|PORTRAIT OF MADAME DE BOURBON-CONTI
SN 381, oil on canvas, 1731
Signed: Charles Antoine Coypel
Noel-Nicolas attribution by Pierre Rosenberg, Louvre curator
From "The Pages"
The Coypels were a French family of painters whose work over 3 generations maps the
progress of history painting in late 17th c & early 18th c France. Noel, the
patriarch, was a follower of Poussin. Noel-Nicolas was his son by a second marriage; his
work is distinguished by its decorative quality.
Noel-Nicolas was born in Paris & trained by his father & the Academie Royal. In
1714 he married FranÁoise Legendre. In his work, he was at first over-shadowed by his
successful half-brother, Antoine, upon whose work Noel based many successful compositions.
He did many religious paintings, not all of which have survived. (His masterpiece, the
ceiling & altarpiece of the Chapel of the Virgin in St Sauveur, Paris, was destroyed
Noels own luminous, graceful style matured with carefully planned well-lit
compositions and an engaging use of his favorite female types. By 1733 he was a professor
at the Academie Royale with a fine career. Unfortunately he died prematurely the following
year after a domestic accident. Coypel also painted modellos for the Gobelin Tapestry
Madame de Bourbon-Conti (Louise Elisabeth.) was a princess who supported the enlightened
ideas of Voltaire, a friend of her husband and of the court favorite, Madame de Pompadour.
Louise-Francoise, her mother, was a legitimate daughter of Louis XIV. Madame and
her husband, Louis Armand II, Prince de Conti, were both descendants from the House of
Madame is portrayed as a playful goddess, perhaps Venus, since she is attended by a winged
Cupid with his dart and garlanded with flowers which were the fashionable
substitute for ornate jewelry at this time. Her only jewelry is a wristlet of pearls tied
with ribbon. To be portrayed in this way was a popular convention in 18th c France.
The French Academy considered portraiture to be a lesser category than history painting
thus artists combined history and allegory with portraiture to improve the status of this
type of painting. John Ringling owned a tapestry whose subject is the poem, JERUSALEM
DELIVERED by Tasso. The poem was a very popular Italian poem at the time. The main
characters of the poem are Armida and Rinaldo. Charles Antoine Coypel supplied cartoons
for the Gobelin tapestry factory. A set of tapestries was woven for rooms in Versailles.
The series of tapestries surrounded the salon they were Le Sommeil de
Rinaud, LEvanouissement de Armide, and La Destruction
du palais D Armide. The subjects were based on the opera Armida by
Quinau and Lulli. The surround theatre is similar to the Marie de Medici
series by Rubens at the Luxembourg Palace.
In the painting, the Crusader Knight, Rinaldo is tempted by the pagan enchantress, Armida,
who is aided by Cupid (Eros) and his brother Anteros (reciprocal love). During the first
Crusade, the Saracens, legend tells us, enlisted Armida (a virgin) to entice Rinaldo, a
Christian Knight and thus destroy him. In the magic kingdom of storytelling, the story of
enticement changes to love. Armida falls in love with Rinaldo and he with her although he
subsequently deserts her and returns to the Crusade. The flower chain in the painting is
symbolic of the rope Armida braided of roses, woodbine and lilies to bind Rinaldo to her.
The ĺ length portrait is a typical Rococo composition, putting the sitter necessarily in
the near foreground. The pose is informal. Note, however, that she is seated on a blue
cushion, indication of her royal status which would also have allowed her to sit in
the presence of the king. Leaning forward, she glances back over her shoulder all
of which conveys the idea of spontaneity.
Behind her is another winged creature his wings are moth like; there may have been
some literary allusion there, lost to us today.
Coypel places Madame in the front space of the picture plane, inviting viewers
participation with Armida. Visually our eyes are seduced by the lush, creamy silk of her
dress; the viewer follows the many folds of her dress and our eyes are led upwards to her
picture perfect face. Compared to 17th c. Royal portraits of powdered wigs and formal
poses, her hair appears quite natural and the ĺ asymmetrical pose of the Rococo reminds
us of change and fragility of love encounters. Her body faces our right but she looks to
the left encouraging us to be involved in where she is looking.
The setting is pastoral with feathery trees on the left and deep space on the right
elevating the figure to a rocky hill in nature. Madames left hand with a palm is
similar to many other 18th c. portraits. Cupid with his arrow and Anteros with his finger
to his lips, are tethered together by a flower rope. The twists and turns of the plot were
ideal for 18th c. opera. Charles Antoine was a writer for the theater as well as a
painter. The pastel colors were well suited for Rococo interiors-coordinating
walls, furniture, rugs, decorative objects with painting or tapestries.
Think back to the Baroque portrait of Philip IV, by Velasquez. How remote & aloof he
was, how dark and formal! Here we have delicacy, light-hearted elegance conveyed through
the light, pastel colors in Madames silk dress, the flowers, the pink cheeks of the
putti even the pastoral background. All this is characteristic of Rococo, and far
removed from the style of the preceding century.
Portrait of Madame de Bourbon-Conti as Venus
Artist: NoŽl Nicolas Coypel
French, 1690-1734, active in Paris
Oil on canvas, 54 3/8 x 42 in. (138.1 x 106.7 cm)
Many famous women bore the name Bourbon-Conti, and the sitter portrayed here is likely
Louise-Diane d'Orleans, princesse de Conti, the daughter of Philippe II, Duke d'Orleans.
Philippe was Regent of France before Louis XV assumed the throne. NoŽl-Nicholas was the
son of the famous NoŽl Coypel and had two brothers who were painters. Indicative of the
flourishes of the Rococo brush, and Coypel's own penchant for sumptuous drapery and
clouds, the princess is shown in an elegant spiral, enveloped with pastel tones.
Bequest of John Ringling, 1936, SN381