A Benediction Scene from the workshop of Simon Vouet

1. Here ascribed to Michel Dorigny (1617-1665)
Benediction Scene
Oil on canvas - 200 x 150 cm (about)
Droué, church
Photo : M. Weil-Curiel

This painting (ill. 1 and 2) which hangs in the parish church in Droué (Loir-et-Cher, France) was distinguished by the Monuments Historiques in 1947 while ascribed then to Jean Jouvenet, a claim which today seems unfounded [1]. Traditionally it is described as representing Isaac du Raynier Handing Over the Keys to the Church of Droué to the Bishop of Chartres, (the painting bears the coat of arms of Raynier). Yet, for both historical and iconographical reasons, this is impossible. For, in fact, Droué, located in the “Généralité d’Orléans”, did not fall under the diocese of the bishop of Chartres, but rather of Blois, and more precisely of the archdeaconate in Châteaudun and its Election. Furthermore, given the absence of any keys, the scene would seem to depict an officer, in the presence of his men, asking a prelate to bless a book and some liturgical objects. No such episode appears in the life of Saint Nicolas, for whom the church and the chapel containing the painting are named. However, such an event might very well have occurred in the life of the lord of Droué who lived in the first half of the XVIIth C.

1—A likely patron

Isaac du Raynier (c. 1581-1647), lord of Droué and later of Bourgerin, the neighbouring castle and lands [2], was first and foremost a man of war. Of the seven sons who reached adulthood [3], several followed in his footsteps by pursuing a military carrier : the eldest, Charles, was to be killed in the siege of Montpellier in 1622, a second son, Valentin, would also die in battle ten years later, whereas a third would become, like his father, and another of his brothers [4], a captain of the Gardes Françaises. In the meantime, Isaac, who seemed to be fairly well off [5], must have shown a real talent in his trade for in the early 1630’s he became governor of Royan [6], then in November 1640 distinguished as Maréchal des Camps & Armées du Roi (“Field-Marshal of the King’s Camps and Armies”).

2. Here ascribed to Michel Dorigny (1617-1665)
Benediction Scene (detail)
Oil on canvas - 200 x 150 cm (about)
Droué, church
Photo : M. Weil-Curiel

Although few records remain to tell us more, Isaac du Raynier seems to have spent more time in the capital than most other military lords [7], who generally retired to their lands in times of peace. It is safe to conclude that he had close ties with certain circles with the office nobility in Paris. For instance, in September 1646, in his son Louis’ marriage contract to Marie Coutel, daughter of a “conseiller aux Aydes”, one of the witnesses is Anne Forget, wife of Thomas Comans, sieur d’Astry, and is identified as "an aunt on the mother’s side” [8], and, as we know, Thomas Comans was one of Le Vau’s patrons in the Ile Saint-Louis. A few years later, in 1674, and still in Paris one of his grand-daughters, Marie du Raynier, married Charles d’Estampes, a knight, marquis of Mauny and of la Ferté-Imbault [9]. The bride,who brought a large dowry of 120,000 livres, later inherited the title of lady of Droué through her mother’s side of the family [10].

3. Here ascribed to Michel Dorigny (1617-1665)
Benediction Scene (detail)
Oil on canvas - 200 x 150 cm (about)
Droué, parish church
Photo : M. Weil-Curiel

Other elements enable us to determine the circumstances in which the painting was commissioned. After the French Wars of Religions, the Catholic church was reinstated in Droué at the turn of the XVIIth C. It is even known that in 1597, a chapel “of distinction” was built, next to the choir, by Jehan du Raynier, Isaac’s father. Six years later, the church of Saint Nicolas, “newly roofed and reconstructed” appeared in a transaction with the lord of Droué for its care and furnishing [11]. But what interests us the most are the finishing touches carried out in 1631 thanks to Isaac’s generosity. Besides extending the main body of the church by a dozen meters and building a portal, du Raynier also donated an altar piece (split in 1793), ornated with figures of stone lions, and which took up the whole width of the apse. It is perhaps for this location that the painting which is today relegated to one of the side chapels rebuilt in the XIXth C. was originally commissioned.

II. Some hypotheses about the artist

For many years, Jean Jouvenet has been a handy name for the Monuments Historiques. But, even at first glance, the style of this work appears to belong much earlier. Even if its present state, the painting has suffered and its colours appear washed out, it is reasonable to believe that it corresponds to the time of Isaac du Raynier, or to around 1630 when the decorating work was done. But the mystery surrounding the painting remains. The general impression, the choice of bright colors (ill. 2 and 3), the treatment of most of the figures and the use of the flag bearer in “contraposto” lead us to Vouet. However, the master never uses the draped effect with such ample movement, nor are the features of the faces so “contorted”, the chins so sharply upturned. On the other hand, these touches can be found in the figure of one of the servants of the Poliphile Attending Bacchus’s Cortège by Eustache Le Sueur, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts from Le Mans [12].

