THE Petites Salles Françaises lead out of the long gallery from Bay D and, as their name indicates are small rooms mostly containing French pictures. In Room IX., however, are a number of late Italian works, few of which are of any great interest. On the plan the rooms are numbered IX., X., XI., XII. and XIII.
In Room IX. which is nearest the Grande Galerie, are pictures by Cantarini, Giordano, Maratta, Giulio Romano, Garofalo and Salvator Rosa. Of these very few are worthy special notice.
Maratta’s Portrait of Maria Maddalena Rospigliosi is one of the very best examples of this Roman painter who was a member of the school that formed itself about Caravaggio. It is a half-length portrait and shows the princess standing in full face, her right hand, which holds a fan, resting on a table beside her. She is dressed in black, with full double-puffed sleeves of white, her neck and shoulders bare. The careful workmanship displayed in the rendering of the delicate lace that so elaborately trims her dress is more than equalled technically by the handling shown in the face and neck. The face itself is far from beautiful but it possesses a dignity and poise that make it interesting.
Mars and Venus by Luca Giordano, called Luca la Presto because of his extraordinary rapidity of execution, is a not very good canvas by this man who, had he half tried might have been one of the great modern masters. He was possessed of tremendous ability but seemed to care for nothing but to dash through a picture, getting a certain daring, brilliant effect, wholly superficial, and thus ruining ‘what might have been great beauty, dramatic action and rich colouring. Charles II. invited him to Spain and he did a large number of works in the Escorial. He belongs to the Neapolitan school, and died in Naples in 1705.
The picture represents Venus nude, stretched out, half-sitting, half-reclining on a couch, looking over her shoulder at Mars, who, in armour, is standing behind her pointing out Vulcan at his forge in the distance. Two women servants are at the right of Venus, one of whom seems urging her to dress. In the foreground are two delicious little Loves, one holding on to a large dog, the other fallen over asleep, his head on his arms.
Of the early French pictures that fill the rest of the Petites Salles, those by Vouet, Clouet and Le Sueur are the most important. It is well to mention, however, the name of Jean Cousin, who has been called the founder of the French school. He lived during the reigns of Henri II., Henri III., and Charles IX. and was the author of a book ” on the proportions of the human body.” His principal work is The Last Judgment in Salle IX. It is much mixed up and shows little real taste or talent.
In the same room are two portraits by François Clouet, painter in ordinary to François I. One is Charles IX., represented standing, the other Elizabeth of Austria. They have a certain fineness of type and elegance of line, and in the elaboration of costume show Clouet’s ” taste for the picturesque.”
Salle XII. is given up to the series of pictures by Le Sueur illustrating the life of St. Bruno. They were ordered by the monks of the Carthusians in 1645, in memory of St. Bruno himself who was the founder of their order. Le Sueur was helped in the work by many of his pupils and also by his brother-in-law Goussé. The pictures were in place in the little cloister in about three years, arranged under arches that were separated by Doric pilasters. Between each painting the history of the saint was written in Latin verse by Jarry. In 1776 they were presented to the king, and in the year to they were open to the public in the Palace of Versailles. The following year they were taken to the Luxembourg, and finally, in 1848, after being restored, they were put into the Louvre.
Le Sueur was contemporary with Le Brun and for years there was great rivalry between them, though so far as the public was concerned it was only Le Brun who received its laudations. It was not till the commission came for the St. Bruno pictures that Le Sueur received any sort of recognition. He painted with a soft, earnest feeling that has given him the title, ” f aute de mieux” as Mr. Brownell says, of the ” French Raphael.” All the French critics are inclined to grant Le Sueur a far higher place than they accord Le Brun. But Anglo-Saxons feel his supremacy less keenly. Brownell expresses the general opinion, perhaps a trifle sharply, when he says ” He had a great deal of very exquisite feeling for what is refined and elevated, but clearly it is a moral rather than an aesthetic delicacy that he exhibits, and aesthetically he exercises his sweeter and more sympathetic sensibility within the same rigid limits which circumscribe that of Le Brun. He has, indeed, less invention, less imagination, less sense of composition, less wealth of detail, less elaborateness, no greater concentration or sense of effect; and though his colour is more agreeable, perhaps, in hue, it gets its tone through the absence of variety rather than through juxtapositions and balances.”
