Les Andelys, Normandy 1594 - 1665 Rome
The Baptism of Christ
oil on cypress panel
30.5 x 22.8 cm.; 12 x 9 in.
30.5 x 22.8公分；12 x 9英寸
The following condition report is provided by Henry Gentle who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's:
The cypress wood panel is in a good preserved condition; it has six knots visible to the reverse, three of these knots are visible to the paint surface.
The wood to the reverse is strongly grained.
The panel has edging strips added and a small repair to the bottom edge, to the reverse, which doesn't appear on the paint surface.
Under raking light the three knots are proud of the paint surface. One is close to the left hand edge, is 1cm in dia. and has been repaired, another is visible to Christ's real right calf , is 0.5 cm in dia.,and the third is in the red drapery, again approximately 0.5cm in dia.
The surface, under raking light, exhibits soft undulations.
The paint layer is in a very good original condition.
The natural sketchy and bravura handling of the paint appears unadulterated by any previous conservation intervention.
A single strong vertical wood grain, almost the full length of the composition, can be detected to the right hand side, through the rocky formation, and restoration has been applied to reduce this.
The texture of the paint and the individual energetic brushwork, particularly to the sky, clouds and the rocky formation has been applied wet-in-wet and the spontaneity of this is undimmed.
The natural thinly applied paint has, in some places, become more transparent, over the course of time, and the darker under paint is revealed in fine horizontal striations; minor restoration has been applied in some places to mitigate this. The restoration is unsympathetic, however, and not applied with enough sensitivity.
A scattering of very minor restoration is visible to the face of God and the putto to the right.
Subtle details to the facial features, and nuances of reflections in the water and the landscape, are in their original preserved state.
Original glazing, visible to the shadows of the red drapery and the skin tones, is in a good state.
Pentimenti are visible.
There is the remains of an older discoloured varnish in some of the interstices of the paint, removal of this would improve the overall tonality.
The present varnish is patchy, re-freshing it would saturate the bold colours more satisfactorily.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Commissioned from the artist by Jean Fréart de Chambray (1604–1674), Le Mans;
Nicolas de Launay (1647–1727), Directeur de la Monnaie, des médailles et de l'orfèvrerie du Roi, Paris;
From whom acquired in 1727 for 376 livres by Charles Henry, Graf von Hoym (1694–1736), ambassador of Saxony-Poland to France;
Armand Louis François de Mestral, Seigneur de Saint-Saphorin (1738–1806), Vaud, Switzerland, by whom acquired ‘du cabinet d’un ambassadeur de France’;
Probably acquired from his collection in Vienna by Johann Rudolph, Graf von und zu Czernin-Chudenitz (1757–1845), Vienna, and certainly in his collection by 1822;
Thence by descent to Eugen Graf von und zu Czernin-Chudenitz (1892-1955), Vienna, until March 1954;
Houston, University of St Thomas, The Visage of Culture: A Telescopic Survey of Art from the Cave Man to the Present, Autumn 1959;
Paris, Musée du Louvre, Exposition Nicolas Poussin, May–June 1960, no. 85;
Jacksonville, Florida, Cummer Gallery of Art, Masterpieces of French Painting, 10 November – 31 December 1961, p. 28, reproduced p. 31;
Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Nicolas Poussin, 27 September 1994 – 2 January 1995, no. 172.
