National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Portrait of a Man Corneille de Lyon (artist)
French, active 1533 - 1575
Portrait of a Man, c. 1536/1540
oil on walnut
overall: 16.5 x 14.3 cm (6 1/2 x 5 5/8 in.) framed: 41.9 x 28.3 cm (16 1/2 x 11 1/8 in.)
Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund
1965.8.1
On View
From the Tour: The Netherlands and France in the 1500s
Object 7 of 8

Corneille was born in the Netherlands and possibly received his training in Antwerp, but by the 1530s he was in Lyons, where he became the dominant court portraitist of the French Renaissance. He was made a French citizen by Henry II and converted to Catholicism in 1546, presumably to preserve favor with his royal patrons.

In Lyons artists were free of many guild restrictions that controlled trade elsewhere. There were, for example, art sellers who acted independently of any master’s workshop—true commercial galleries. Corneille himself seems to have had a studio where the public could buy workshop copies of his royal portraits. He also accepted commissions from families engaged in the city’s busy printing and silk industries. Inventories show that even people of modest means owned paintings.

This man wears the dress of an academic or a Franciscan monk, but his identity is otherwise unknown. The vivid blue-green of the plain background and its contrast with the careful detail in the face lend intensity and presence to his portrait despite its small size. The minute brushstrokes that pick out individual hairs in the man’s beard and the smooth finish of the surface are evidence of Corneille’s training in the north. The rare frame, which is contemporary with the painting, on the other hand, reflects Italian Renaissance architecture. It is the blending of such northern and southern elements that characterizes French art in the mid-1500s.

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