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Miniature - Portrait miniature of a lady, possibly Mme. De Montespan, in a rich interior
  • Portrait miniature of a lady, possibly Mme. De Montespan, in a rich interior
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Portrait miniature of a lady, possibly Mme. De Montespan, in a rich interior

  • Object:

    Miniature

  • Place of origin:

    France (probably, painted)

  • Date:

    1690 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gouache on vellum, heightened with gold and silver

  • Museum number:

    P.39-1987

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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This painting started life as a fan-shaped sheet of parchment (animal skin), prepared by scoring or pleating. The sheet was stuck onto a larger sheet, which in turn was mounted down onto a thin, paper-covered copper panel. Some painting on the 'fan' section may have been undertaken before it was mounted. Microscopic investigation shows some trimming of, for example, gold highlights at the edge, while other areas of the 'fan' show more than one layer of paint, as if painted over after the enlargement. In the window area the paint layer appears continuous over both grounds. The fan area has been finished with a glossier glaze, which now shows craquelure and darkening not evident on the outer ground. It is likely that all the phases of work took place at almost the same time, with the painting as the intended product.

Fan painters (éventaillistes) could not join the painters' guild of St Luc and were debarred from selling pictures. By painting sheets that had clearly been designed as fans, they could claim the purity of their intention. Nonetheless, such small paintings are not uncommon. They must always have been particularly suitable for decorating the wooden panelling fashionable in Parisian hôtels and the smaller, private apartments at Versailles.

Physical description

Fan-leaf, extended by the same hand to form a rectangular cabinet miniature.

Place of Origin

France (probably, painted)

Date

1690 (painted)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Gouache on vellum, heightened with gold and silver

Dimensions

Height: 27.5 cm, Width: 47.5 cm, Height: 390 mm gilt frame, Width: 590 mm gilt frame, Depth: 60 mm gilt frame

Object history note

Sothebys 6th July (lot 81, bt. Partridge); purchased from Partridge Fine Arts Ltd, 1987

Historical significance: This painting started life as a fan-shaped sheet of parchment, prepared by scoring or pleating. The sheet was stuck onto a larger sheet, which was then mounted down onto a thin, paper-covered copper panel. Some painting on the 'fan' section may have been undertaken before it was mounted. Microscopic investigation shows some trimming of, for example, gold highlights at the edge, while other areas of the 'fan' show more than one layer of paint, as if painted over after the enlargement. In the window area the paint layer appears continuous over both grounds. The fan area has been finished with a glossier glaze, which now shows craquelure and darkening not evident on the outer ground. It is likely that all the phases of work took place at almost the same time, with the painting as the intended product.

The setting of the work is generally agreed to be the Trianon de Porcelaine. This single-storey pavilion was built in at the centre of an elegant and entertaining complex of gardens which Louis XIV had created for his Maitresse en titre at Verailles 1670-1. In the style of the Chinese taste, it was claimed that the Trianon de Porcelaine was constructed out of porcelain. It was in fact built of brick faced with blue and white pottery tiles from France and Holland. These blue and white tiles can be seen through the window which one of the Putti is shown opening in the left of the painting.

The identity of the lady in centre of the composition as that of Madame de Montespan, is confirmed by contemporary portraits. Attended by putti, she appears to be 'offered' as a gift, suggesting that the painting was made for her. The artist seems to have been asked to create a masque-like, teasing fantasy, laughingly combining aspects of a group portrait of Louis XIV and his legitimate family painted in 1670 as Olympian gods (p1.5.72) with the kind of royal parade of luxury illustrated in the tapestry of The Visit of King Louis XIV to the Gobelins, which records a visit made in 1667 (see p.124).

Madame de Montespan demonstrates her own considerable powers as the king's favourite and the effective queen of fashion. Having removed the suggestive dishabille for which she was renowned (see p1.5.54), she sits bare-breasted, her gown discarded over the jewel cabinet. Around her are examples of the most luxurious furnishings available at court at the time. No exact parallels for individual objects have been identified, but the silver, giltwood and ebony pieces incorporate the fashionable motifs of figure supports, fat paw feet and swags of bursting foliage held up by ribbon ties that appear on furniture associated with the court, which she may have seen and coveted (see p.122).

The gambolling putti who act as chorus and orchestra, underlining the overall theme of love, may offer a clue to more exact dating. On 21 April 1674 Madame de Montespan became the undisputed chief mistress when Louise de la Valliere finally retired to a convent. On 5 July, her children by Louis were brought to live at Versailles, following their legitimization in 1673.