A. Félibien, Entretiens sur les vies et sur les ouvrages des plus excellens peintres, Paris 1696, II, pp. 355–56;
F. Le Comte, Cabinet des singularitez d’architecture, peinture, et sculpture, vol. II, Paris 1699, p. 133;
Inventory of the collection of Armand Louis François de Mestral, Seigneur de Saint-Saphorin, Catalogue de mes tableaux, 3 vols, unpublished ms., before 1800, no. 60: ‘1 petit tableau de Nicolas Poussin (on dit ce Poussin gravé), du meilleur de ce grand maitre, et de son ton de couleur grizatre… C’est St Jean qui baptise le Christ dans le Jourdain, deux figures grandement dessinées, on vit la petite Jerusalem dans le lointain, et tout ce lointain est savamment teint. C’est un des tableaux remarquables de ce grand maitre, il sort du cabinet d’un ambassadeur de France ainsi que plusieurs [sic] de cette collection. Le Père eternal porte par les anges, qui se voit en haut, est aussi beau que s’il etoit de le Sueur our Raphael’;
A.F.L. de Mestral de Saint Saphorin, Ms Inventory 1801, p. 24, no. 109: 'Taufe Christi, Gottvater in den Wolken; Ankauf Czernin 1805[?];
F.H. Böckh, Wiens lebende Schriftsteller, Kunstler, und Dilettanten im Kunstsache, Dann Bücher-, Kunst- und Naturschätze... dieser Haupt- und Residenz-Stadt: Ein Handbuch fur Einheimisch und Fremde, Vienna 1822, p. 294;
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters..., vol. VIII, London 1837, p. 49, no. 95 (recording the engraving);
H. Chardon, Les Frères Fréart de Chantelou, Le Mans 1867, pp. 94–95;
J. Pichon, Vie de Charles-Henry Comte de Hoym, ambassadeur de Saxe-Pologne en France et célèbre amateur de livres, 1694–1739, vol. II, Paris 1880, p. 72, no. 358;
E. Bonnaffé, Dictionnaire des amateurs français au XVIIe siècle, Paris 1884, p. 116;
W.E. Suida, Die Gemäldegalerie der K.K. Akademie d. BildendenKünste die Sammlungen Liechtenstein, Czernin, Harrach und Schönborn-Buchheim (Moderner Cicerone, vol. II, Wien), Stuttgart, 1890, p. 135;
C. Jouanny (ed.), ‘Correspondance de Nicolas Poussin’, Archives de l'Art Français, N.S., V, 1911, pp. 303, 317–18, 320, 321, 326, 330, 337, 339, 342, 362–63, 381, 385, 387–88, 390 and 393;
W. Friedländer, Nicolas Poussin, Munich 1914, p. 119;
E. Magne, Nicolas Poussin, premier peintre du roi, Brussels and Paris 1914, pp. 152 and 209, no. 188;
W. Friedländer, ‘Poussin’, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Kunstler, XXVII, Leipzig 1933, p. 325;
K. Wilczek, Katalog der Graf Czernin'schen Gemäldegalerie in Wien, Vienna 1936, p. 69, no. 277, reproduced plate 12;
G. Wildenstein, Les Graveurs de Poussin au XVIIe siècle, Paris 1957, p. 104, no. 63;
A. Blunt in Nicolas Poussin, exh. cat., Paris 1960, pp. 115, 191, 257, no. 85;
Combat, May 12, 1960 (review of Paris exhibition, 1960), reproduced;
J. Thuillier, ‘L'Année Poussin’, in Art de France, vol. I, 1961, p. 340;
M. Davies and A. Blunt, ‘Some Corrections and Additions to M. Wildenstein's ‘Graveurs de Poussin au XVIIe siècle’,’ in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6e pér., LX, July–August 1962, pp. 211 and 234;
D. Wild, ‘L'Adoration des Bergers de Poussin à Munich et ses tableaux religieux des années cinquante’, in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6e pér., LX, July–August 1962, p. 234;
