This Swiss Pontifical Guard
is the only one from the eponymous series by Jean Barbault to be in motion, and to feature in the background both a column and a bay. It is also the largest, along with one from the Besançon Museum of Fine Arts1
, with comparable dimensions.
Following his rejection for the Grand Prix of Rome in 1747, the young Barbault refused an academic career and went to Rome on his own where he befriended Academy residents and attended festivities in the Eternal City. He painted two great series of traditional costumes, those of the Orientals and those of the Italians. As soldiers recruited in Switzerland and served as the pope’s personal protectors, the Swiss Guards belong to the second series executed, according to Paul Mantz2
, between 1749 and 1752, and were a commission from the Marquis de Vandières (1727-1781), future Director of the French King's Buildings. Numbering twelve, the paintings from the series were a quite successful, which prompted the painter to reproduce some of his figures such as the Swiss guard, examples of which are found in Swiss private collections and in the Besançon Museum of Fine Arts, France.
Jean Barbault's fairly visible and outlined strokes contrast with the French tradition of canvases depicting traditional attire that are found in Boucher, Greuze, and Corot; bringing him closer to a Velasquez or a Zurbáran, which explains partly the confusion often made with these two painters3
. However, as the article in the 1975 La Revue du Louvre
points out, Barbault remains a profoundly original and unique artist who, through his picturesque costumes, offers an a joyful image of the Rome of Jean-François de Troy, Vien, Le Lorrain, or Challe.
1. Inv. 983.3.1
2. P. Mantz, "Jean Barbault", in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, Paris 1863.
3. N.V., "Jean Barbault", in La Revue du Louvre and the museums of France, Paris 1975, p. 78.
4. Ibid., p. 78.