Lot 47
  • 47

Isaac Moillon

120,000 - 180,000 EUR
bidding is closed


  • Isaac Moillon
  • The Rape of Helen
  • Oil on canvas
  • 141,5 x 109 cm ; 55 3/4  by 43 in


V. Font, L'Histoire de Pâris et Hélène d'après Isaac Moillon, une tenture à la mode du Grand Siècle, mémoire de Master I, sous la direction de M. Thierry Verdier, Université Montpellier III, 2017, reproduit cat. 33.

Catalogue Note

With its dramatic obscurity, curious full moon lighting, and a sea wind that ruffles and undresses the figures, this powerful painting by Isaac Moillon seems to be connected with the series of mural hangings correlating to the lovers, Paris and Helen. For if the artist Isaac Moillon, younger brother of the great still life painter Louyse Moillon, was famous during the first half of the 17th century for his great decoration workshops1, it was mainly his output intended for the Aubusson manufacturer that distinguished him. The Academy art historian, André Félibien, wrote that the painter "worked on stories for tapestries (...), the manner of which was that of Voûët, under whom he had painted a great deal.2" Moillon had quickly integrated within this envied field and initiated immediately many tapestries, highly appreciated and reproduced extensively throughout the 17th century.
One of these great commissions was an impressive series of more than eight tapestries telling the Story of Paris and Helen. Executed before 16543, this splendid set is now listed, but unfortunately is incomplete. If we know well the tapestries about the main episodes of Helene's life, there remains today no trace of the composition representing the rapture of Helen. Yet this woven work existed and had been listed at the end of the 19th century4. Finally, despite the absence of this mural hanging, the stylistic and iconographic proximity of our canvas with the tapestries Lovers, Paris and Helen5 or Return of Helen to Sparta6 (fig 1) suggests that our painting must have aided weavers or cartoon artists to draw a design. Indeed, the same Paris with a wavy and juvenile beard is found throughout this series, just like the blonde Helen. Furthermore, displayed on each of the eight current hangings is a similar dress made according to the fashion of the time, with a stiff and embroidered front fabric, adorned with a chest cabochon jewel which was then nicely called in French  "tâtez-y". We also find in our painting the same attributes identifying mythological heroes.
Today there are only two paintings directly related to the Moillon tapestries. They were used as models for The Story of Ulysses 7. Of much smaller dimensions than our canvas (height about 65 cm), they were initially cartoons to be woven. They were more the work of collaborators made to offer the weaving craftsmen a format they can manipulate8. No canvas of our configuration can be attached directly to tapestries known by Moillon, but it is not excluded that in the future other paintings of this scale will emerge which served in their time as beautiful easel pictures as well as inspirations for the members of his workshop. Our painting dates from the 1650s, the period when the painter was fully mature, during which he also executed the splendid canvases of The Story of Porcia. Apart from the latter, very few works by Isaac Moillon have unfortunately been discovered from these years. Alas, the rare testimonies of this decade shape today the most beautiful works from his small corpus. The artist then incarnated a moment that it is very infrequent to observe in art history, this passing of late Mannerism to French Classic art in development. Our Rapture of Helen reveals it well with the soldiers at the bottom of the composition borrowing indeed a certain Mannerist twist, visible in numerous Fontainebleau tapestries that certainly Isaac Moillon saw. Whereas, Helen adorned with jewels and gilded amber announces the forthcoming triumph of a Le Brun.