The first of the St. Bruno series shows the saint listening to the sermon of Raymond Diocrés. It is the interior of a church and at the right Raymond, who was canon of Notre Dame, is preaching. At the left the congregation are sitting, Bruno standing among them. He is dressed in blue with a yellow cloak, and holds a book under his arm. At the foot of the pulpit a young clerk records the words of the young preacher. One of the most notable bits of individuality is the kneeling woman in the middle of the crowd, whose ecstasy as she listens is clearly and even spiritually indicated. There is real absorption shown in her posture; her head is turned backwards, and a most tender expression is in her profile. Bruno also shows, says M. Charles Blanc, in the calmness of his attitude and the serenity of his face, the disinterested and tolerant spirit. The whole composition is full of individual characterization and breathes a spirit of earnestness. The preacher has a vigorous, intense personality, which his gestures intensify without exaggeration.
This same preacher is on his death-bed in the next picture of the series. He is lying on the bed at the right, his face turned to the cross which is held out to him by a priest accompanied by two deacons. An old man is showing great fear as he watches the coming of the end. In the foreground St. Bruno is on his knees, praying, and at the left on the floor are the preparations for the funeral. Above the head of the dying man is a demon.
The third is Raymond Diocrés Rising from His Coffin to pronounce his own condemnation. The officiating priests are covered with fear and confusion and one boy in the choir has, in his terror, dropped his book. St. Bruno is back to Raymond, his hands joined in fervour. It was, according to the traditions of the order, only after the death of Raymond that Bruno’s conversion took place. So that it is with the fourth of the series that his religious life really begins.
In this fourth he is seen on his knees in an ecstasy before a cross, his head turned in profile to the left. He is in a long robe, not yet that of his order. Through a window two men are observed burying the corpse of the doctor. The figure of Bruno has real expression and the whole picture, painted almost in monotone, has a quiet, religious tone.
The fifth, St. Bruno Explaining the Faith to his pupils in the school at Reims, is not very unlike the first. Bruno is in the pulpit, pointing heavenward. The scene has a certain delicacy of treatment, a tranquillity of chiaroscuro and a colour admirably adapted to the subject. In all his interiors of this series, Le Sueur uses the Doric order of architecture. Charles Blanc says it is as if, in portraying this life of renunciation, he did not wish to have the efflorescence of the Corinthian order to interfere with the simplicity and quietness of his subject.
In the picture showing St. Bruno lying upon a bed with three angels appearing to him, both the winged apparitions and the saint are painted with great tenderness and are imbued with an ecstatic mystery.
In the Journey to Chartreuse Le Sueur has drawn the horses bearing the saint and his companions with much ability, though possibly not quite so remarkably as Blanc affirms.
So they go on, with a certain far-off remembrance of Raphael, but without his dignity of figures, his marvellous massing in composition, or, in fine, his originality and mastery. One of the best of all is that showing Pope Victor III. confirming the order of the Carthusians. It is the interior of a temple, in which the Pope is sitting on an elevated throne surrounded by his cardinals, one of whom, standing, is reading the statutes of the new order. Blanc again points out that here, with good knowledge of his subjects, Le Sueur has not painted the thin, self-denying cadaverous priests of the rigid monastic life. Instead, these princes of the Roman Church have an amplitude and vigour of flesh and form, well suited to the world of Rome where they ruled.
In Bruno Refusing the Archiepiscopal Mitre Offered by Pope Urban II. there are depth of colour and good chiaroscuro.
Room XIII. has Le Sueur’s mural pictures which he executed for the ceilings of Hôtel Lambert, at the time that Le Brun was also working there. These are mythologic subjects which have a certain sweetness and grace if no very great authority. The colouring is agreeable if far from enchanting, and the forms are well-drawn if without great force. The Cabinet of the Muses was what the room was called where he painted, and it-was there that Voltaire lived from 1745 to 1749. There are less restraint and perhaps less timidity in these decorations than in his religious scenes.