Two tondi by Louis de Boullogne, the Elder, acquired by Caen

15/1/11 – Acquisitions – Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts - This museum in Normandy recently purchase two small round panels by Louis de Boullogne (or Boulogne), the Elder, one of the founders of the Académie Royale de peinture in 1648, from the Jacques Leegenhoek Gallery in Paris. We had pointed out their sale at auction at Artcurial on 21 June 2010 here on our site (see news item of 22/6/10) with an attribution to the 17th century French school (circle of Charles Poerson). One of them bears a faded inscription on the back which led researchers to Boullogne, later confirmed by a stylistic study.

1. Louis de Boullogne the Elder (1609-1674)
Cephalus and Procris (?)
Oil on panel - Diameter : 16 cm
Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

2. Louis de Boullogne the Elder (1609-1674)
The death of Procris
Oil on panel - Diameter : 16 cm
Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Caen, Musée des Beaux-Arts

The exact iconography is still in question, notably whether the two couples are the same in both panels. During the auction, one was described as being Cephalus and Procris, the other Diana and Adonis. Patrick Ramade, the Caen museum director, sees rather two episodes of the story of Cephalus and Procris.
There seems to be no doubt that the second scene represents the death of Procris in the arms of Cephalus. Although the mythological legend (see notably Ovid’s Metamorphosis) mentions a magical javelin [1], most of the 17th and 18th century representations of the scene transform it into an arrow, depicting Cephalus as an archer.
The first painting, however, is harder to determine. The woman holding the arrow is wearing a crescent moon on her head, which would in fact generally identify her as Diana. Procris is considered one of the goddess’ servants, who promised her Cephalus’ love and had given her the magical arm, so the artist might have possibly added this attribute in order to identify Procris (who is not holding it in the death scene). However, there remains the question of the costumes worn by the figures which differ from one scene to the next (the man’s cape is first red, then green ; the woman’s dress green then pink), although why shouldn’t mythological heroes be allowed to change clothes… ?

The shape and size of these two paintings recall some of Charles Poerson’s works, thus explaining the catalogue entry for the auction mentioning his circle. The work of Louis de Boullogne, the Elder is not well known, much less than that of his two sons Bon Boullogne, the Elder and Louis de Boullogne, the Younger. His daughter, Madeleine, was also a painter.

Didier Rykner, samedi 15 janvier 2011


[1] As seen for example in a canvas by Veronese at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg.

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