A. Blunt, The Paintings of Nicolas Poussin, London 1966, vol. I, p. 51, cat. no. 71;
A. Blunt, Nicolas Poussin (The A.W. Mellon Lectures), vol. I, New York 1967, pp. 214, 257 and 260, reproduced vol. II, plate 171;
J. Thuillier, Tout L'œuvre peint de Poussin, Paris 1974, pp. 102–3, no. 147, reproduced;
M. Jaffé, ‘Poussin and Reni’, in Études d'art français offertes à Charles Sterling, Paris 1975, p. 216, reproduced fig. 126;
Hommage à Corot, exh. cat., Orangerie des Tuileries, Paris, 1975, p. 78, under no. 72;
C.T. Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection; European Schools, Excluding Italian, London 1977, pp. 272 and 274;
J. Thuillier and C. Mignot, ‘Collectionneur et peintre au XVIIe: Pointel and Poussin’, in Revue de l'Art, no. 39, 1978, p. 49;
D. Wild, Nicolas Poussin, Zurich 1980, vol. I, pp. 158 and 211; vol. II, p. 127, no. 137 and p. 177, under no. 189, reproduced vol. II, p. 127;
C. Pace, Félibien's Life of Poussin, London 1981, pp. 124 and 159, n. 59.8;
C. Wright, Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1985, pp. 200–1, no. 132 and pp. 253 and 276, reproduced in colour, plate 167;
J.-J. Lévêque, La Vie et l'œuvre de Nicolas Poussin, Paris 1988, reproduced p. 156;
C. Wright, Poussin: Gemälde. Ein kritisches Werksverzeichnis, 2nd revised ed., Landshut 1989, p. 202, no. 132, pp. 259, 284 and 292, reproduced in colour, plate 166;
A. Mérot, Nicolas Poussin, New York 1990, pp. 169, 264, no. 7 and 301, reproduced p. 264;
J. Thuillier, Nicolas Poussin, Paris 1994, p. 259, no. 170, reproduced; reprinted in J. Thuillier 2015 below, II, p. 550, no. 170, reproduced in colour;
P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat in Nicolas Poussin 1594–1665, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1994, p. 395, no. 172, also cited p. 310 under the year 1646, reproduced in colour;
R. Verdi in Nicolas Poussin, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1995, p. 311, under no. 85, reproduced fig. 172 (as Poussin; ‘the artist’s smallest surviving painting’);
A. le Pas de Sécheval in Le Dieu caché: les peintres du Grand Siècle et la vision de Dieu, exh. cat., Académie de France, Rome, 2000–01, p. 115, no. 12;
C. Wright, Poussin Paintings: A Catalogue Raisonné, 2nd revised English edition, London 2007, p. 184, no. 132, p. 274;
J. Thuillier, Les Écrits de Jacques Thuillier. 3. Nicolas Poussin, N. Milovanovic and S. Lemoine (eds), vol. I, Dijon 2015, p. 267; vol. II, no. 170, p. 550, reproduced;
R. Juffinger and I. Walderdorff, Czernin. Verzeichnis der Gamälde, Vienna 2015, p. 130;
F. Cousinié, 'Surgissement et dynamogénie...', in Poussin et Dieu, N. Milovanovic and M. Szanto (eds), exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2015, p. 105, reproduced p. 107, fig. 72;
O. Bonfait, 'Le Dieu masque', in Poussin et Dieu, N. Milovanovic and M. Szanto (eds), exh. cat., Musée du Louvre, Paris, 2015, p. 115, reproduced p. 116, fig. 79.
By Jean Pesne (1623–1700), in reverse (see Wildenstein 1957, p. 104, no. 63);
Line engraving by Marie-Pauline Soyer, née de Saint-Yves Landon (b. 1786), in reverse;
Lithograph by Villain, after a drawing by Bouillon (with the addition of a dove over Christ’s head).
