Young woman holding her skirt and wearing a bonnet; whole-length standing slightly to right and looking to left, wearing a low cut dress Pen and brown ink and blue wash
- Height: 401 millimetres
- Width: 247 millimetres
Despite the high regard in which Bellange's work has long been held, his life and oeuvre present many enigmas. He appears quite suddenly on the royal payrolls at the court of Nancy in the duchy of Lorraine in 1602, already commanding a high salary, but no documents record his origins or training. Aesthetic debts have been noted to the figural types and compositional principles of Northern Mannerism as well as to Italian techniques of etching.(n.1) Rosenberg has recently even proposed a visit to Venice.(n.2)
From surviving records between 1602 and his early death in 1616, it is clear that Bellange held a high-ranking position in the Lorraine court. Not only was he given major ducal commissions and a travel stipend, but Duke Henri II stood as godfather at the baptism of Bellange's first-born son, also named Henri. Unfortunately, little of Bellange's painted output survives,(n.3) and his contribution must be judged largely on his graphic work.
The British Museum's charming drawing of a young woman gently lifting her outer skirts as she tentatively considers her next step is part of a loosely defined group of secular figures described by Thuillier as 'studies for costumes for ballet'.(n.4) Subcategories of the group include bohemians, gardeners, amorous couples, and cavaliers. Most probably they were not actual designs for costumes, but images of generalized types reflective of the refined theatrical milieu at the Lorraine court which enjoyed ballets, mascarades and other elaborately staged divertissements.
The group referred to as gardeners, after Bellange's inscription of the Latin word `hortulana` on one of the plates, includes four etchings (see fig.1) - which may or may not have been intended as a set - and four drawings, all in the identical technique of blue wash over pen and brown ink.(n.5) with their antique sandals, richly ornamented vessels, and low décolletage, Bellange's female gardeners are overwhelmingly sensuous rather than realistic, with attendant allusions to Ceres and fertility - characteristic of what Pierre-Jean Mariette referred to as Bellange's 'manière licentieuse. One of the drawings, `Gardener with a Vase` (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), is related to a print, but the other three are not. One in the Département des arts graphiques, Rothschild Collection, Musée du Louvre, Paris, depicts a gardener walking with an ornate vessel on her head; another, in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, shows a gardener with long braids and a basket of fruit on her head, seen from behind. The British Museum sheet, while it shares the bunched skirt and fringed scarf worn by many of the other gardeners, stands apart, as she holds no attribute, perhaps because Bellange wished to show her in the process of lifting or hitching up her skirt (not curtseying as some earlier writers have proposed). She also lacks the apron and stiff laced-up corset worn by others. Possibly the present drawing should be placed early in the series, before Bellange had arrived at the formula which unifies the etched `Hortulanae`.
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited below.
Fig.1 JACQUES BELLANGE, `Hortulana`, etching, 306 x 171 mm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Otis Norcross Fund (40.160).
1 A. Griffiths and C. Hartley, `Jacques Bellange, c.1576-1616: Printmaker of Lorraine`, London, 1997, p.39.
2 P. Rosenberg, 'Did Jacques de Bellange go to Italy? Notes on the exhibition in Rennes', `The Burlington Magazine`, CXLIII, no.1183, October 2001, pp.631-4.
3 See Rosenberg, op. cit., pp.631-32.
4 Rennes, 2001, pp.187-8.
5 Ibid., nos 38-44, pp.197-211.
6 Quoted in Rosenberg, op. cit., p.631.
Lit.: P. Stein, in exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no. 12 (with previous literature).
French Roy XVIIc
1984, BM, 'Master Drawings & Watercolours', no.115 1992 Jun-Sept, Nancy, Musée des Beaux Arts, 'Callot' no.112 2001 Feb-May, Rouen, Musée des Beaux Arts, 'Jacques Bellange vers 1575-1616', no.44
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 12
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM
15 July 2005
Mount - Overthrow - R
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