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: A Vignon for Minneapolis


Pierre Rosenberg



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
With the return to fashion of the French 17th century, the number of paintings by Claude Vignon (1593-1670) in American museums has continued to grow during the past few years.1 Thus, in 1963, Wolfgang Fischer2 could catalogue only one, the Antony and Cleopatra3 of the Ringling Museum of Sarasota. Moreover, when classifying the paintings incorrectly attributed to the master, he felt, and rightly so, that the figures in the Banquet of Antony and Cleopatra at Hartford4 were the work of Vignon's own hand. Since that time, three of the paintings cataloged by Fischer, which were then available on the art market, have entered American museums: the admirable Adoration of the Kings of 1619, today at Dayton;5 the fragment of the Allegory of the Catholic Faith at Ponce;6 and an Esther and Ahasuerus at the Bob Jones University Museum in Greenville.7 But this list is not complete, an unsurprising fact with such a prolific artist as Vignon—“Vignon toujours si prompt, qui la paresse éloigne,” to quote the words of the Abbé de Marolles. The Stanford University Museum, for example, owns a St. Peter, formerly considered to be a 17th-century work of the Genoese School which I have been able to establish as indisputable by Vignon.8Few paintings, however, have the quality and importance of the St. Ambrose, recently acquired by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. During the cleaning of the painting after its purchase in London by the Institute,9 the signature and the date of the painting were once again visible on the spine of the large book placed at the extreme left of the painting next to the inkstand. Both seem to have been engraved with a sharp point (perhaps the tip of a brush handle?) in a way used by the artist throughout his entire career (for example, with the Samuel at the Musée de Rouen, done only a few years after the painting in Minneapolis).10 If the first three numbers of the date (162-) can be read easily, such is not the case with the fourth. Is it a 5 or a 3? The matter would be of little importance if these years were not crucial in the career of the artist.We know that Vignon was in Italy, probably as early as 1610, certainly in 1617. But on January 21, 1623, Vignon, “demeurant à Paris au bout du Pont Notre-Dame,” signed a marriage contract with Charlotte de Leu.11 On July 10th of the same year, Peiresc wrote from Paris to Rubens who was then at Anvers, to inform the great Flemish painter of the admiration which Vignon (and Vouet) had for his work.12 And Vignon's painting at Grenoble, Jesus Among the Doctors still so very Italian in style, date as from this same year.13 This painting and the one at Minneapolis are thus the first evidences of Vignon's art upon his return to France. The comparison with works of a sure date finished before this time and with those canvases dated 1624 shows the importance of this transition year. (Compare the Martyrdom of St. Matthew of Arras [1617], to Adoration of the Kings at Dayton [1619] which has already been mentioned, and the Marriage at Cana which won the artist a competition organized by Prince Ludovisi. This painting dates from 1622 rather than 1623, the date usually given; it was unfortunately destroyed in 1945 at Potsdam.)As early as 1623, Vignon was open to a variety of new ideas and influences. Among other things he was searching for that range of clearer colors which we find the following year in the Adoration of the Kings done for the church of St. Gervais in Paris;14 for smaller-scale figures which gain in grace what they lose in force (cf. the so-called Esther Before Ahasuerus of the Louvre—more probably a Solomon and the Queen of Sheba); for more lively, animated, and decorative compositions (cf. the Ascension of the church of Chatillon-Coligny, a painting which to my knowledge has never before been reproduced); for a softer, richer touch (cf. the Pasce oves meas of Amsterdam; the book which Christ looks at in this last painting can be compared with the almost identical one which St. Ambrose holds in the Minneapolis work). The year 1625 saw this evolution accentuated,15 and it