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Robert Nanteuil

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Robert Nanteuil
17th century
(Rheims, 1623 - 1678, Paris)

Robert Nanteuil developed his systematic approach to portraiture in response to the needs of the French royal family and members of the court. His portraits are characterized by a general, intended uniformity that was achieved through standardized design and consistent style. Heavy oval frames set within a rectangular field draw attention to the sitter and allow for inscriptions detailing the sitter’s identity, the inclusion of the sitter’s coat of arms, and select ornaments such as garlands and volutes. Closely spaced lines give the tonal variation of paintings in black and white. Nanteuil’s best portraits remain faithful to a general type while revealing the personality of the sitter. Embraced by the royalty, this type experienced diffusion. And though Nanteuil made numerous portraits of the king himself, he is most closely associated with the haute bourgeoisie: lawyers, judges, members of the clergy, writers, poets, doctors, as well as the lesser nobility. Portrait prints helped secure a sitter’s place in society, or at least gave the appearance of desired status. Nanteuil’s production of more than 220 portrait prints attests to the popularity of this form and its social function. These remained the standards of the genre until the French Revolution.

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