A Caravaggesque spring at Versailles

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Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, from 14 March to 16 July 2023

1/6/23 - Exhibition - Versailles, Musée national du château - Sent to board in Amiens for the duration of the "Louis XV, passions d’un roi" exhibition (see article), the "masterpieces from the King’s bedroom" naturally returned to Versailles in the spring, although they were not installed in the attic of the château’s nerve centre. The three rooms on the first floor of the main building are closed to the public until further notice due to renovation work, but the exhibition organised by the Musée de Picardie has been given a second life in Madame de Maintenon’s flat. Although the display is more tortuous and lacks natural light, it has been enriched by several new works that easily justify an addendum to our article published last February.

1. View of the exhibition "Chefs-d’œuvre de la chambre
du Roi, l’écho du Caravage à Versailles" exhibition
Photo: Didier Saulnier
See the image in its page

In addition to the pleasure of seeing Valentin de Boulogne’s four marvellous Evangelists up close, visitors can thus discover the four oval medallions (ill. 1) used as overdoors, with a rather complex history. With the notable exception of the Saint Madeleine, they come from the Jabach collection acquired for Louis XIV in 1671. The precise description of the piece given by Piganiol de La Force in 1701 leaves no room for doubt: the Self Portrait, now attributed only to Van Dyck, was given to him without reservation, as was the Portrait of François de Moncade, Marquis d’Aytona, now considered to be a workshop replica. Linked to the famous equestrian portrait kept in the Louvre since the Napoleonic conquests and carefully analysed in a rich entry of the recent catalogue raisonné, this one was even identified as a preparatory study, despite its obvious weaknesses.

2. Attributed to Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, called Battistello (1578-1635)
Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas - 81.3 x 63.5 cm
Versailles, Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon
Photo: Christophe Fouin
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Transferred to the Louvre after the revolutionary confiscations, the two "Van Dycks" returned to Versailles in March 1948. The Saint Madeleine, after Le Dominiquin, had a more southern fate as it was sent to Marseille in 1802 before being long-term loaned to Versailles by the Louvre in November 1950. Generously attributed to Caravaggio himself in the time of Louis XIV, as stated in the description given by Piganiol de La Force, the Saint John the Baptist (ill. 2) was then given to Valentin de Boulogne before being returned to Giovanni Battista Caracciolo. This last painting, the most successful of the group, was also the last to return to the Château, having been sent to Dijon in 1803 before being long-term loaned to Versailles by the Louvre in February 1966. All four were reduced to oval format so that they could be set into the wood panelling, and they certainly deserved the restoration work that has just been completed.

3. View of the exhibition "Chefs-d’œuvre de la chambre
du Roi, l’écho du Caravage à Versailles" exhibition
Photo: Didier Saulnier
See the image in its page

In the next room (ill. 3), Giovanni Lanfranco’s Agar and the Angel - already on show at Amiens - returns for a few months to an enviable neighbourhood reconstituting the hanging on the west wall of the "salon where the king dresses" between 1684 and 1701. Previously attributed to Bartolomeo Manfredi, as cited by Piganiol de La Force, the Meeting of Drinkers is also a Jabach painting that has now been demoted to the rank of copy, although it remains attributed to Nicolas Tournier. Long-term loaned to the Château de Fontainebleau between 1889 and 1930, the pictures was returned to the Louvre, which sent it to the Musée de Tessé in Le Mans, where it has been kept since 1959. The Paris museum was careful not to exile Valentin de Boulogne’s masterpiece, The Fortune Teller (ill. 4), which had not left the gallery since 1814 but had already returned for the exhibition "Louis XIV, l’homme et le roi" (see article).

4. Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632)
The Fortune Teller, 1626-1628
Oil on canvas - 125 x 175 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo: RMN-GP/A. Dequier
See the image in its page
5. Alessandro Turchi (1591-1649)
The Mystical Marriage of
Saint Catherine
, c. 1635
Oil on canvas - 123 x 177 cm
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Photo: RMN-GP/T. Querrec
See the image in its page

Another painting from the Louvre has also made a temporary return to the Château de Versailles: The Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine by Alessandro Turchi. Also acquired for Louis XIV in 1671, this canvas (ill. 5) was already in Paris, where it was returned during the Revolution before being sent to Compiègne between 1874 and 1957 and then long-term loaned to the Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud in Perpignan until 1983. The painting has therefore been moved to the last room of the exhibition, alongside Caesar’s Denarius and the four superb Evangelists by Valentin (ill. 6), which conclude a limited but rich exhibition.

6. View of the last room in the "Chefs-d’œuvre de la chambre
du Roi, l’écho du Caravage à Versailles" exhibition
Photo: Didier Saulnier
See the image in its page

Although the quiet rooms of the Musée de Picardie, bathed in natural light and calmerthan the overcrowded enfilades of the Château de Versailles, are to be regretted, the display remains pleasant and is certainly worth a visit, as these beautiful paintings are not destined to be put together any time soon. The excellent little catalogue published to coincide with the opening of the Amiens exhibition is of course still available, although it is regrettable that it does not really go into detail about the ’new’ works on display at Versailles, for which we would have liked to have seen such comprehensive notes. We are delighted, however, to see the château offering an exhibition of 17th-century paintings, while we await the Noël Coypel retrospective that will soon be opening its doors in Versailles and Rennes.

Curator: Béatrice Sarrazin

Edited by Béatrice Sarrazin, Chefs-d’œuvre de la chambre du Roi, Coédition Château de Versailles/Musée de Picardie, Amiens/In Fine éditions d’art, 2022, 96 p., €19, ISBN: 9782382031032

<Practical information: Château de Versailles, Place d’Armes, 78 000 Versailles. Tel: +33 (0)1 30 83 78 00. Open every day except Monday, from 9 am to 6.30 pm. The Château de Versailles has assured us that direct access to the exhibition is possible from the Cour de Marbre by taking the Queen’s Staircase, which avoids the circuit of the Grands Appartements. Price: €18 (concessions: €14.5). Website

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