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Pierre Mignard I

French, 1612 - 1695

Mignard le Romain

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Pierre Mignard i received his first training in his native Troyes with the mannerist painter Jean Boucher (1575-1633), but his twenty years in Italy studying the works of High Renaissance masters and the Carracci school had a more lasting impact on his output. Mignard no doubt also felt the impact of Italian artistic achievements by way of Simon Vouet (1590-1649), whose brilliant coloring and smooth surfaces reappear in the work of the younger artist. Following this period in Vouet's studio, Mignard left for Rome in 1635. Although his religious commissions have been more overlooked than his portraits, he was certainly active in this area, painting images of the Madonna and Child, which were popular and dubbed "Mignardises." He painted the high altar for S. Carlo ai Catinari representing The Communion of the Plague Stricken, while for S. Carlo alle Quattro Fontane he painted Saint Charles Borromeo Adoring the Trinity, using an innovative fresco and oil medium. Mignard found employment with his compatriot Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) producing copies for the latter's important French patron Paul Fréart de Chantelou (1609-?1694) in Paris. His skill in this arena must have been widely recognized. At the behest of Cardinal Richelieu's brother, Alphonse Louis du Plessis, he produced engravings in 1643-1644 of Annibale Carracci's (1560-1609) Farnese Gallery. Above all, Mignard painted portraits, among which numbered those of Pope Urban VIII, two Medici cardinals and other prominent members of the Italian nobility. He would paint the subsequent Popes Innocent X, and Alexander VII, though their portraits remain unidentified. In 1654, Mignard left Rome for northern Italy. In Bologna he drew after the works of the Carracci and visited Annibale's former pupil Francesco Albani (1578-1660). From there he went to Modena to paint for Francesco d'Este (1610-1658), then on to Parma and Mantua. He is recorded as having painted several portraits when he eventually reached Venice, including one of Doge Francesco Molin, which has not been identified, and another of Senator Marco Peruta (possibly to be identified with the Portrait of a Man in the National Gallery, Prague). Before he was recalled to France in 1657 by Hughes de Lionne, probably on behalf of Cardinal Mazarin, he was to spend two more years in Rome.

Mignard traveled to Paris by way of Avignon, where his brother Nicolas (1606-1668), also a painter, lived. While delayed in Avignon due to illness, he forged a friendship with the playwright Molière (Jean Baptiste Poquelin) (1622-1673), who would become one of the artist's greatest promoters. In Paris he painted the cupola of the Benedictine Church of Val-de-Grâce, 1662-1663, for Anne of Austria (1601-1666). It represents the Trinity presiding over the celestial court, which is adored by the royal family and the triumphant and glorious church. The new and magnificent church was the fulfillment of a vow by the queen, who had remained childless for twenty-three years during her estranged marriage to Louis XIII, to undertake the building if she gave birth to a son. After the allegedly miraculous births of Louis XIV and his brother Philippe, and following the death of Louis XIII, Anne did indeed initiate construction on the church. Celebrating the fresco in his poem La gloire du dôme du Val-de-Grâce (1669), Molière suggested the degree to which Mignard emulated the Carracci in beautifying nature and in conjoining the three parts of painting: drawing, color, and invention. With his success at the Val-de-Grâce, Mignard was commissioned by Philippe d'Orleans in 1677 to paint the Galerie d'Apollon, the Salon de Mars, and the Cabinet de Diane at the château of St. Cloud (destroyed). Mignard received the commissions to paint the petite galerie and the petite appartements of Versailles after Louis XIV was favorably impressed by the frescoes at St. Cloud. He was also commissioned to paint some ten portraits of Louis XIV over the years.

The end of Mignard's life was marked by honors. In 1687 he was ennobled, and only three years later, following the death of his great rival Charles Le Brun (bapt. 1619-1690), Mignard was made First Painter to the King. His simultaneous election to the posts of rector, director, and chancellor of the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture made him the most visible and celebrated artist in France during the last five years of his life. Mignard seems to have defined his artistic attainments largely with reference to the commission at Val-de-Grâce, twice explicitly celebrating his fresco. Upon his election to head the Académie, he commissioned a copy of the cupola from Michel ii Corneille (1642-1708), which he donated in self-tribute to the Académie. In his painted self-portrait, which forms a counterweight to the portrait of Charles Le Brun by Nicolas de Largillierre (1656-1746), Mignard included, among the props in the background, Corneille's copy of the fresco.

[Frances Gage, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 328.]

Artist Bibliography

Monville, abbé de. La vie de Pierre Mignard premier peintre du Roy. Paris, 1730. Reprint 1970.
Nikolenko, Lada. Pierre Mignard: The Portrait Painter of the Grand Siècle. Munich, 1983.
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: 328.

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