Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Stamps of Time... Robert Nanteuil.

While I was looking at the limited edition stamps at the post office, this leaflet and indeed the postage stamp itself caught my eye. As the name of the artist commemorated was in no way familiar to me, I read the brief description in the display cabinet below. As it turned out, Robert Nanteuil (1623-1678) was in fact born here in Reims yet was to go on to become one of the leading portraitists of the Grand Siècle, renowned for his skills in etching, drawing and pastel. How strange that the name of Nanteuil appears, for the most part, to have fallen so far into the shadows of time. As I was reading over his life history, it seemed fascinating to me to realise that I must have traced some of the same steps as Nanteuil here in his birth city, at a remove of some 400 years, for what is now Sciences Po was once the Collège des Jésuites de Reims where he initially pursued classic studies.
Proving to be unable and unwilling to repress his artistic drive, Nanteuil felt himself 'persecuted' by the Jésuit teachers who disapproved of the incessant sketching which finally led to his dismissal from the establishment. Fortunately, the young Humanities student was received in a more comprehensive manner by the Bénédictines at the Abbaie de Saint-Rémi (today Musée Saint-Remi). By 1645, Nanteuil had already entered the atelier of the remois engraver Nicolas Regnesson, whose sister he went on marry, but he did not stay in Reims as the opportunities in engraving in la Cité des Sacres at that time were limited. Moving to Paris, he developed ties with engravers, publishers and print dealers and artistically was greatly influenced by the Flemish portrait painter, Philippe de Champaigne. From then on, his career took off, to the extent that his ascension was such that by 1658 he was appointed draughtsman and engraver to Louis XIV, thus establishig a position for himself in the royal court, executing numerous portraits of the greatest dignitaries of the kingdom such as Mazarin and Colbert, along with the Roi-Soleil himself, in engraved and pastel work. With an unparalled skill in engraving that somehow managed to represent less attractive features in a flattering manner, Nanteuil was in great demand. Famous writer Madeleine de Scudéry was so impressed by her portrait that she paid hommage to Nanteuil's 'divine art', with its ability to render her detested facial traits pleasing. Beyond his art, Nanteuil was a man of letters, greatly appreciated for the words and knowledge that enabled him to frequent the literary milieux with ease and yet neither his work nor his wit secured him a place of due recognition in the 21st century...
Portrait de Madeleine de Scudéry - Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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