This small and intensely spiritual panel was painted by Poussin for Jean Fréart de Chambray, the elder brother of two of the painter’s closest friends and protectors, Roland Fréart de Chantelou (1606–1676) and Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609–1694). Both the younger brothers had travelled to Rome in 1639 with an invitation from the French King to Poussin to return to Paris. Poussin’s correspondence with Paul Fréart de Chantelou, which lasted from that year until his death, allows us to follow this picture from its commission in May 1645, through numerous stages and delays in its execution, to its completion over three years later. The painting was not actually begun until March 1648, just after Poussin had finished his series of the Seven Sacraments for Paul Fréart de Chantelou and was finally despatched to his patron in Le Mans in September of the same year. It is one of only a very small number of pictures that Poussin ever painted on panel; his choice of a cypress wood support was most unusual but allows us to identify it with certainty with the ‘petite table de cyprès’ mentioned in a letter from the painter to his patron’s brother Paul in June of that year. The small format was specifically requested by Jean Fréart de Chambray, and at least part of the delay in its completion was due to Poussin’s adjustment to this new and (for him) unfamiliar format and support. The Baptism was a subject close to Poussin’s heart, and here he has succeeded in distilling the spiritual drama of the great Sacraments canvases into a small and highly personal work of great intensity. Saint John the Baptist falls to his knees as he sees a vision of God in Heaven appearing at the very moment of the act of baptism, whose significance and importance is captured by the moving expression upon Christ’s face while he stands naked in the waters of the river Jordan. God the Father, arms outstretched, has strong echoes of the divine figure borne by angels in Raphael’s small Vision of Ezekiel, now at the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, a composition that the artist knew well from a version owned by Chantelou.
As Pierre Rosenberg and other scholars have noted, this painting is particularly well documented in Poussin’s own correspondence with both Jean and Paul Fréart de Chantelou. The first mention of the painting is in a letter of 15 May from Poussin to Jean, in which he mentions a commission for a ‘…petit tableau sur bois de la grandeur du St. Paul de Mr votre frère’ (‘a small picture on wood of the same size as the St. Paul done for your brother’).1 This indicates that Jean Fréart de Chantelou was asking for a small panel of a similar format to the Ecstasy of Saint Paul that Poussin had painted for his brother Paul between August and December 1643 as a pendant to his painting of The Vision of Ezekiel, then attributed to Raphael himself, which he had recently acquired in Bologna.2 This was also on a small panel, measuring 41.5 by 30 cm, and is today preserved in the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida (fig. 1).3 In a subsequent letter of 20 August to his brother Paul the subject of the commission is specified as ‘un petit batesme de St. Jan’ (‘a small baptism of Saint John’),4 and Poussin expresses his unease with the format: ‘Je confesse que je ne peux luy rien refuser Mais comme jei juré de jamais ne rien fere de si petit (m’ayant ce petit ouvrage offense notablement la vue) et m’estant impossible de le server si promptement qu’il voudroit je vous supplie de servir de médiateur…’ (‘I confess I cannot refuse him anything but as I have sworn never to do anything so small (such small work offends my sight) and as it seems impossible to serve him as quickly as he would wish I appeal to you to act as mediator…’).5 The choice of subject was no doubt an allusion to the Christian name of Poussin’s patron. In October the same year Poussin wrote again to Jean Fréart de Chantelou, apologizing for the lack of progress, which he blamed on the small format and the pressure of time, for he was at that moment ‘totallement dédié au service de monsieur vostre fraire’ (‘totally taken up by the work I am doing for your brother’), namely the great series of canvases of the Seven Sacraments today in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.6 Poussin had begun his second set of canvases on this theme – without doubt the greatest and most central achievement of his art – for Paul Fréart de Chantelou in 1644, and would not complete them until 1648. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pressure of that commission did not allow Poussin time for this smaller work. Although on the 2 February 1646 he was able to write to his patron that he had ‘…résoleu la disposition du Babtesme [sic] de St Jean’, in April and again in July he was obliged to admit that to his brother that ‘je n’ay point encore commensé le petit tableau de Monsieur de Chantelou vostre fraire’ (‘I have not yet begun the little picture for your brother M. de Chantelou’).7
