Arriving in Rome in June 1735 as a resident at the Royal Academy, Pierre was unable to attend the Winter Carnival festivities of 1735, which he nevertheless immortalised in an engraving made shortly after his arrival (reproduced above for information - we are only selling the drawing). This drawing, probably a preparatory one, shows the full extent of his talent and is a rare testimony to his early works, since it is probably the oldest surviving drawing by the artist.
1. The sojourn in Rome, a key stage in the life of Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre
Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre was born in Paris on March 6, 1714 into a wealthy family of goldsmiths and jewellers. His father Jean Pierre was elected alderman in 1743, which ennobled him. This family affluence gave him access to academic studies with a tutor. Pierre became a pupil of the painter Nicolas Bertin (1668-1736) and took courses at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture where he became friends with the engraver Charles-Nicolas Cochin le Fils (1715 - 1790). This friendship also led him to the workshop of Cochin le Père (1688 - 1754) from whom he probably learned engraving and who made him aware of Watteau's art.
In 1734, he was awarded the Academy’s grand prize for painting for his work Sanson, whose hair was cut by Delilah (the present whereabouts of which is unknown). He was then allowed to join the Académie de France in Rome, under the direction of the painter Nicolas Vleughels (1688-1737). He stayed in Rome from June 1735 to June 1740.
Back in Paris in 1740, his success meant that in 1752, he became First Painter to the Duke of Orleans for whom he painted several ceilings at the Palais-Royal and the Château de Saint-Cloud. Between 1752 and 1757 he also painted two domes for the church of Saint-Roch in Paris. He became First Painter to the King in 1770, following François Boucher, and exerted a determining influence on the art and artists of his time. He reserved his talents as a painter exclusively for royal commissions and died on 15 May 1789, on the eve of the Revolution.
2. The Chinese Masquerade, one of his first engravings
Arriving in Rome at the end of June 1735, shortly after his arrival Pierre engraved La Mascarade Chinoise faite à Rome le Carnaval de l'année MDCCXXXV par Messieurs les Pensionnaires du Roy de France en son Académie des arts, which he dedicated to the Duke of Saint-Aignan, French Ambassador in Rome from 1732 to 1740. Perhaps this was a commission from the Duke, who was aware of Pierre's engraving talents, or a way for the young artist to secure his protection? The engraving shows the moment when the chariot of residents passes in front of the Antonine column in the Piazza Colonna, almost opposite the Palazzo Mancini, the seat of the Académie de France in Rome.
Pierre was probably inspired by the memories of his new comrades at the Académie de France, or by drawings they would have made during the Carnival. It is also likely that he was able to actually see and draw for himself the float used for the parade, which was probably still in existence when he arrived in Rome a few months later.
3. Similarities and differences
The engraving is slightly smaller than our drawing (30.5 x 42.5 cm compared to 34.4 x 51 cm). It obviously shows the design inverted in relation to the drawing from which the plate used for printing was made. It is interesting to see both the drawing and part of the engraving side by side corresponding to the (inverted) float shown on the drawing. This comparison shows that, despite some differences, the two artworks are very similar, both in their general conception and in many ornamental details.
The drawing only shows the float without the urban landscape in the background. The general composition of the two artworks is very similar: a chariot drawn by two horses moves forward, accompanied by several figures also dressed as Chinese who walk beside it and at the back of the float. In the chariot are the residents and two of their friends, all dressed as Chinese, sitting three by three in five rows. At the back of the float sits a figure with a sophisticated turban, accompanied on his right by a woman also dressed in Chinese style and on his left by a young man wearing a wig, who seems to be pointing at the Academy building. Another woman is also present in the second-to-last row, but all the other passengers in the float are male. They sport long fake moustaches under their conical hats.
At the very front, just behind the coachman, a figure also dressed in Chinese style, carries a sign. The main differences between the two works concern the characters seated in the first three rows, some of whom were blowing horns in the drawing, and the pedestrians. The first of the pedestrians in the engraving is blowing a trumpet, whereas in the drawing he is carrying a panel decorated with ideograms. The second has a trumpet under his arm, which replaces the standard he had in the drawing. In the engraving these vertical elements (standard, sceptre) have been removed and the attitudes of the characters seated in the chariot simplified for better legibility and greater fluidity in the movement.
It is difficult to compare this drawing with any other drawings by Pierre from his early Roman sojourn or his Parisian apprenticeship, as no other drawings from this period have been passed on. The group at the top of the chariot under the palanquin has been executed with great delicacy and the clear similarities between the drawing and the engraving give us every reason to think that we have here the work of the same artist.
This drawing is presented in a large carved and gilded wooden frame from the Louis XVI period, whose rigor contrasts with the extreme fantasy of the drawing.
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