March 18, 2006

Bellange

Jacques Bellange (ca. 1575-1616) was a painter and a decorative and graphic artist who was employed for the majority of his career at the court of the Dukes of Lorraine, at Nancy. While numerous commissions for murals, portraits and other paintings by Bellange are documented in the court archives, none of these works are known to have survived, and today there are only a few canvases in the world’s museums that have more or less tentatively been attributed to the artist. In his last years, Bellange produced several dozen etchings—it is thought that he may have adopted the technique as a way of publicising and of disseminating his work internationally. Forty-eight of Bellange’s designs are thought to have survived as prints, with most of these displaying such a strongly distinctive style that their attribution is hardly in doubt.

Detail from an etching of 'St. Paul' by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

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Detail from an etching of 'St. Andrew' by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

A quarter of the surviving prints belong to a single series devoted to individual depictions of Jesus and his apostles. The present images are details from a selection of these as reproduced in Antony Griffiths and Craig Hartley’s 1997 book about Bellange. They exemplify the deep strangeness of Bellange’s fluid and expressive strain of Mannerism. He portrays St. John (the image immediately below) as ‘a softly androgynous creature with a corona of frizzy hair, small breasts like a teenage girl, and the round belly of a mature woman.’

Detail from one of two etchings of 'St. John' by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

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Detail from one of two etchings of 'St. Thomas' by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

A figure variously identified as St. Jude or St. Matthias (the one following below), is shown, unconventionally, as wearing a turban: perhaps hinting at apocryphal legends of Jude’s having preached in Mesopotamia and Persia. St. Simon (the final image) is posed in such a way that it seems as though he is waiting to hear the punchline of a joke. His near-comical attitude strikes a disconcerting note considering he is juxtaposed (like most of the other apostles) with the instrument of his martyrdom—in his case, a large saw.

Detail from an etching of 'St. Jude' (or of St. Matthias) by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

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Detail from an etching of 'St. Simon' by Jacques Bellange, ca. 1612-16.

While Bellange’s etchings do seem to have won him an international reputation among connoisseurs (John Evelyn and Cassiano del Pozzo, among others, are known to have acquired prints of his), changing tastes ensured that his work exerted little or no influence on succeeding generations of artists. The notable 18th-Century critic and collector Pierre-Jean Mariette wrote of Bellange’s paintings that ‘one cannot bear to look at [them] so bad is their taste.’ It was not until the 1920s that Bellange’s reputation was rehabilitated.

Posted by misteraitch at March 18, 2006 02:07 PM
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Also scanned: Bellange’s ‘The Holy Women at the Sepulchre’ and one version of ‘St. James the Greater.’

Posted by: misteraitch on March 18, 2006 02:14 PM

The 'Holy Women' look like out of late 18th c. caricatures -- I have in mind the one of 'Louis XVI as a pear', about which I remember not much else.

Posted by: Loxias on March 20, 2006 07:25 AM

I remember Louis-Philippe was often represented as pear, by Daumier among others(this page shows some examples, including a typeset, pear-shaped “calligramme” of the poor guy). Maybe he was not the only one; after a few years on the throne, monarchs tend take that shape, what with the diet, etc.
It’s easy to see how the 18th century would have loathed Bellange’s stuff. Leave it to the 20th century to rehabilitate every last corner of art history. It reminds me of the modern revival of Gesualdo’s “discordant” madrigals.

Posted by: Michelangelo on March 20, 2006 08:23 PM

Ah, yes, there it is: the one in the middle.

Grazie, Michelangelo.

Posted by: Loxias on March 21, 2006 08:48 AM

Prego, Loxias! I just reread my comment, and it sounds like I was dissing Bellange (or Gesualdo). I actually quite like him. My favourite is the Saint Simon. Every part looks as if it was rendered by a different hand: see the face, the clothes and the background. By the way, if your browser resizes large images by default, there is a neat moiré effect that happens when you click-drag the window’s bottom corner. The bold strokes in the background appear animated, like those tasteful backlit waterfall pictures you see.

Posted by: Michelangelo on March 21, 2006 07:29 PM

That was interesting--I looked at the Hermitage pictures. All those curious faces and fluid fingers, all that stippling... And ran into a counterbalance to the Marriette comment: "The eminent print historian A. Hyatt Mayor has noted, "French etching did not find its style in Paris, but through Callot and Bellange, in the border duchy of Lorraine, where a brilliant provincial court encouraged artists shortly before and after 1600" (Prints & People, 453-54)" (Stephen Goddard).

Posted by: marlyat2 on March 23, 2006 03:22 AM
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