will draw Sisera, the head of Jabin’s army with his chariots and troops to you, at the torrent of Kison, and I will deliver him into your hands." Barak said to Deborah : "If you come with me, I will leave. But if you do not come with me, I will not leave." She answered : "Then I will go with you, but you will find no glory in the path you are undertaking, because the Eternal will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman. Deborah stood up and went to Kedesh with Barak".

This painting sums up all of the characteristics of Cretey’s style, his taste for positioning the figures of the composition in a pyramid, with one seen reclining, a foot barely protruding from the tunic. The effects of the fabrics, the thick and sculptural pleats can be found in many of his other works whereas the rocks with their multicolored reflections and faraway iridescence bring the shadowy landscape to life and represent a leitmotiv in his production. The human figures with a pointed nose and slitted eyes are also part of his imaginary universe. Finally, Cretey often chose a complex iconography : for instance, the Musée des Beaux-Arts owns a mysterious painting entitled Bacchanale, for lack of a better choice, representing a woman nursing a deformed and rather disturbing figure of a child.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, lundi 16 janvier 2012


[1] We were informed of this decision by the Comité des dations but it has not been confirmed by the Louvre whom we asked. We will complete this news item once we find out the museum where the painting will be exhibited.

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