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Charles Le Brun

After the uprising of the fronde was overcome in 1653, Cardinal Mazarin ruled France until young Louis XIV became king in 1661. Under the patronage of each, Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) “dominated 17th-century French painting as no other artist; it was not until a century later, during the predominance of Jacques-Louis David, that artistic authority was again so concentrated in one man.” Le Brun was so precocious that Poussin famously declared, upon seeing his paintings in 1640, “that if they were the work of a young man, he would one day be one of the greatest painters of all time.” Le Brun accompanied Poussin to Rome in 1642, returning to Paris in 1646, where he soon became one of the founders of the Royal Academy. In the early 1650s he began to show “an aptitude for relating national issues to the heroic past”; this prepared him well for his vocation as “Premier Peintre du Roi” upon the ascendance of Louis XIV (Constans 19-21).

Charles Le Brun won the young king’s patronage by painting The Queens of Persia at the Feet of Alexander in 1660-61. This canvas was followed by The Passage of the Granicus and The Triumph of Alexander in 1661-65; all three images were widely distributed as engravings and Gobelin tapestries. From 1669 into the mid-1680s, Le Brun oversaw every detail of his greatest work, “the royal palace of Versailles” (Constans 21-24). Young Melville was overwhelmed when he visited Versailles on December 6, 1849: “A most magnificent & incredible affair altogether. Splendid paintings of battles. Grand suite of rooms of Louis Le Grand” (NN J 33-34).

A week earlier in 1849, Melville had visited the Louvre, with its “heaps of treasures of art of all sorts” (J 31). Among the paintings he would have seen there is The Battle of the Granicus, the battle scene by Le Brun that he acquired in an outline engraving from the Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings. Melville’s prints after Blanchard and Jouvenet were also outline engravings from the Historic Gallery.

  • Works cited for Le Brun, Blanchard, and Jouvenet:
  • Alegret, Celia. “Jouvenet, Jean.” Grove, 17: 670-72.
  • Bajou, Thierry. “Blanchard, French family of painters.” Grove, 4: 124-27.
  • Coffler, Gail H. Melville’s Allusions to Religion. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.
  • Constans, Claire. “Le Brun, Charles.” Grove, 19: 19-26.
  • Gareau, Michel. Charles Le Brun: First Painter to King Louis XIV. New York: Abrams, 1992.
  • Hazlitt, William. Criticisms on Art, and Sketches of the Picture Galleries of England. Edited by his son. 2 vol. in 1.  London: J. Templeton, 1843 (Sealts no. 266a).
  • The Historic Gallery of Portraits and Paintings, 7 v. London: Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe, 1807-19.
  • Montagu, J. and J. Thuillier. Charles Le Brun, 1619-1690. Chateau de Versailles, July 1-October 1963.
  • Thuillier, Jacques. Jacques Blanchard, 1660-1638. Rennes: Musée des beaux-arts des Rennes, 1998.
  • The Works of Eminent Masters. London: Cassell, 1854 (Sealts no. 564).