Pair of paintings depicting the Allegory of the Arts and the Allegory of oil trade on canvas, 68 x 92 cm frameless and 88 x 112 cm with wonderful frame by the painter Louis Gabriel Blanchet (Paris 1705 – Rome 1772), dating from around 1750-1760.
These two fine canvases in excellent condition, in the first canvas, are to be ascribed to Louis - Gabriel Blanchet, known above all for being one of the most talented Roman portrait painters of his time: in fact, his best known - and investigated - production is precisely that linked to that pictorial genre, although, as the sources inform us - not that what has come down to us - the French was a truly eclectic artist who treated the most varied subjects; at the moment only altarpieces are missing from his curriculum.
More specifically: it is plausible that the unpublished works, as the type of frame - original and perfectly preserved - the format and the type of composition lead us to think, where large empty spaces are occupied by soft muffled clouds, which stand out against a sky clear, to give a certain spatial depth that is combined with a purely decorative vein, typical of that type of destination; On the other hand, I would not be surprised if they were conceived as the crowning glory of a mirror, a rare but not unlikely event, especially in the Capitoline area.
At the moment we do not know the client, although it is known that Louis-Gabriel painted overdoors at the beginning of his autonomous career (1732-1736 ca): they were requested by the Duke of Saint-Aignan, French ambassador to the Eternal City, a cultured music lover who he protected the young pensionnaires of Palazzo Mancini. They depicted Harmony, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Agriculture: Sculpture and Architecture have come down to us, recently re-emerged at the Musée du Berry in Bourges, while Painting is identifiable with The Tribute of Painting to Clemente XII in the Weizner collection in New York.
So our canvases are not to be added to that series, depicting other subjects: I would not be surprised if they in turn were part of an ensemble not documented at the moment.
They are distinguished by the cultured and far from usual iconography: in the first the protagonist is Minerva, well recognizable by the attributes of the helmet, the spear and the shield with the face of Medusa: the goddess was associated with wisdom since ancient times , as it originated from the head of Zeus, his father, so in the canvas sub judice we want to emphasize how knowledge, understood as an intellectual and speculative activity, guides the practice, the realization of the idea in the earthly world.
It is no coincidence that at her feet we do not find female allegories, but putti that we can identify as geniuses, or tutelary deities of the different arts or branches of knowledge, perhaps to be associated with the goddess herself as her direct emanations: starting from the left we find the attributes of painting and sculpture - a palette with a brush, a head of classical inspiration - at the feet of the child intent on drawing geometric solids on a sheet, which therefore allow him to be called a genius of geometry; not by chance he has a globe beside him and another child with flute and score on the side, the genius of music.
It therefore seems that from wisdom, understood as intellectual tension towards knowledge, derives a connecting role between the various arts linked to geometry, according to a concept of clear Greek inspiration, which sees them as the foundation of our knowledge of the world, regulated by relationships and quantifiable correspondences: indeed Plato not only places it at the basis of philosophical reasoning, but above mathematics, as it is the contemplation of eternal, immutable forms which numbers then try to translate into intelligible quantities.
I believe that this interpretation is somehow confirmed by the gesture of Minerva, which indicates a point outside the pictorial space, and puts the goddess in relationship with Mercury, the protagonist of the en pendant painting: well recognizable by the attributes of the winged helmet and the caduceus, a character of mythology who has always been in relation to cunning and protector of commerce.
Here then appears a globe that on the order of the god some geniuses are translating on a geographical map, in order to guide men on their journeys, from which spring the riches promised by the inverted cornucopia, full of gold and silver coins. . So in our canvases a message is communicated that we cannot but define "the Illuminist", in which the arts are at the service of reason that guides the development of man's intellectual and manual abilities, increasing his knowledge of the world as well as his well-being material as well as spiritual.
It will be worth underlining how in this sense they are truly unique in the Capitoline area, where they preferred, for works of similar destination, or cultured stories of mythological or literary subjects or representations more marked by decoration, especially of antiquing inspiration: d ' on the other hand their creator, Louis-Gabriel Blanchet, was in contact with the grand tourists passing through the capital for their canonical study stay, with the Stuart dynasty, of which he became, on the death of Antonio Ludovico David, the trusted portraitist , with the French intelligentsia, which was able to create such "modern" images.
Up to this moment, the stylistic evolution of Blanchet had not been traced, which here for the first time we try to outline: we are fortunate to have not only portraits, but also other genres of signed and dated works - which will compare to confirm the autography of the two allegories sub judice - which allow some consideration in this sense. For example, if we approach this beautiful Portrait of a Prelate (formerly at the Chaucer art gallery in London with the famous Double portrait of Frs Jaquier and Leseur (whose date was read alternately 1772 or 1752, although the latter is more likely) the passage from a softer and more atmospheric painting, made of evanescent shadows, caressing lights, to a greater objectivity of vision that is expressed in clearer tones, in a more insistent graphic style, through a clear and precise contour line, then to a detailed description of the environment hosting the portrayed.
We also note differences between this Age of Innocence, signed and dated 1731 already at the Leger Gallery in London, and this Madonna and Child with Saint John in a private collection, signed and dated 1751: in fact from a more charming and graceful figuration, clearly inspired French and Flemish - see the almost lenticular rendering of the objects - we move on to an image marked by a greater figural clarity, to a more heartfelt classicist inspiration which is then in line with that 'return to order' in Roman painting that took place during the pontificate of Benedict XIV.
Already in these works we find definite points of tangency with the canvases from which we started: the face of the Virgin and that of Mercury are at the limit of congruence, in the face with an idealized oval that ends in a point, in the orbits with a clean cut with the pupils pinned and the upper eyelid swollen, in the small mouth with the upper lip fatter and protruding than the lower one. The physiognomies of the two figures on the second floor, on the left, definitely recall that of Minerva: in the almond-shaped eye sockets, in the nose with a straight septum as in the thin lips that hint at a smile little sly.
And again the putti that recur in all these works have similarities in the chubby bodies, with small feet and wide ankles, high and hemispherical fronts, as in the detailed and somewhat graphic rendering of the hair. We can then compare our works to this Allegory of the arts of 1756 which is a real sample of the idea of ??childhood that Blanchet had: we can easily find the same physical and physiognomic topos that is used with few variations, but above all the same attention to the restitution of the objects, translated with a subtle painting that at times becomes almost a drawing, alternating with a freer drafting in the foliage of the trees as in the clouds that is very reminiscent of the one used in the background of the two paintings from which we started.
Our allegories therefore appear to be the works of Louis-Gabriel Blanchet's maturity: in fact they are marked by a certain lightness of vision, explained, as already written: in the broad description of the soft clouds that occupy a large part of the pictorial space - and dilate it scenographically with a remarkable sense of vivacity and depth of field - in the gracefulness of the gestures, of the unfolding of the clothes for minute and crisp folds, and again in the charming movement of the graceful dots; but on the other hand we also recognize a certain firmness of vision in the clear drawing that almost concludes the color, in the objectivity with which the figural data are brought, in the contained dynamism, which give a classicist inspiration to these works, leading them to date them around 1750- About 1760.
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