A Portrait of Benedict XIV by Subleyras joins the Met

1. Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749)
Benedict XIV, 1746
Oil on canvas - 64.5 x 49 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Sotheby’s

22/3/09 – Acquisition – New York, Metropolitan Museum – The Metropolitan Museum has just acquired a work by this major French painter active in Rome during the first half of the 18th century and rediscovered by the public thanks to the exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris in 1987. This Portrait of Benedict XIV (ill. 1) came up for auction at Sotheby’s New York last 29 January. According to the New York Magazine, the Metropolitan did not yet have the needed amount and reached an agreement with the art dealer Adam Williams (the painting sold for $986.500 including charges).

Benedict XIV, pope from 1740 to 1758, was especially interested in the arts. Following his election, he commissioned a portrait from Subleyras showing him giving a blessing, seated in three-quarter profile. There are several known replicas of this painting, the first being the one at the Musée Condé in Chantilly. In France, Versailles holds another version (ill. 2).
Unlike the official portrait, the one recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, dating from 1746, is face on, much more understated, depicting the sovereign pontiff in a less solemn manner and acutely psychological. Another version, in pastel, can be found at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich [1].

2. Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749)
Benedict XIV, 1740-1741
Oil on canvas - 133 x 96 cm
Versailles, Musée national du château
Photo : Wikipedia

This purchase comes two years after that in December 2006 of a Mass of Saint Basil, the first painting by Pierre Subleyras to enter the Metropolitan Museum (see news item of 9/3/08). After buying the Baptism of Christ by Jacopo Bassano and a bronze by Riccio (see news item of 1/3/09), despite the economic hardship resulting from the current financial crisis which has seriously affected American museums, this New York establishment continues to pursue, under the guidance of its newly appointed director Thomas Campbell, the discriminating acquisitions policy initiated by Philippe de Montebello. Subleyras is now well represented at the Metropolitan, with a religious painting and a portrait, the two genres where he most excelled.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 29 mars 2009


[1] Catalogue of the exhibition Pierre Subleyras, Paris, 1987, p. 252, fig. 15.

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