Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet

The Salon de Mars, Versailles, just one of several venues             
             demanding the  talents of the best French artists of the day.                        
Descent from the Cross, Jean Jouvenet.
Along with his other version bearing the
same title (below, left), he depicts an
almost moment-by-moment recounting
of the event.
In this day and age, we seldom encounter large scale projects employing a number of artists working individually, yet together as a team. I suppose that's largely because modern-day buildings tend not to be highly decorated, or at least, not to the degree the work would require more than a single artist (perhaps with some assistants), working on a focal point mural or mosaic. Probably the closest thing we might see today involving such a team effort would be in the making of a motion picture which, even at that, is, in fact, a single work of art directed by a single individual, not the massive, gallery decorating we see in European palaces of three or four hundred years ago. The Salon de Mars (above), just one of several such rooms in Versailles, is a typical example. Though the entire decorating project during the 1680s and 90s was under the direction of Charles Le Brun, he employed a small army of very talented painters (some a good deal more talented that he was) in covering the walls and ceilings of the royal hangout with the ornate religious and mythological extravaganzas deemed necessary and appropriate, given the tastes of the day.
The Resurrection of Lazarus, 1706, Jean Jouvenet
Descent from the Cross, Jean Jouvenet.
It's uncertain whether this version, or
the other (above, right) came first.
The waining years of the 17th-century were, of course, the high water of the Baroque era. And there were, at the time, no shortage of exceptional painters and sculptors to be found in France and neighboring Italy. Le Brun and his boss, Louis XIV, could pick and choose as many such artists as they needed (and could afford). Even though the ongoing (like for more than twenty years) interior decoration of Versailles was a highly prestigious undertaking for any working artist at the time, outstanding artists then, as now, did not work cheap, even though their careers might benefit from their doing so. Even the King of France had a budget (which later proved not to be unlimited). There were many like him, but one of the best such painters, was Jean-Baptiste Jouvenet. The Salon de Mars (top) was one of his assignments; The Resurrection of Lazarus (above) one of his better works.
Recumbent Man, 1686, Jean Jouvenet. Le Brun admired his work as much
 for his draughtsmanship as his painting. This work may have been a
preparatory drawing for his Descent from the Cross (above, left).
Jean Jouvenet, Self-portrait
In many ways, Jean Jouvenet was not outstanding...that is, not in the sense that he was exceptionally better than the dozen or more other painters Le Brun had at his disposal. As can be seen in his Resurrection of Lazarus, Jouvenet was not as Baroque as some, and seemed to have a clearer handle on his themes and compositions than did many of his peers, who were often consumed with matters of style and, indeed, flamboyance. When you're just one of many, even artists are tempted compete with one another. Jouvenet seems to be one who didn't. Today, critics and art historians tend to see and appreciate this fact in his work. Aside from Versailles, today the British Museum in London, and the Louvre seem to be most appreciative, inasmuch as they house the bulk of his works. Jouvenet's Recumbent Man (above) dating from 1686, resides in the Louvre.

The Miraculous Draught of Fish, 1706, Jean Jouvenet, claimed by critics 
to be his best work, though certainly not in the best condition.
During the early 1700s, Jouvenet went on to work under the direction of Charles de La Fosse in the Invalides and Trianon while also moonlighting as an art professor at the Royal Academy, though it's uncertain which one actually functioned as his "day job." One British art historian compared Jouvenet's work to that of Nicholas Poussin, Eustache Le Sueur, and some pieces by Raphael. Around 1712, Jouvenet probably suffered a stroke, paralyzing his right hand. Undaunted, he simply switched to painting with his left hand, which he did up until his death in 1717.

Repast in the House of Simon, 1706, Jean Jouvenet.
The artist seems to have had a fondness for biblical crowd scenes.


No comments:

Post a Comment