François II known as the Young (circa 1522-1599)
Oil on Canvas - 55 x 98 cm
Pau, Musée national du château
Photo : Musée national du château de Pau
17/7/12 - Acquisition - Pau, Musee national du Chateau - The Chateau de Pau recently acquired a late 16th or early 17th century painting from the London art dealer Rafael Valls, illustrating one of the famous Ligue processions, a show of force by Catholics in the streets of Paris in 1590 and notably in 1593, against the Protestants and the accession of one of them to the throne : Henri IV of France. That of 4 February 1593, the one probably depicted here, was one of the last ones as the king renounced power on 25 July 1593.
In the center of this tightly knit and somber assembly of people, outlined by a strict and sober architecture, a tambourine player in a red and white costume attracts the viewer’s eye. A few blue touches enliven this human mass among which we see, in one spot, a monk taking a shot at the timorous crowd and elsewhere a woman with raised arms. The artist places the spectator above the scene, outside the action, an observer perhaps looking from a window. The overall effect recalls the throngs in both Brueghel the Elder and the Younger, the wedding parties as well as the processions of the cross.
This canvas is attributed to Francois II Bunel, known as the Young (circa 1522-1599), painter and valet to Henri de Navarre, portrait artist to the king between 1583 and 1599, making an indirect criticism of the violence of the Ligue, concealed beneath an apparently objective rendition of the events. This composition was made known by the engraving (notably by Petrus Kaerius) and was used to illustrate the Satire Menippee, a pamphlet against the Ligue, a satire full of irony about the Etats Generaux convened in Paris on 26 January 1593 by the Duke of Mayenne in order to choose a Catholic king.
We do not know if the Pau painting is the original work, in any case it is of very beautiful quality. There are several known versions of this composition, at the Musee de Rouen (collection Baderou), Bourges, Valenciennes, and also Versailles while the Musee Carnavalet holds two works, one rather similar to this one and another different in that it mixes two processions.
Christie’s had also auctioned in Paris on 26 June 2003 an oil on copper illustrating a very comparable scene, attributed to the circle of Jean Brueghel the Elder, known as Velvet Brueghel (1568-1625). The sales catalogue entry offers the theory by which, besides the work of Francois Bunel, the Younger, "there is also a Flemish prototype. An engraving of the 18th century bears the inscription Velvet Brueghel pinxit, underscoring the fact that at the time, it was thought that the original work was Flemish.". But as Paul Mironneau, the director of the Chateau in Pau pointed out, this is no doubt an interpretation error, a mistaken reading of Bunel pinxit.