A painting by Jacques Stella given to the Louvre

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24/5/23 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée du Louvre - Jacques Stella depicted the Saint Family on several occasions, varying the number of figures from one version to another. One of his paintings, intended for private devotion, features Mary, Jesus and Joseph accompanied by Elizabeth and the infant John the Baptist (ill. 1). It was painted around 1645 when the Lyon artist, after his stay in Italy, had established himself on the Parisian scene. Put up for sale by Artcurial on June 9, 2022, it was finally offered to the Louvre by Daniel Thierry, via the Friends of the Museum. It joins several of the painter’s paintings in the collection and can also be compared with works by Raphael and Poussin, whom this master of Parisian Atticism admired. The figures of Saint Elizabeth and Saint John the Baptist included in the Holy Family can be found on a canvas by Nicolas Poussin. As for the painting previously attributed to Raphael and now given to Giulio Romano, entitled the Little Saint Family, it depicts Elizabeth wearing the same turban as that of Stella’s painting.

1. Jacques Stella (1596-1657)
The Holy Family with Saint Elizabeth and the little Saint John the Baptist
Oil on canvas - 46 x 34.50 cm
Paris, Louvre Museum
Photo: Artcurial
See the image in its page

An engraving by François de Poilly after Jacques Stella (ill. 2) shows a composition very close to the one that has just entered the Louvre, with a few details: first of all, the format is horizontal while that of the painting is vertical; moreover, Joseph is not looking at the scene with an air of affection, but is busy reading.

2. François de Poilly, (1623-1693)
after Jacques Stella (1596-1657)
The Saint Family
Engraving - 39 x 49 cm.
Abbeville, Boucher de Perthes Museum
Photo: RMN-GP/Thierry Ollivier
See the image in its page

The artist places the figures outside, in an iconography close to that of the rest during the flight to Egypt: victuals are placed on the parapet, bread and wine of course announcing the Passion of Christ; a bent tree offers its shadow and counterbalances the verticality of the column that stands to the left. The Virgin draws Jesus to her, and seems to want to draw him away from the sheep that announces the sacrifice of her Son and makes him the Good Shepherd. This gesture of tenderness and concern is reminiscent of Mary’s gesture in Leonardo’s famous painting, which shows her with Jesus and Saint Anne. The animal is found in other paintings by Stella, who may have been inspired by Raphael’s Holy Family with Lamb, now in the Prado. He appears once again with Saint Elizabeth and the little Saint John the Baptist in a composition in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. The position of the two cousins was perhaps also inspired by Raphael, whose catalogue of the artist’s works, as Sylvain Kerspern reminds us, preserves a drawing, linked to an engraving by Rousselet.
To conclude, let us recall that Jacques Stella was honored in a magnificent exhibition in 2007 in Lyon and Toulouse (see the articles on the exhibition and on its issues).

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