Finally, in a letter dated 22 June 1648, Poussin wrote to Paul Fréart de Chantelou to tell him that he had begun the picture: ‘jei ébauché le petit tableau de Mor. Vostre fraire et essayerei de le finir cet esté’ (‘I have begun the small painting for your brother and I shall try to finish it this summer’).8 It is surely no coincidence that the last of the Sacraments, that of Marriage, was completed on 23 March, and Poussin was now free to pursue other commissions and designs. In a letter of 13 September, he was able to write to Jean Fréart de Chatelou to inform him that the finished work had been sent to his brother, with a final plea for mitigation on account of his poor eyesight and a little stiffness in his hands. There can be little doubt that Poussin, who was far more accustomed to working on canvas and on a much larger scale, was probably uncomfortable with his patron’s choice of size and medium. Nevertheless, this was not the last time that he would paint religious subjects in such a format. According to his biographer Félibien, several years later in 1653, he painted a Noli me tangere for the banker Jean Pointel (d. 1660), a rival patron to the Fréart de Chantelou brothers. This panel, of slightly larger dimensions (46.5 by 38.7 cm.) survives today in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Two further and slightly smaller panels depicting The Annunciation and The Nativity, possibly also painted for Pointel, are today in the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen in Munich (figs 2 and 3).9 All three of these other panels display the same sense of simplicity and directness that is found in the present painting and are similarly shorn of all adornment or decoration. Whether this was in response to their smaller format or perhaps a reflection of the great spiritual tenor of the Sacrament canvases that Poussin had just completed for Chantelou is impossible to say for they were painted over a decade apart, but it seems hard to separate the clarity and rigour of the design of this panel from the central figures in the Baptism in Edinburgh (fig. 5). The introduction in the smaller panel of the figure of God in the sky above, seems to be, as Rosenberg notes, a variation on a figure used by Poussin for his large altarpiece of The Miracle of Saint Francis Xavier painted in 1641 for the chapel of the Jesuit Novitiate in Paris and today in the Musée du Louvre (fig. 4).10 The subject of the Baptism of Christ seems to have held a particular interest for Poussin, for alongside that of the Holy Family, it is the one of the subjects he most frequently returned to throughout his career. The present panel forms part of a sequence of treatments of the theme, earlier examples of which include the Baptism that formed part of the first series of the Sacraments painted for Cassiano del Pozzo and completed in 1642 (National Gallery of Art, Washington),11 and two canvases from the mid-1630s in the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the J. Paul Getty Museum, the latter also painted for Cassiano dal Pozzo.12 Poussin would return again to the subject of the Baptism of Christ on a larger scale in two later canvases from the mid-1650s. These are today in a private collection in Paris (formerly in the collection of the Earl of Wemyss and March at Gosford House) and at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia (fig. 6).13
Notwithstanding the pressures Poussin had been under, the year 1648 seems to have been a particularly fertile one for him, one from which some eleven certain paintings are recorded, amongst which were some of his most memorable works. Works from this year described by Félibien, included, for example, the Eliezer and Rebecca painted for the banker Pointel and today in the Louvre, and the Holy Family on the staircase painted for Nicolas Hennequin, Baron d’Equevilly and now in the Cleveland Museum of Art.14 This period is also distinguished by a number of landscape paintings, most notably the Landscape with the funeral of Phocion and its pendant the Landscape with ashes of Phocion today in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool respectively.15 To these can be added three more famous works: the Landscape with Diogenes painted for the Genoese banker Lumagne and now in the Louvre; the Landscape with Orpheus also in the Louvre; and finally the Landscape with a man killed by a snake in the National Gallery, London; not to mention at least two other missing works in this vein.16 The reason for this burst of creativity may be due precisely to the fact that many of these works were landscapes, which being then considered a more minor genre, would probably have required less time and care than Poussin’s religious or classical subjects, over which he might sometimes labour for a day on a single head. It is quite possible also that some of these works may already have been begun by Poussin in earlier years, and which he was only now able to complete.
