The Metropolitan Acquires a Painting by Charles Le Brun

Charles Le Brun ( 1619-1690)
The Sacrifice of Polyxena, 1647
Oil on Canvas - 179 x 131 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum
Photo : Christie’s

19/4/13 - Acquisition - New York, Metropolitan Museum - The Metropolitan Museum pronounced the winning bid of 1.44 million euros (including charges) for the Le Brun painting last 15 April at Christie’s Paris. Entitled The Sacrifice of Polyxena, the work resided at the Ritz (located in the Hôtel Gramont) and was rediscovered during the inventory taken before starting the refurbishment ; unfortunately, there is no trace of when it first entered the hotel nor who commissioned it or for where, only its date : 1647.

Le Brun illustrates here a passage from the Trojan war : Polyxena is sacrificed in front of Achilles’ grave whose death she caused inadvertently. The painter appears to follow Ovid’s account in the Metarmophoses (XIII, 439-480) also narrated by Euripides in Hecuba, using this opportunity to express various passions : in the center, the proud Trojan heroine presents her throat to Neoptolemus, Achilles’ son, who is brandishing his dagger. Hecuba, the young woman’s mother, is desperately trying to hold her back while the priest on the left stands by impassively. Like Iphigenia, Polyxena represents the model of a virtuous woman (in the etymological sense of the word) who faces death with courage and dignity, going so far as to judge her own fate to be more fortunate than her mother’s who is a slave. Achille’s tomb dominates the scene with its fluted ornation, bearing a shield showing his profile. The effect of the ewer in the left part of the foreground, enhanced by a luminous ray of light is particularly beautiful.

The subject was treated notably by Italian painters such as Pietro da Cortona, Giovanni Battista Quagliata and Giulio Carpioni. Charles Le Brun produced this painting however after returning from Rome. In 1647, he depicted another sacrifice : The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew, a May for Notre Dame. That same year probably, he also painted The Torture of Mezentius, lost today but which we know thanks to a copy as well as three preparatory drawings (Louvre) pointed out by Bénédicte Gady (see article, in French).
This work fills a prominent gap in the Metropolitan collections which until now only held drawings by the master and will hang not far from the paintings by Nicolas Poussin already in the galleries.

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Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, vendredi 3 mai 2013

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