would be most astonishing if the painting at Minneapolis marked a sharp return to Vignon's first Caravagesque inspiration at a moment when, curious about all sorts of stylistic innovations, he had before his eyes the paintings of the second School of Fontainebleau, the first works by the circle of Rembrandt, the newly finished decoration by Rubens for the Gallery of Marie de Médici as well as the works of Orazio Gentileschi, then in France.I have a purposely restricted this discussion to dated or documented works, but had I included paintings considered as dating from the beginning of Vignon's career, I believe this demonstration would have been no less conclusive: for instance, the Young Singer,16 acquired by the Louvre in 1966, has already the same sort of inspiration, the same gamut of colors as the Minneapolis canvas. The same rule obtains for the Minneapolis St. Ambrose as for all paintings by Vignon: no matter how diverse their subjects may be, it is easy to tell the artist's hand—his full, thick touch, the brio in his execution of the work, the impasto, the complete lack of spirituality, even the touch of humor in the accumulation of books which can be noted in all his paintings. Rarely, however, did Vignon give his scale of colors greater warmth or impart, with greater ease, such life to his model. Here one sees none of that slackness or carelessness which so frequently mars the later works of this master; one feels that in this painting Vignon tried to show himself at his best for his new Paris clientele. The least one can say is that he perfectly succeeded.I would like to thank Messrs. P. M. Auzas, J. Coural, A. M. Clark, and J. Thuillier who helped me in the preparation of this article. The English translation is by Barbara Shissler.A well known expert on 17th- and 18th-century French and Italian painting, Pierre Rosenberg is Conservateur Adjoint au Département des Peintures at the Louvre. He is especially knowledgeable about Franco-Italian artistic contacts of the 17th and 18th centuries. His publications include the Catalogue of 17th-Century French and 17th- and 18th-century Italian Paintings in the museum at Rouen as well as numerous articles on French and Italian artists of the 17th century. At the moment he is preparing two monographs, one on La Hyre, the other on Subleyras.Endnotes
  1. Such is not the case for Vignon's drawings. The Cooper Union Museum of New York, alone among American museums, owns a sheet of drawings by this artist. (Cf. P. Rosenberg, “Some Drawings by Claude Vignon,” Master Drawings, IV [1966], 289-293.) Since the publication of this article, two other drawings for La Galerie des Femmes Fortes have been discovered at the Dublin Museum. (Cf. the exhibition catalogue, Drawings from the National Gallery of Ireland [London and New York: Wildenstein, 1967], Nos. 25 and 26, illustrated.) I myself have been able to reproduce the second of two pen drawings by the master which I found in the Hermitage under the name of Cavallino. (Cf. “Une toile de Bernardo Cavallino us musée des Beaux-Arts,” Bulletin des Musées et Monuments Lyonnais, IV [1968], 155, fig. 7.) To this can be added a drawing at the Bibliothèque Nationale which had escaped notice until the present day (B6 Res. 1 between leaves 17 and 18, Scene of Sacrifice or of Martyrdom and the interesting little drawing, The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, from the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, which was mounted by Mariette, its former owner, along with a series of eleven little drawings after Dürer by Charles-Nicolas Cochin. I have purposely refrained from discussing paintings and drawings, sometimes unpublished, which I know of both in the art market and in private collections in the United States. I should, however, like to mention the four pictures which were shown at the exhibition, Vauet to Rigaud, organized in 1967 by R. Manning at the Finch College Museum of Art in New York (Nos. 15-18 in the exhibition catalogue, all illustrated).
  2. Wolfgang Fischer, “Glaude Vignon 1593-1670,” Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaaboek, Vol. 14 (1963), 137-182. The first part of this study appeared in the preceding volume of this journal (Vol. 13 [1962], 105-148).
