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Guillaume Courtois, dit Le Bourguignon

1628 - 1679

Self-Portrait
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  • DESCRIPTION
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  • LITERATURE
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DESCRIPTION



Inscription on the paper: «ALTRO DILETTO / CH’IMPARAR / NON TROVO» Oil on canvas, 95 x 72,5 cm.
Provenance: Rome, Apolloni Gallery; Geneva, private collection. Literature: Francesco Petrucci, I volti del potere. Ritratti di uomini illustri a Roma dall’Impero Romano al Neoclassicismo, exh. cat. Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 24 March-20 May 2004, pp. 168-170, No 75; Dieter Graf, Mola e il suo tempo. Pittura di figura a Roma dalla Collezione Koelliker, exh. cat. Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 22 January- 23 April 2005, p. 176, under No 36. Exhibition: I volti del potere. Ritratti di uomini illustri a Roma dall’Impero Romano al Neoclassicismo, exh. cat. Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, 24 March- 20 May 2004, pp. 168-170, No 75. The figure upward gaze focused on a point beyond our line of sight and right arm elegantly folded against his chest announce the determination and ambition of this effigy that Francesco Petrucci interprets as a Self-Portrait of the painter Guillaume Courtois (Italianised into Guglielmo Cortese), called “Il Borgognone”1. This native of Burgundy travelled to Italy early on with his two brothers, the battle painter Jacques (Giacomo, 1621-1676) and Jean-François (Francesco), where he was to finish his days. They arrived around 1639-1640 and the biographer Pascoli informs us that Guillaume completed his training at the highly popular school of Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669). According to Pascoli, Guillaume left the school a “virtuoso” and gave proof of his skill with a “forte, e terribil mania [sic]”, both for large public projects, as well as for private commissions2. His numerous drawings bear witness to his intense productivity. Two studies of the same male model (Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe) undertaken by Guillaume Courtois were for a period of time considered to represent his brother Jacques but are now, according to Francesco Petrucci, believed to be self-portraits3. Indeed, the Self-Portrait of Jacques Courtois in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence depicts an entirely different individual with very short hair and wearing the Jesuit habit that he adopted in 1657. In Guillaume’s drawings, as in his youthful Self-Portrait in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Besançon - another version of which can be found in the Koelliker collection in Milan - the artist displays a long, undulating head of hair, without sign of a moustache. The latter feature begins to appear in later etchings, particularly that featured on the frontispiece of Dezallier d’Argenville’s Life of Guillaume Courtois4. The inscription transcribed on the sheet of paper held in the model’s supple grasp is a citation from Petrarch’s Triumph of Love that had been widely commented toward the end of the Renaissance, as demonstrated by Elizabeth Cropper in her discussion of an etching by Pietro Testa (1612-1650) on this same theme5. “Altro diletto ch’imparar non trovo” translates to, “I find no pleasure outside of study”, signifying the artist’s search for philosophical and religious Truth through his own art. The moral and philosophical implications of the phrase are in tune with the representation of an artist’s portrait; we have only to think of Salvator Rosa’s (1615-1673) famous work in the same vein. The graceful movement of rotation toward the right, di sotto in su, superbly conveys the tension contained in the upward-facing expression. The portrait makes no attempt to hide its ties with the Baroque art of Bernini (1598-1680) and with the more sober style of Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), two artists with whom Guillaume Courtois collaborated on multiple occasions for public works. From the former, he borrowed the brilliant layout of sculptures and the idea of the quivering of cloth, while from the latter he retained a more structured layout in which brown tones dominate (as in the present piece). Only a few touches of the purest white and red have been reserved for the depiction of detail: on the face, the red of the lips and cheekbones is particularly vivid, while the blue ribbon adds a note of preciousness to the cuff of the white sleeve. Francesco Petrucci suggests the situation of the work around 1660-1665, when the painter, at the summit of his success, was called upon by Alexander VII (1599-1667) and Bernini to participate in various projects ranging from frescoes to altarpieces. He was then around thirty-five years old, which is compatible with the features in our portrait. In this piece Guillaume Courtois explores the relationship between figure and space, emphasising the model’s splendid bearing and distinction, as testified to by the subject’s apparel. We find ourselves distanced from the introspective studies of those figures with troubled gazes, such as those bequeathed to us by Bernini (for example, the portrait in the Galleria Borghese in Rome). Here, the artist displays his intellectual ambition, not only through the quotation of Petrarch, but also in his demonstration of a refined, cultivated mind, capable of assimilating contemporary contributions to the world of art. Notes: 1- For a monograph on the artist, see F. A. Salvagnini, Le pitture di Guglielmo Courtois (Cortese) e la loro casa in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, 1937, which in the absence of a more recent overall study of his work, remains fundamental. Over the past few years, numerous articles and studies have been added, including Erich Schleier, “Aggiunte a Guglielmo Cortese detto il Borgognone”, Antichità Viva IX, 1970, No 1, pp. 3-25; Dieter Graf and Erich Schleier, “Some unknown works by Guglielmo Cortese”, The Burlington Magazine, December 1973, pp. 794-801; Dieter Graf, Die Handzeichnungen von Guglielmo Cortese und Giovanni Battista Gaulli. Kataloge des Kunstmuseums, Dusseldorf, 1976, 2 vols.; Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnée, “Guillaume Courtois et le Bernin”, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire de l’Art français, 1991, pp. 11-17. 2- Lione Pascoli, Vite de’pittori, scultori ed architetti viventi, dai manoscritti 1383 e 1743 della Biblioteca Comunale «Augusta» di Perugia, introduction by Valentino Martinelli, Treviso, 1981, pp. 197-198. See also Dieter Graf, Pietro da Cortona, 1597-1669, exh. cat. Rome, Palazzo Venezia, 31 October 1997-10 February 1998, pp. 223-234. 3- Guillaume Courtois, Studies of Male Heads and Hands, Rome, Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, Inv. F.C. 126965 (double-sided) red chalk on white paper, 401 x 249 mm; see Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò, Disegni di Guglielmo Cortese (Guillaume Courtois) detto Il Borgognone nelle collezioni del Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, exh. cat. Rome, Villa Farnesina, 23 November 1979-28 February 1980, No 194 (double-sided). Salvagnini, ibid. note 1, had presented the hypothesis that the figure represented in the piece was Giacomo, a theory repeated by S. Prosperi Valenti Rodino, who dated the drawing circa 1659-1660. 4- Antoine-Joseph Dézallier d’Argenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres avec leurs portraits et les indications de leurs principaux ouvrages, Paris, 1745, 2nd ed., expanded, Paris, 1762, 4 vols. 5- Elizabeth Cropper, Pietro Testa 1612-1650. Prints and Drawings, exh. cat. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 5 November- 31 December 1988; Cambridge, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 21 January-19 March 1989, pp. 220-224, No 101.