32.1 cm x 24.4 cm (12 5/8 in. x 9 5/8 in.)
(Rheims, 1623 - 1678, Paris)
Medium and Support:
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Isidore Simkowitz in memory of Amy Cecelia Simkowitz-Rogers, 1996
Mid-seventeenth-century France saw the emergence of an utterly coherent system of engraving that is among the major manifestations of the classical Baroque and among the great languages in the history of printmaking. Shortly after the foundation of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648, engraving was elevated by royal edict from an industrial to a liberal art, incorporated as an academic discipline, and thus given equally systematic means for transmitting its skills and values.
The portraits of Robert Nanteuil were the first expression of this system. His work proceeds from an appropriation of Jean Morin’s and Claude Mellan’s modes, through a synthesis of their respective naturalism and idealism, to a moment in the late 1650s of extraordinary balance in the relation of one mark to another, sitter to frame, and form to ethos. Portraying a tenacious councillor of state who was later disgraced, this print is one of the artist’s masterpieces. Much more than the conventions that Nanteuil established, it is his eminently rational conception and procedure, governing individual works and artistic development alike, that has been called “the constitution of French engraving.” Nanteuil’s achievement should be compared with that of Nicolas Poussin in painting, Pierre Corneille in tragedy, and René Descartes in philosophy.
The collection boasts 122 engravings by Nanteuil, more than half his oeuvre, with numerous prints in multiple states.