  3. No. 39, p. 178, and fig. 26, p. 146 of Vol. 13.
  4. No. 7, p. 181.
  5. No. 45, p. 179, and fig. 3, p. 110 of Vol. 13.
  6. No. 23, p. 177, and fig. 41, p. 158. Cf. also the museum's catalogue (1965) by Julius Held, fig. 89, pp. 188-189.
  7. No. 22, p. 177, and No. 49, p. 179. The picture is illustrated in Vol. 13, fig. 21, p. 140.
  8. It does not seem possible to me to give certain paintings to Vignon with complete certainty although they are very close to him in style. The first in question is the St. Jerome in the Bob Jones University Museum (no. 288 in the catalogue supplement of 1968). Its comparison, for example, with the unpublished painting of the same subject from the Church of la Grasse (Aude), or with the unpublished painting of St. Paul from Turin (No. 544, as attributed to Domenico Piola) seems to me conclusive. The second in question is the Adoration of the Kings from the Herron Museum of Art in Indianapolis (illustrated in the December, 1958, issue of L'Oeil). And finally I question a beautiful luminist painting—à la Bramer—of the same subject at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. (Cf. The Art Quarterly, No. 3 [1964], illus. p. 383.)
  9. 68.43. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund. Oil on canvas, 74” x 50 1/4”. Ex. coll. Julius Weitzner who acquired it at a public sale under the name Fetti. It was under this same name—and one can easily understand why—that the Dayton painting was exhibited in 1959 at Venice (La Pittura del Seicento a Venezia, No. 55).
  10. P. Rosenberg, Rouen: French Paintings of the 17th Century and Italian Paintings of the 17th and 18th Centuries (1966), No. 138, p. 136. The signature appeared in the course of restoration work which took place after the publication of the catalogue.
  11. The artist was thus in Paris from the year 1623, and not 1624 as has been constantly repeated until the present day. The date of the marriage contract was first given by Georges Wildenstein, “Deux inventaires de l'atelier de Claude Vignon,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, I (1957), 182. It is preserved at the minutier central, étude 87, liasse 451, and not étude 37. The inventory after the death of Vignon of May 20, 1670, is found in étude 105, but liasse 836, not 834.
  12. “Il Vignone e il Voetto l'admirano ella e le sue opere ogni di piu.” (Cf. M. Rooses and Ch. Ruelens, Correspondance de Rubens, III [1900], 194-196.) It is very curious that Vouet's name should appear here. Had he given a message or an errand for Peirese to Vignon who returned to France at that moment?
  13. Is it a self-portrait of Vignon that can be seen at the extreme right of this painting? I had thought one could believe the catalogue of the Paris sale of November 10, 1962, where a so-called Esther and Ahasuerus was dated 1623. (Cf. my article, “Un tableau de Vignon,” La Revue du Louvre [1968], p. 39, note 9, as elsewhere, J. Thuillier, La peinture francaise [1963], p. 175.) However, the London catalogue where this canvas was again reproduced (Sotheby [May 13, 1968], No. 37) corrected both the title (Alexander and the Family of Darius) and the date, giving the much more convincing one of 1625.
  14. The date has sometimes been read, in my opinion incorrectly, as 1625.
  15. See notes 13 and 14.
  16. Pierre Rosenberg, “Un tableau de Vignon,” La Revue du Louvre, No. 1 (1968), 37-44. In this article I have tried to assemble all the information which is available concerning Vignon's stay in Italy.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Claude Vignon, French, 1593-1670. St. Ambrose, 1623. Oil on canvas, 74” x 50 1/2”. The William Hood Dunwoody Fund, 68.43.
  2. Detail showing signature.
  3. Claude Vignon, Jesus Among the Doctors, 1623. Musée de Grenoble.
  4. Claude Vignon, The Ascension 1624. Church of Chatillon-Coligny, Loiret.
  5. Claude Vignon, Portrait of a Young Singer. Louvre, Paris.
  6. Claude Vignon, The Lament of St. Peter, Stanford University Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger.
  7. Claude Vignon, St. Jerome. Church of La Grasse, Aude
  8. Claude Vignon, St. Paul. Museo civico, Twin.
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Source: Pierre Rosenberg, "A Vignon for Minneapolis," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 57 (1968): 7-17.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009