Despite all these difficulties, it seems that Jean Fréart de Chambray was well pleased with the final result. In a letter of 19 December 1648, Poussin thanks his patron for ‘the esteem’ which he accorded this ‘small work’ and adds in a modest personal and philosophical note invoking the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) that ‘Je ne vous l’ay dédié qu’à la Mode de Michel de Montagne non pour bon, mais tel que je l’ay peu fere...’ (‘I have dedicated it to you only in the spirit of Michel de Montaigne, not as the finished article, but as the best I was able to do...’).
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
This panel is distiguished by its particularly illustrious and virtually unbroken history from the moment of its commission down to the present day. The importance of the Fréart de Chantelous alone would be distinguished enough but subsequent owners of this painting were also collectors of distinction in their own right. Amand de Mestral de Saint Saphorin was an immensely experienced diplomat and served as Danish envoy to courts throughout Europe, and served at the Imperial Court in Vienna from 1790 until his death in 1805. During this time he amassed a very considerable collection of paintings, drawings and especially prints, among them works by Jordaens, Jan Brueghel, Ruisdael, and Mengs. He had in fact met Johann Rudolph Graz von Czernin-Chudenitz during the latter’s travels as a young man in the Netherlands18 and would undoubtedly have known him during his time in Vienna. Graf Czernin subsequently bought a number of paintings from his collection, including Rembrandt's Portrait of an old woman at prayer today in Salzburg. Johann Rudolph Czernin was a distinguished connoisseur and President of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, and his collection was one of the most important of its day in Austria, second only to the Imperial collections and those of the Princes of Liechtenstein. His collection was particularly strong in Dutch paintings, the most famous among them being Vermeer's great Malkunst today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, but also included other notable works such as Titian's Portrait of the Doge Andrea Gritti and Dürer's Portrait of a clergyman, both now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. A large part of the collection is today in the Residenzgalerie in Salzburg.
1 Jouanny 1911, p. 303, no. 122.
2 Present whereabouts unknown. The original is thought to be that now in the Galleria Pitti in Florence, but although the design is that of Raphael the execution is almost unanimously given to his studio. See, for example, L. Dussler, Raphael. A critical catalogue of his pictures, London 1971, pp. 44–45, reproduced plate 98.
3 Inv. no. SN690. Exhibited Paris 1960, no. 67.
4 Jouanny 1911, p. 303, no. 122.
5 Jouanny 1911, pp. 317–18, no. 127.
6 Exhibited London 1995, nos 49–55, all reproduced.
7 Jouanny 1911, pp. 330, no. 134, p. 337, no. 138, and p. 342, no. 140.
8 Jouanny 1911, p. 385, no. 162.
9 Exhibited Paris, 1994, nos 215, 216 and 217, all reproduced. The type of wood is not specified for the Munich pair but the Prado panel is walnut. The Munich panels measure 45 x 38 cm.
10 Inv. no. 7289. Canvas, 444 x 234 cm. Thuillier 1994, p. 257, no. 151.
11 Canvas, 95.5 x 121 cm. Exhibited Paris 1994, no. 69.
12 Thuillier 1994, pp. 252–53, nos 94 and 102. Thuillier dates the Getty painting slightly earlier, to around 1633–34, and that in the Louvre to between 1633 and 1635.
13 Exhibited Paris 1995, nos 218 and 219.
14 Thuillier 1994, p. 259, nos 172 and 173, reproduced.
15 Thuillier 1994, p. 259, nos 176 and 177, reproduced.
16 Thuillier 1994, p. 259, nos 178, 179 and 180.
17 See R. Juffinger, ‘Die Grafen Czernin und deren Gemäldesammlungen in Prag und Wien’, in Sammeln als Institution, B. Marx and K.-S. Rehberg (eds), Munich and Berlin 2006, pp. 163-17.
18 In his journal for 17 August 1777, Czernin described him as '...a great lover of paintings, but otherwise a bit bland and not very popular'.