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.
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.’
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.
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