Strasbourg purchases a Jean Barbault and receives an Antonio Vaccaro

1. Jean Barbault (1718-1762)
Neapolitan Sheperd Driving a Cow out of a Cave
Oil on canvas - 49 x 64.5 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Galerie Turquin

26/7/09 – Acquisitions – Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts – The Museum in Strasbourg has just purchased a painting by Jean Barbault, undoubtedly one of the artist’s masterpieces which had remained unpublished until now (ill. 1), from Hubert Duchemin (Galerie Eric Turquin). Barbault was probably a student of Jean Restout. After having failed the Prix de Rome, he traveled to Italy on his own and, thanks to the protection of its director Jean-François de Troy, he was nonetheless admitted as a resident artist at the Académie de France at the Palazzo Mancini. He is mostly known for his canvases illustrating figures dressed in picturesque costumes, either Italian or Turkish. Notably, he represented the French artists who participated in the Turkish mascarade organized in 1748. Barbault also executed landscapes and cappricios in the manner of Panini or Piranesi, with whom he worked. He published two collections of engravings on Roman monuments. The painter died precociously at the age of 43.
This rural scene where a young shepherd is prodding a stubborn looking cow to move forward, is highly poetic. Of special notice is the artist’s light touch as well as the delicate colours covering the full range of beige, with the totally black animal stands out against a rocky background. In the catalogue for the retrospective organized in Beauvais, Angers and Valence in 1974-1975, Pierre Rosenberg and Nathalie Volle wrote this about the painter : his “colours became supremely refined : the artist toys, with perfect mastery, sometimes with the simple contrast of the rosiness of a face, the whites and blacks of a costume […] Barbault’s true value, more so than many artists, cannot be grasped without taking into account the colours. [1]” The painting acquired by Strasbourg is a particularly good illustration of this.

2. Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670)
The Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Platter
Oil on canvas - 49 x 62 cm
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg

One donation often sets the example for more. Following a bequest of several old masters recently (see news item of 15/4/09) [2], the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg has just benefited from a generous donation by a Parisian collector and art historian. This is a painting by Andrea Vaccaro representing The Head of Saint John the Baptist on a Platter (ill. 2). Although Vaccaro began his career, after Mannerist training, under the influence of Caravaggio (he copied the latter’s Flagellation from the San Domenico Church in Naples), he quickly turned to a more classical style. The representation of the head of Saint John the Baptist on a platter (without any other figures such as the executioner, Salome or Herodias) has existed in sculpture since at least the 14th century. In painting, this motif first started in the early 16th century, with one of the best known and earliest of these being the famous painting by Andrea Solario at the Louvre, painted perhaps after a Leonardo. This type of small devotional paintings spread considerably in the 17th century, notably in Italy among the Lombard school close to Morazzone and Francesco Cairo [3], as well as in Spain. There was a resurgence of the theme, mainly in sculpture, at the end of the 19th century among Symbolists.

Version française

Didier Rykner, dimanche 26 juillet 2009


[1] “son coloris est devenu d’un raffinement suprême : l’artiste joue, avec une parfaite maîtrise, parfois du simple contraste du rose d’un visage, des blancs et des noirs d’un costume [...] Barbault, plus que bien des artistes, ne peut être estimé à sa vraie valeur sans la couleur.”

[2] These paintings are still being restored. We will publish photographs as soon as possible.

[3] Some examples can be found notably at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Caen and also the one in Chambéry.

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