Catalogue of paintings at the Musée du Château de Blois. 16th-17th centuries

Authors : Hélène Lebedel, with contributions by Paola Bassani Pacht, Karen Chastagnol, Chloé Dalesme, Jérôme Delaplanche, Vincent Delieuvin, Jacques Foucart, Pierre-Gilles Girault, Guillaume Kazerouni, David Mandrella, Pierre Rosenberg, Cécile Scaillérez, Mickael Szanto, Alexandra Zvereva.

local/cache-vignettes/L212xH290/Couverture_Blois-96369.jpgThe Musée de Blois organized a long-term exhibition at the same time it published its catalogue of 16th to 18th century paintings, starting in late 2008 and continuing until 20 October of this year.
This is the perfect chance to discover a collection which is in fact little known and no doubt under-estimated. The volume is divided into two parts. The first covers major works, all with in-depth studies and with the necessary scholarly apparatus (historical and bibliographical). The second, which includes what are considered minor works, is different only in the fact that the entries and reproductions are smaller.

1. Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614)
Antonietta Gonzalez
Oil on canvas - 57 x 46 cm
Blois, Musée du Château
Photo : RMN

The oldest paintings were known and recently published except for the Virgin with Child attributed to Cornelis Van Clève (cat. 14), a version which seems to be of better quality than an almost identical panel held at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. For the 16th century, there is notably, besides the famous portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez by Lavinia Fontana (ill. 1 ; cat. 11), the Crespi polyptych by Marco d’Oggiono (cat. 9).
Most of the new pieces and discoveries concern the 17th and 18th centuries. A small painting by Frère Luc, an artist with an easily recognizable style and whose works are continuously resurfacing, represents Saint Francis of Assissi Praying (cat. 23) ; it is close to one with the same subject donated by Jean-Piere Changeux to the Musée Bossuet in Meaux. An Allegory of a River (ill. 2 ; cat. 25) was finally attributed to the Montpellier artist François Caumette thanks to another version belonging to the Musée Atger. Strangely enough, this almost unknown artist (only these two paintings and an oil on paper at the Musée Fabre have been identified) is thus represented by the same composition twice. This would indicate that there are still many paintings by this portrait artist to be found, either now anonymous or hidden under another name. Quality portraits by unknown artists in fact seem to abound at Blois. There is for example that of Gaston d’Orléans (cat. 29), around 1630 ; for which Jean-Pierre Cuzin had suggested that it might be close to one of the Le Nain brothers, or the series of 45 canvases from the château de Saint-Germain-Beaupré in the Creuse region.

2. François Caumette (?-1747)
Allegory of a River
Oil on canvas - 126 x 102.5 cm
Blois, Musée du Château
Photo : F. Lauginie

3. Paul-Ponce-Antoine Robert de Séry
Small Boy Holding a Hen
Oil on canvas - 49 x 38 cm
Blois, Musée du Château
Photo : F. Lauginie

The changes in attributions deal mostly with the Northern school. We might point out that of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (cat. 46), traditionally ascribed to Gaspard de Crayer which Jacques Foucart acknowledges here as being hypothetically by Caspar van den Hoecke, a beautiful Cavalry Clash between Imperials and Swedes (cat. 49) which Jérôme Delaplanche, a remarkable specialist of battle paintings, identifies as being by Pieter Meulener or a panel representing The Feast of the Magi (cat. 50) attributed to Jan Miense Molenaer by David Mandrella.
Some works, though in the museum’s holdings for a long time, were until now totally unpublished. This is the case for a Holy Family with John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Zachary, Ann and Joachim (cat. 51) by Johann Heiss, identified thanks to a monography on this artist published in 2001. This discovery is especially interesting as 17th century German paintings are rare in France [1].
Another unpublished work has been identified thanks to Pierre Rosenberg : this Small Boy Holding a Hen (ill. 3 ; cat. 53) is by Paul-Ponce-Antoine Robert de Sery.

4. Jean Mosnier (1600-1656)
Adoration of the Magi
Oil on canvas
Blois, Eglise Saint-Nicolas
Photo : Musée de Blois

The restoration of an Adoration of the Magi by Jean Mosnier (ill. 4) revealed the artist’s signature and it also appeared in the exhibition. However, it is not included in the catalogue as it does not belong to the museum.
A few of the works in the second part of the publication deserved to be included in the first, or even in the exhibition. This is the case for an Italian study representing Christ in the Garden of Olives (n° 3) which Stéphane Loire finds close to Giuseppe Bazzani or also an anonymous Holy Family, probably Italian, from the late 17th century or early 18th (n° 154). The fact that all of the works are treated in depth is greatly appreciated ; it is possible that some of these paintings which are today considered minor may one day be rehabilitated.

This catalogue, edited by Gourcuff-Gradenigo with an impeccable tradition of quality, is a remarkable publication. The person in charge, Hélène Lebedel, who directs the Fine Arts collections at the museum, surrounded herself with the finest specialists. We are thus looking forward with keen interest to the second volume which is to appear on the 19th century.

Under the guidance of Hélène Lebedel, Catalogue des peintures du Musée du Château de Blois. XVIe-XVIIIe siècles, Editions Gourcuff-Gradenigo, 23p., 36€. ISBN : 978-2-35340-048-5.

Version française

Didier Rykner, jeudi 12 novembre 2009


[1] Blois also presents another one, no doubt more Venetian than German in fact, a beautiful David Defeats Goliath by Johann-Carl Loth (cat. 52).

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