Louis-Michel van LOO
(Toulon, 1707 - Paris, 1771)
Portrait of a woman as Saint Cecilia
Oil on canvas
H. 76 cm ; L. 62 cm
A member of the prolific van Loo dynasty established in France after Jacob van Loo around 1630/40, Louis-Michel was a painter, like the two generations that separated him from his Dutch great-grandfather. The young man began his apprenticeship with his father, Jean-Baptiste, while they lived in Italy, in Rome and Turin. At the age of 18, he won the prize at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, before returning to Rome with his uncle, Carle, until 1732. He then moved to Madrid where he spent twenty years as the official painter of the court of Philip V. In 1753, van Loo returned to France and joined the court, where he painted many portraits. Louis XV and the royal family were regularly represented, as the leading figures or wealthy of this century of splendor.
His portraits, which are recognizable at first glance, are often distinguished by pink and powdered faces, slightly chubby, where the main features of the physiognomy are highlighted. These masks, with their softness, are for the most part created against a background of richly decorated interiors and, above all, of colourful fabrics.
Our portrait, certainly painted shortly before the painter's death in 1771, is in the purest tradition of French court effigies by the painter. In the 18th century, the representation of the patron saint of musicians was rare. This figure of a woman usually dressed as the Virgin is represented with her hands on the keyboard of an organ. These compositions, often found in the 16th and 17th centuries throughout Europe, were no longer in vogue during the Enlightenment. However, this work, which dates from around 1770, is clearly inspired by the representations of Saint Cecilia that van Loo saw in Italy. As for the young woman who is represented, it is clearly a portrait, not a religious effigy. Was she an actress, an opera singer or simply interested in music? The pose and courtly attire, the gaze towards the viewer and the manner of holding the music score illustrate this period of portraiture at the transition of the reigns of Louis XV and his grandson.