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Oil painting - Catherine de Médicis with the head of Coligny
  • Catherine de Médicis with the head of Coligny
    Hornung, Joseph, born 1792 - died 1870
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Catherine de Médicis with the head of Coligny

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Geneva (painted)

  • Date:

    1837-1868 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hornung, Joseph, born 1792 - died 1870 (After)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on sycamore panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Joseph Hornung (1792-1870) was born in Geneva. He took drawing lessons with Constant Vaucher but was essentially self-taught in the French Romantic tradition. He was considered the leader of the Geneva school and the most representative painter of the Reformation. He exhibited at the Salon in the Musée Rath, Geneva, as early as 1826 and subsequently at the Royal Academy, London (1839) and the Paris Salon (1831, 1840, 1841, 1843 and 1847). He was praised by the critics and Louis-Philippe and Ary Scheffer were among his admirers.

This painting is a good example the history scenes produced in Geneva during the 19th century.. It shows the queen Catherine de Medicis contemplating the head of Coligny. This scene commemorate an important event of the reformation, when on the night of St Bartholomew's day when the Portestants were slaughtered by the Catholics following the revocation of the 'edict of Nantes' (22 October 1685). This work is typical of the history paintings produced in Geneva as they draw especially from the history of the Reformation.

Physical description

Catherine de Médicis seated at a table, gazing at the head of the Protestant leader Gaspard de Coligny (1517-70), killed during the St Bartholomew's Day massacre.

Place of Origin

Geneva (painted)


1837-1868 (painted)


Hornung, Joseph, born 1792 - died 1870 (After)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on sycamore panel


Height: 25 cm estimate, Width: 21.3 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, listed in the 1868 post-mortem register of the contents of his villa in Lausanne (V&A R/F MA/1/T1181) as 'Oil on panel. Catherine de Medici (1519-1589). By John Mostert, or Mostaert. In frame. Dutch. 16th century'; bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868.

Historical significance: This painting was originally catalogued as by Jan Mostaert (ca. 1475-1555) and subsequently ascribed to the young Delacroix by J. Pope-Hennessy. It is in fact a copy of a little known composition preserved in the Musée d'art et d'histoire of Geneva. Another composition deriving from Charles Gleyre's Execution of Major Ravel (1617-1869), may have been made by the same artists, who has not yet been identified, as it presents a similar brushwork. Moreover both paintings originate from the same collection.

Historical context note

History painting, i.e. depictions of non recurring events based on religious, classical, literary or allegorical sources, particularly developed in Italy during the Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). History painting could include religious themes, or depictions of momentous recent events, but the term was most frequently associated with Classical subject-matter. However a renewed impetus was given to religious subjects after the Council of Trent (1545-63), which stipulated new iconographical programmes. The development of art treatises, in which the compositional rules guiding the art of painting were discussed also notably, influenced the evolution of history painting. From around 1600 history painting's principal rivals: still-life, landscape and genre painting began to emerge as independent collectable genres. Furthermore, the Rococo taste for the ornamental in the early 18th century prioritised the decorative quality of history painting, so that subject matters became more entertaining than exemplary. There was a renewed interest in history painting during the Neo-Classical period after which the taste for such pictures faded towards the end of the 19th century when an innovative approach to the image was led by the Symbolists and was developed further by subsequent schools in the early 20th century.

Descriptive line

Oil Painting, 'Catherine de Médicis with the Head of Coligny', After Joseph Hornung, Swiss School, 1837-1868

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 39, cat. no. 85.


Oil paint; Sycamore


Oil painting




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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