The small figure in the bath is distinguished by the services of the putti, his special status also signalled by the laurel branches held above his head. It seems likely that this figure is the duc de Maine, four years old in 1674. That summer also saw lavish entertainments at Versailles, all revolving around Madame de Montespan. At this time, she was so confident of her power that a little teasing of her royal lover was allowable - perhaps by the commissioning of this most intimate of images.

This painting offers a rare view of the interior of this curious building. Very little survives from the Trianon de Porcelaine. It was pulled down after only seventeen years as it was sait that the French winters were too harsh for the delicate tiled exterior. Apart from this fan leaf, only a few tiles, drawings of the bed from the Chambre des Amours, a blue and white table (Getty Museum), and two gouache paintings by Werner, seem to be the only legacy of this building.

Historical context note

Small gouache paintings such as this one are generally described as fan leaves and were indeed painted on parchment or vellum prepared for fans, though this example was painted on the fan arc and surrounding areas at the same time and may always have been intended as a decorative picture.

Fan painters (éventaillistes) could not join the painters' guild of St Luc and were debarred from selling pictures. By painting sheets that had clearly been designed as fans, they could claim the purity of their intention. Nonetheless, such small paintings are not uncommon. They must always have been particularly suitable for decorating the wooden panelling fashionable in Parisian hôtels and the smaller, private apartments at Versailles.

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

Cowen, Pamela, A Fanfare for the Sun King: unfolding fans for Louis XIV (London, 2003), pp.84-5
The following is the full text of the entry:

"This fan leaf gives an idea of the great riches inside the Trianon de Porcelaine, all assembled in one room. The Trianon itself was built in the winter months of 1670-71 so quickly that from the beginning it was seen as a magical place, "as if it had grown out of the earth along with its flower garden". It was a delightful little retreat for Louis and his then mistress, Madame de Montespan, where they could entertain a few friends and enjoy the flowers. Le Vau designed it, inspired by the seventeenth-century European fascination with the Far East, and to Louis and his courtiers it was all in the Chinese taste. It claimed to be built of porcelain, but its walls were brick and faced with pottery tiles from France and Holland (Fig. 11.2.8) for no-one in Europe made porcelain at this date: flower tubs were often metal, painted blue and white to imitate the porcelain of China. Inside, the colour scheme was predominantly blue and white, and everything proclaimed the house as the Sun King's, and a place for lovers. The magnificent cabinet, crowned with Apollo in his chariot, was. probably the work of omenico Gucci, one of the King's favourite cabinet- makers at the Gobelins factory, who often worked from designs by Le Brun. In 1664 he was paid 6000 livres in advance for a very similar cabinet (no. 219 in the royal inventory), "called the cabinet of Apollo above which is represented the King as Apollo, driving four horses". The cabinet was also embellished with six gouaches by Joseph Werner showing Louis in the guise of Apollo, and similar gouaches are shown on the cabinet in the fan leaf. Two gouaches which Le Brun ordered from Werner still survive, with the same subject and of a suitable size for the side of a cabinet. The iconography is reinforced by the picture over the cabinet depicting Apollo and the Nine Muses, while Louis' emblem of the sun features prominently on the superbly carved mirror and picture frames. Mademioselle Scudéry reports on cabinets crowned with golden suns and adds that the same symbol is on the backs of chairs, and Claude Denis, who made some of the fountains at Versailles, wrote a (very bad) poem in 1674 about the Trianon de Porcelaine which he called , "La Maison de Soleil" .

All the furniture in the fan leaf speaks eloquently of Loui's taste. Not merely is the cabinet, with its panels of blue very similar to Gucci's Apolloi cabinet, but the Getty Museum owns a table described in the inventories, where blue-stained horn and ivory have been used to mimic porcelain. Its decoration nicely matches the border of the blue cloth spread beneath the lady on her daybed. Could this be one of the nine lengths of blue material ordered in 1670 from the silk weavers of Lyon? The cupid's gold and silver bath is reminiscent of a wine cistern designed at the Gobelins and originally intended to be shown in tapestry commemorating Louis' visit there. Richly woven materials replace it but a bewigged Villiers, the silversmith mentioned by Le Brun as a maker of large cuvettes for holding wine bottles, is portrayed along with his son presenting the King with a large gold vase. Two other craftsmen, Philippe Caffieri and La Baronniere are known to have collaborated in sculpting and gilding on a blue ground for a "grande fontaine d'argent d'Allemagn" , which sounds similar to the base for the cupid's bath. The silver gueridon relates to a drawing by Claude Ballin or Nicolas de Launay, and such stands were in many rooms at Versailles. Silver ewers similar to those held by the cherubs around the "bath" are known to have been made for Louis and are found in tapestries illustrating the King's houses. The gilded cherubs that support the jewel coffer are from the repertory of both Caffieri and Ballin and can be compared with the stand which Caffieri carved for Louis in 1669 to hold a slab of porphyry which the King bought at the sale of Fouquet's property; or with silver tables designed by Ballin.