At first, we were inclined to feel that the disposition of the painting as a whole, with the very marked figure of the deacon and the light effects, linked this work to one of the most beautiful paintings by someone, still anonymous, from Vouet’s circle : the principal element in the décor of the Salle des Actes in the Collège de Pharmacie (transferred to Université Paris-VI) often attributed to Michel I Corneille. Nonetheless, several features that seem incompatible with his style, now thoroughly studied, forced us to abandon this initial hypothesis. For the same reason, we also discarded the names of Nicolas Chaperon and Charles Poërson. Our reflections based on certain suggestions that were made to us, and reinforced by other stylistic elements, now lead us to consider Michel Dorigny as a possible artist for the painting in Droué. In its present state, this work might be or bear witness to the memory of one of his early contributions while in Vouet’s workshop.

For one thing, there is the manner in which the cloth drapes loosely around the body and is never close to it, the use of strong colors : the very curious pink or the juxtaposition of red and orange for the lancer, like the one that Dorigny uses, for example, to draw the robe of one of the elders in “Susanna in her Bath” [13]. There is also, especially, in the figure of the prelate and one of the men in the background (presenting a vase), the expressive face with eyes overshadowed by heavy eyebrows, where the eyelid is barely visible. This, with the treatment of the hands [14], constitutes a characteristic that is found in several of his paintings, particularly The Rest of the Holy Family at the Musée Magnin in Dijon and two Annunciations (that in Sillery, altered by touch-ups and the one in Florence). Still another ressemblance, the way in which the arm of the standard bearer curves around finds its exact symmetry in the one held out by the “Susanna”.

Nevertheless, besides the fact that one must always proceed cautiously in these cases, one of the main obstacles to this hypothesis lies in the fact that at the time of Isaac du Raynier’s death, Michel Dorigny was only thirty years old. In 1631, when the church was completed, he was still fourteen. It seems a bit precocious for such a work and so leaves the door open for another member of Vouet’s workshop to step forward [15].

Moana Weil-Curiel, vendredi 22 juin 2007


[1] Oil on canvas. 200 x 150 cm. Listed Monument Historique April 26, 1947. This painting, apparently in good condition, was restored in 1961. A glass structure illustrating its composition is today hidden by the main altar (Cf. F. Lesueur, “Les églises du Loir & Cher”, Paris, 1969).

[2] Nothing is left of the castle in Bourgevin and of the one in Droué, built by Isaac, there remains only one pavilion and parts of the north wing.

[3] Isaac has, at least, two daughters as well : Marie, who married her second husband Charles d’Angennes in 1632 and Anne who entered a religious order.

[4] The latter, Louis, would in turn take over his father’s company in 1634 before leaving the military in 1650 with no particular honors. He later became counselor to the King and “gentilhomme ordinaire” in his Chambers. Isaac’s other three sons were, respectively, page to the King, knight of Malta and abbey of Saint-Jean d’Angely (cf. C. Léger, Droué. Recueil de textes pour servir à l’histoire de la commune, Blois, 1985 ;and La vie quotidienne dans le Perche avant la Révolution. L’exemple de la région de Droué (Loir & Cher) à travers les documents, Luisant, 1988.).

[5] Over a few years’ time, Isaac had the family castle rebuilt as well as the chapel that was to become the parish church. And, starting in 1629, he received 1,500 pounds income from the sale of the charges of counselor and administrator of the towns and communities of the kingdom (cf. R. Mousnier, after A.N., E 110B, fol. 303).

[6] This is stated by the commemorative inscription : “Isaac Duraynier, capitaine des Gardes du Roy et gouverneur pour sa Majesté en ville et marquisat de Royan, a faict allonger cette église et faict faire ce portail en 1631. Priez Dieu pour luy” (“Isaac Duraynier, captain of the King’s Guards and his Majesty’s governor in the city and marquisate of Royan, had this church extended and this portal built in 1631. Pray to God for him”) which is still visible on the gable of the portal today.

[7] Thus, in 1633, he sold a small building located in Fontainebleau to no other than François Sublet des Noyers, "Intendant et Contrôleur Général des Finances du Roi" (cf. A.N. Min. cent., XXIV, 337, on March 7).

[8] A.N. Min. cent., LXXIII, 384, on September 9.

[9] A.N. Min. cent., LXXIII, 497, on March 12 (ruined document).

[10] The donation “due to death” but under reserve of use during lifetime (February 10, 1688°) is missing in notary LXXIII. We know of it thanks to a copy belonging to the archives of the Châtelet in Paris (A.N., Y 252, fol. 292, cf. C. Léger, op. cit. in footnote 4).

[11] A.D. Eure-et-Loir, H 4595 (quoted by C. Léger, Ibidem).

[12] Inv. 18.20 (MNR 34) . Oil on canvas, 095 x155 cm. Deposited by the Louvre in 1957.

[13] There are several known examples of this composition, notably the one in the La Caze collection in Annecy, and the one auctioned at the Dorotheum in Vienna, published by A. Brejon de Lavergnée (cf. “Nouveaux tableaux de chevalet de Michel Dorigny”, “Simon Vouet” colloquium papers <éd. S. Loire>, Paris, 1992, p. 417-433, here p. 430).

[14] Likewise, the gesture of the bishop’s hand in Droué is almost identical to the Allegory of Winter that Dorigny has painted in a ceiling, now in Port-Marly.

[15] For example, Noël Quillerier even if he appears more static or, at the Arsenal, more muscular, or François Tortebat (1615 ?-1690), who joined Vouet’s workshop precisely around 1631, but whose slim body of work, despite Stéphane Loire and Alvin L. Clark efforts, prevents us from defining his style.

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