SN 381, oil on canvas, 1731

Noel-Nicolas Coypel
French, 1690-1734
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 Fran oise 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 in 1778.)

Noel’s 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 factory.

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 Bourbon.

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,”” L’Evanouissement 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 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 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. Madame’s 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 Madame’s 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.

Museum Label
Portrait of Madame de Bourbon-Conti as Venus
Artist: No l 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. No l-Nicholas was the son of the famous No l 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