In the background, delicate gauzy pink and white hangings flow down from the blue and gold pelmet of the canopy held up by cupids over the bed. According to the Mercure Galant in 1673, almost everybody had beds with flying canopies (called angels). The gilded cupids supporting this canopy may well have been made of carton Pierre (a form of artificial stone) according to Colbert, who adds that the bed trimmings for the Trianon were supplied by Le Vasseur. Little cherubs fly around bearing garlands illustrating Louis' love of flowers, particularly heavily scented ones, which his gardener Michelle Bouteux produced in profusion for the gardens of the Trianon. Many flowers were planted in pots and sometimes changed twice a day. The exotic birds by the window doubtless come from one of the two aviaries which adjoined the house, and echo the birds hunted by the gilded metal cupids (after drawings by Le Brun) on the roof Blue predominates, from the floor carpet to inside the gold and silver coffer, the dais for the cupid's bath and the wonderful cords which hang from the ceiling. The eastern aspect of the room is confirmed by the gorgeous feather fans (flabella) wielded by some of the putti, two fanning the lady on the daybed and one the cupid in the bath. Although similar short-handled fans had been used in the seventeenth century, by the 1670s the folding fan was a la mode (see the putto by the jewel coffer). However, the most telling clue that this fan leaf offers a privileged view of the inside of the Trianon de Porcelaine is that the windows and shutters, inside and out, have been painted to imitate blue and white Chinese porcelain.

The fact that Madame de Montespan is attended by putti would cause no surprise at Louis' court: Le Brun had painted the King on the ceiling of the Galerie des Glaces surrounded by putti. That the lady being so pampered is Madame de Montespan, is confirmed by contemporary portraits of her. Even she must have thought the luxury of the little Trianon becoming to her for she sits gazing contentedly at her reflection, ignoring the little musicians at her feet. Noticing the wonderful silver gilt toilet set laid out on the table her contentment is apparent since only the most wealthy could afford such a set. The beautiful brooch in the coffer may be the one containing a miniature of the King, which she won at lottery by trickery. In her Memoirs, Madame de Montespan relates how, at a grand banquet given by Cardinal Mazarin, she heard him announce that he had arranged a lottery. The prizes were out on display and were "all the rarest and most costly things that luxury and fashion could invent. The Queens (Anne of Austria and Marie Therese) distributed the tickets with every appearance of honesty and good faith. But I had reason to remark, by what happened to myself, that the tickets had been registered beforehand. The young Queen, who felt her garter slipping off came to me in order to tighten it. She handed me her ticket to hold for a moment, and when she had fastened her garter, I gave her back my ticket instead of her own .... My number won a portrait of the King set in brilliants, much to the surprise of the Queen Mother and his Eminence; they could not get over it".

At least two similar brooches with miniatures of Louis set in diamonds, but without pendant pearls, survive. In H.M. The Queen's collection of mininiatures there is a portrait of a lady very like Madame de Montespan drawing attemtion to a brooch with a miniature set in diamonds with a pendant pearl, similar to the brooch in the fan. A necklace of large pearls lies beside the brooch which could be the magnificent necklace of twenty-one pearls that Louis gave Madame de Montespan.

After only seventeen years the little Trianon was pulled down. It was said that the French winters were too harsh for its tiled exterior, but more probably it was because Madame de Maintenon, who had secretly been the King's wife since October 1683, could not bear the sight of such a potent reminder of the King's flamboyant former mistress. This fan leaf, a few tiles, drawings of the bed from the Chambre des Amours, the blue and white table in the Getty Museum, and probably the two gouache paintings by Werner, seem to be the only legacy of the interior of this enchanting house.

