July 03, 2006

Jean Mignon

‘In 1531, after several disappointments with the greatest artists of his time—particularly Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Sarto who both came to France—François I, extraordinarily tenacious in his plan to acclimatize monumental Italian painting to his kingdom, invited a painter of lesser reputation, but young and marvellously gifted: the Florentine Rosso. A year later it was Primaticcio who was invited in his turn, on the recommendation of Giulio Romano, Raphael’s official heir, in whom François I had great confidence. Even younger than Rosso and still unknown, Primaticcio was to show the greatest talent; in the course of nearly forty years, he worked assiduously on the decorations of the Château. Each of these two great masters had his international staff of workers and artists, among whom Italians predominated…’

Detail of 'Women Bathing,' an etching by Jean Mignon after a design by Luca Penni (1540s).


Detail of 'St. John Preaching in the Desert,' an etching by Jean Mignon after a design by Luca Penni (1540s).

Perhaps foremost among the assistants recruited by Rosso was a fellow-Florentine named Luca Penni, who had apparently studied in Rome, where one of his brothers had been an assistant of Raphael’s. Penni’s style has been described as one of ‘refined heaviness’ and ‘cold beauty.’ Besides painting, he also made designs for tapestries and prints: in the 1540s, it is thought that several of his designs were etched by one Jean Mignon, whose name has been found in the Fontainebleau accounts for 1537-40, when he seems to have been a junior assistant painter. Mignon has been identified as the ‘J.M.’ who signed a couple of the prints associated with the Fontainebleau school—whereupon several dozen other unsigned prints have more or less tentatively been attributed to him based on likenesses of content and style.

Detail of 'The Temptation of Eve,' an etching by Jean Mignon after a design by Luca Penni (1540s).


Detail of 'The Metamorphosis of Acteon,' an etching by Jean Mignon after a design by Luca Penni (1540s).

The two pairs of etchings shown in the details above, and a number of other similarly-executed compositions on religious and mythological themes, are all thought to derive from designs of Penni’s. Mignon’s name has also been linked with a fascinating series of twenty etchings (exemplified here by the two pairs of details, below), illustrating a variety of ‘terminals’ which are quadrangular pillars, often tapered & narrowest at the base, and adorned with sculpted figures, the heads or busts of men, women or satyrs. Terminals were originally representations of Terminus, the Roman god of boundaries, ‘guardian of peace and a witness of just dealing,’ and were used as elaborate boundary-markers.

Detail of an etching of a 'Terminal,' attributed to Jean Mignon (1540s).


Detail of an etching of a 'Terminal,' attributed to Jean Mignon (1540s).

These etchings in particular caught my eye as they reminded me of two sets of intriguing images posted by Mr. K. at Bibliodyssey some time ago, featuring the designs of Hughes Sambin, and Joseph Boillot. I scanned the present images from Henri Zerner’s book The School of Fontainebleau; Etchings and Engravings, published by Thames and Hudson in 1969, translated from the French by Stanley Baron. Much of the above paraphrases Zerner, or, as in the case of the opening paragraph, directly quotes him. Zerner summarises Mignon’s (and, I suppose, Penni’s) achievement thus: ‘He installed his figures in very contrived, very formal landscapes with artificial vegetation. The result was an unreal world, as if turned to stone, one of the most uncompromising expressions of mannerism.’

Detail of an etching of a 'Terminal,' attributed to Jean Mignon (1540s).


Detail of an etching of a 'Terminal,' attributed to Jean Mignon (1540s).

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Posted by misteraitch at July 3, 2006 01:27 PM

Fascinating stuff thanks. You might find this old New York Times article worth a look: 'Little-Known French Art: Renaissance Drawings' (I was searching around a little on the Delaune/Rossi:Sambin connection, if it directly exists).

I would have said 'zombie-like' for the first 4 images above - same as 'turned to stone' I guess -- the darkened pits of eye sockets are a little unnerving. There is some beautiful etching work in there however. Cheers.

Posted by: peacay on July 4, 2006 04:00 AM

‘[R]efined heaviness’ and ‘cold beauty’: Mannerism in four words.

Posted by: Michelangelo on July 4, 2006 02:37 PM

Bernard Salomon based his woodcut(as part of his illustrations of the Metamorphoses of 1557 by Jean de Tournes) of Actaeon and Diana on this print by Jean Mignon. A lot of engravers followed this composition, f.e. Pieter Van der Borcht (1591).

Posted by: Hendrik Veuchelen on August 7, 2007 09:46 PM


Posted by: Perugia on October 4, 2007 12:53 PM
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