Miniatures of the XVIth to the XIXth C. at the Musée Condé

Petits portraits, grands personnages. Miniatures des XVIe au XIXe siècles du musée Condé. Chantilly, Musée Condé, from 19 September 2007 to 7 January 2008

1. Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin (1759-1832)
Marie-Gabrielle de Sinéty,
Duchess of Gramont-Caderousse

Watercolor and gouache on ivory - Diam : 7,2 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.G. Ojéda

Often considered a minor art, miniatures are generally perceived to be the work of a skilled craftsman rather than that of a creative artist. Its status, somewhere between that of an art object and a painting, does nothing to elevate it on the artistic scale. And yet, from the XVIth to the XIXth C., miniature painting constituted a major discipline both in its social function, often a representation in small format of a beloved person or place, as well as in its artistic qualities.

The source for miniature art can be found in Medieval illuminations. The term miniature, in fact, does not derive from the Latin “minimus”, the superlative for “parvus” (small), but from “minium” (lead) red, the color of the initial letters in manuscripts of the Middle Ages. This art developed in the XVIth C. on vellum, the very fine skin of still-born calves. Starting in the XVIIth C., artists turned to other supports such as copper and paper. Towards 1700, the introduction of ivory by the Venetian Rosalba Carriera brought about a minor technical revolution which culminated in the high point of miniature art between 1770 and 1840. The arrival of photography in the mid-XIXth C. tolled the end of a savoir-faire of such refinement that it had elevated these objects of personal use to a true artistic level. The talent of representation had in fact combined with the creativity of the artist, integrating it into jewels (ring settings, bracelets, pin heads, pendants, brooches and buttons), snuffboxes, dance cards and even relic cases. Thus, a snuffbox ornated with a miniature was the latest rage at the end of the Ancien régime just before the French Revolution and the Duke of Lorraine owned almost three hundred of them.

2. Jean Petitot (1522-1572)
Louis XIV, King of France
3,1 x 2,6 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.G. Ojéda

The collection of the Musée Condé, the largest in France after the one at the Louvre, compares well with the most important ones in Europe, such as the one belonging to the Queen of England or to the Orange-Nassau family in the Netherlands. It comes almost exclusively from the estate of the Duke of Aumale (1822-1897), fifth son of King Louis-Philippe. Far from being a transient event, this exhibition also marks the restoration project of the works in cooperation with the Amis du musée Condé and their publication in a catalogue raisonné of the collection. At the end of the exhibition, organized by Nicole Garnier Pelle, chief curator at the musée Condé, the miniatures will regain their former places throughout the château.

3. Ascribed to François Clouet (1522-1572)
Henri II, King of France
4 x 2,9 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.G. Ojéda

In 1830, the Duke of Bourbon, the last of the Condé princes after the death of his son the Duke of Enghien who was executed in the moat of the Château de Vincennes, left his considerable fortune to his godson, Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale. A passionate student of art and history, Henri assembled an extraordinary collection which he bequeathed with his domains in Chantilly to the Institut de France in 1884. The miniatures hold a special place in this artistic ensemble. Their quality is not only exceptional, as is the rest of the collection, but these objects constitute moreover a dynastic anthology of European royal families many of which are related to Henri d’Orléans. The Duke of Aumale inherited sixty-five miniatures from his uncle, all with likenesses of French Bourbon kings up to the Revolution, some of which are Bourbon-Condé or Bourbon-Conti, minor branches of the family. This collection miraculously survived pillaging by revolutionaries, unlike that of the royal family. Starting in 1884, the Duke of Aumale took advantage of his exile in England to enrich his magnificent holdings by buying on the art market and commissioning personal family works. Two other contributions to the original collection came from his mother’s estate, Queen Marie-Amélie (1782-1866), including portraits of the Orléans family from the XVIIth and XVIIIth CC. and that of his mother-in-law, Clémentine de Hapsburg, Princess of Salerno (1798-1881), a relative of the royal families in Austria and Naples. All of this was enriched by miniatures of the dynasties in England, Sweden and Poland. Some less aristocratic figures are also represented, as well as small landscapes, among them eighteen views of Chantilly, dating from the end of the Ancien régime and painted on ivory buttons.

4. Aimé Zoé Lizinka de Mirbel, née Rue (1796-1849)
Ferdinand, Duke of Orléans
4,9 x 3,6 cm
Chantilly, Musée Condé
Photo : RMN/R.G. Ojéda

The catalogue raisonné that accompanies the show will most probably become a reference work in the field. Three excellent articles offer the opinions of art historians (Nicole Garnier-Pelle and Nathalie Lemoine-Bouchard) and a restorer (Bernd Pappe). They allow the reader to place miniature art in its context, understand its technical prowess (for example, to better reflect the light on the face and accent it, a fine sheet of silver was often glued to the back of the ivory panels) and appreciate the importance of the collection held at the Musée Condé in Chantilly.

This work, with three hundred forty-five entries, offers an incomparable portrait gallery, a veritable genealogical history of European royal families. The reproductions, most often real-sized, reveal the dexterity in the production. Finally, a biography of the artists, generally unknown, is a fine complement to this publication.

Thierry Cazaux

Collective work, Portraits des maisons royales et impériales de France et d’Europe. Les miniatures du musée Condé à Chantilly, Somogy Editions d’Art, 2007, 303 p., 55 €. ISBN : 9782757200988

Thierry Cazaux, dimanche 28 octobre 2007


Visitor Information : Chantilly, Musée Condé, BP 70243, 60631 Chantilly Cédex. Phone : +33 (0)3 44 27 31 80. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 pm - 6 pm (6 pm from November 4). Admission : 9 €, 7,50 € and 3,50 €).

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