1 Cowen
2 Marie 1968, Vol.II, p.198.
3 Ibid., p.222
4 T. H. Lunisingh-Scheurleer, "Pierre Gôle, Ébéniste du roi Louis XIV", in The Burlington Magazine, June, 1980, p.386.
5 Louis was not the first king to be shown as Apollo. His great grandfather Philip II of Spain was similarly shown in a medal of 1555 by Jacopo da Trezzo with the inscription "Now he will illuminate all things". British Museum 1886-4-8-2 (A 85)
6 Collections de Louis XIV, p.237.
7 B.Saule, "Le Premier Goút du Roi à Verailles" in GBA, Oct. 1992m oo.142-143.
8 Guiffrey, Vol. II, p.187, np.70.
9 Ibid., VoL I, p. 27, no. 93. See illusrration in "The Art of Drawing in France," by P. Bjurström, London 1987, p. 91.
10Saule, op.cit., pp. 142-143.
11 De Versailles à Paris: Le Destin de Collections Royales Exhibition Catalogue, Centre Culturel du Panthéon , Paris n/d, pp.18 & 21.
12 B. saule, "L'ameublement du Château de Versailles de 1668 à 1678", in Collinson, pp.148-149.
13 Ibid., p.148, note 14.
14 Montespan, Vol. I, p.53.
15 G. Pernini, Malvasia's Connections with France," in The Burlington Magazine, June 1990, p.411; and Christie's (London), 16 December 1997, lot 171.
16 G. Reynolds, Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Miniatures in the collection of H. M. The Queen, London, 1999. No.320 is said to be possibly Marie Anne de Conti (1666-1739), Louis' daughter by La Valliére. When the miniature was painted c.1675-80 she would have been very young, but a fairly mature face looks out from the miniature. From the hairstyle and other accepted portraits of Madame de Montespan the miniature could be of her, particularly as she so obviously fingers the brooch."

Pamela Cowen
Baroque 1620 - 1800. Style in the Age of Magnificence Eds. Michael Snodin and Nigel Llewellyn, London, 2009,
Exhibition catalogue.

The following is the full text of the entry:

"In the winter of 1670-71, Louis XIV created for his current maitresse en titre, Madame de Montespan, an elegant entertaining complex in the gardens of Versailles known as the Trianon de Porcelaine. The central, single-storey pavilion contained a salon and two bedrooms. This painting shows, albeit imaginatively, its richly decorated interior, as well as Madame de Montespan herself. She appears to be 'offered' as a gift, suggesting that the painting was made for her. The artist seems to have been asked to create a masque-like, teasing fantasy, laughingly combining aspects of a group portrait of Louis XIV and his legitimate family painted in 1670 as Olympian gods (p1.5.72) with the kind of royal parade of luxury illustrated in the tapestry of The Visit of King Louis XIV to the Gobelins, which records a visit made in 1667 (see p.124).

Madame de Montespan demonstrates her own considerable powers as the king's favourite and the effective queen of fashion. Having removed the suggestive deshabille for which she was renowned (see p1.5.54), she sits bare-breasted, her gown discarded over the jewel cabinet. Around her are examples of the most luxurious furnishings available at court at the time. No exact parallels for individual objects have been identified, but the silver, giltwood and ebony pieces incorporate the fashionable motifs of figure supports, fat paw feet and swags of bursting foliage held up by ribbon ties that appear on furniture associated with the court, which she may have seen and coveted (see p.122).

The gambolling putti who act as chorus and orchestra, underlining the overall theme of love, may offer a clue to more exact dating. On 21 April 1674 Madame de Montespan became the undisputed chief mistress when Louise de la Valliere finally retired to a convent. On 5 July, her children by Louis were brought to live at Versailles, following their legitimization in 1673.

The small figure in the bath is distinguished by the services of the putti, his special status also signalled by the laurel branches held above his head. It seems likely that this figure is the duc de Maine, four years old in 1674. That summer also saw lavish entertainments at Versailles, all revolving around Madame de Montespan. At this time, she was so confident of her power that a little teasing of her royal lover was allowable - perhaps by the commissioning of this most intimate of images.

Small gouache paintings such as this one are generally described as fan leaves and were indeed painted on parchment or vellum prepared for fans, though this example was painted on the fan arc and surrounding areas at the same time and may always have been intended as a decorative picture. "

Sarah Medlam
Princely treasures. European masterpieces 1600-1800 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, S. Medlam and L. Miller ed., London, 2011, p.30, illus.

Exhibition History

Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A (Art Gallery of Western Australia 24/09/2011-09/01/2012)
Princely Treasures: European Masterpieces 1600-1800 from the V&A (National Museum of Korea (Seoul) 02/05/2011-28/08/2011)
Baroque 1620-1800 (Victoria & Albert Museum 04/04/2009-19/07/2009)

Categories

Furniture; Interiors; Paintings; Fans

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O45609
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