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Portrait of an old man; head and shoulders of a bearded old man turned slightly to right, looking to front, wearing a simple cap with curls of hair protruding beneath, full beard and moustache, wearing an open shirt Black and red chalk, with blue-grey wash
- Height: 353 millimetres
- Width: 260 millimetres
Inscription ContentInscribed: "pietro biardo/dy parigy"
This fine but puzzling drawing of an old man in working dress has been the subject of much debate. The present attribution to Pierre Biard II was suggested by Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée in 2010, but the dearth of comparable works makes assessment difficult. The Louvre acquired a red-chalk drawing of a sculpture showing 'Galatea' or 'Amphitrite' in 1995, which at the date of acquisition was given to Pierre Biard II, but that Louvre sheet has now been reattributed by Brejon to Pierre Brebiette.
Pierre Biard II is recorded as being in Italy in 1618 and was in Rome in 1619, where he married Ottavia, the daughter of the Roman Agostino de' Rossi. In Rome he became acquainted with a circle of young French artists including Claude Vignon and Pierre Brebiette. He was back in Paris by 1624, working at the Luxembourg Palace for Marie de' Medici. In 1628 he took on an apprentice and by 1631, when his wife stood as godmother to Pierre Brebiette's son, he was described as 'sculpteur du roi'.
The Italian inscription is one of the most intriguing parts of the drawing. Brejon notes that it could potentially refer either to the artist or the sitter, although she points out that this drawing - whose sitter is dishevelled and apparently weary - does not fit with the increasingly dignified presentation of artists during the 17th century. The inscription is therefore more likely a record of the artist. That given, one might expect the drawing to date from the time of Pierre Biard II's sojourn in Italy in the early 1620s. Brejon, however, feels that stylistically it fits better towards the end of the 1620s. The reason for the inscription to be in Italian remains obscure.
An alternative attribution was suggested by Louis-Antoine Prat in 2013, to Pierre Biard I, the father of Pierre Biard II. Biard I was known as a portraitist as well as a sculptor, and Prat notes that the BM drawing could be by the same hand as the fine pastel study of a 'Lady holding a cat' in the Louvre (inv. RF2360). The difficulty is that the attribution even of this drawing is not certain and Prat notes that this, too, could potentially be the work of Pierre Biard II, although due to the sitters' costumes he suggests dates for the Louvre pastel of c.1605 and for the BM sheet of c.1609.
If we accept this c.1609 date for the BM sheet, rather than the c.1630 date suggested by Brejon, and if the drawings are both by the same hand, then an attribution to Pierre Biard I would indeed be more logical. The artist of the BM sheet is evidently accomplished and Pierre Biard II would have been only 17 in c.1609.
As the matter remains complex, we have for now chosen to keep the present attribution to Pierre Biard II, but acknowledge the merits of an attribution to Pierre Biard I.
Further lit: Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, in 'Festschrift for Maxime Préaud', 2010, pp.190-1.
On display: G90
2016-17 Sept-Jan, BM, 'French Portrait Drawings' (no cat)
Prints & Drawings
Portrait of an old man; head and shoulders of a bearded old man turned slightly to r, looking to front, wearing a simple cap with curls of hair protruding beneath, full beard and moustache, wearing an open shirt Black and red chalk, with blue-grey wash
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Object reference number: PDO2136
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