• France, Private Collection.
In his Dictionnaire généalogique, héraldique, chronologique et historique, published in Paris in 1757, François Alexandre Aubert de La Chesnaye-Desbois describes the coat of arms of the Academy of Painters as follows: “azure with three silver escutcheons placed 2 & 1, with a gold fleur de lys in their midst” (vol. III. P. 128). Engraved on the Academy’s seal by 1648, this blazon brings together the arms given, according to tradition, to Albrecht Durer and all other painters’ guilds by the Emperor Maximilian - three silver escutcheons garnishing their gold field – and the royal fleur de lys in the center which is said to have been added by Francis I. The three escutcheons refer to the liberal arts of painting, sculpture, and engraving, because the Royal Academy of Architecture formed a completely separate entity.
Yet until the 18th century, the Academy did not use its coat of arms much, as it preferred the blazon of France in order to distinguish itself from the Parisian guild of Painters which could legitimately claim the coat of arms with three escutcheons, including the fleur de lys. Nonetheless the Academy’s “official” blazon can be found in Henri Testelin’s large painting depicting Louis XIV, Protector of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture (Versailles, inv. MV6155) which embellishes the large room where the academicians held their meetings. The king is featured seated on his throne. With his left hand, he places a laurel crown on the head of a young child who is holding the shield with the Academy’s arms and who personifies the Academy’s guardian spirit, its genius. Scattered at the foot of his throne are a globe with Louis XIV’s sign of a Lion, the instruments or tools of the arts, and a sketch in which Painting, shown as a woman, draws a portrait of the sovereign in an oval. In 1714, Antoine Coypel was inspired by it for a vignette engraved by Benoît Audran le Vieux which was intended to introduce the Description de l’Académie royale des arts, de peinture et de sculpture by Nicolas Guérin which appeared the following year. Painting was replaced by the Allegory of the Academy laying her right hand on the oval portrait of Louis XIV. She was surrounded by a palette with brushes, a bust of Minerva, and an unfurled scroll with the Academy’s coat of arms.
With its typically lively rococo aesthetic of the second quarter of the 18th century, our drawing uses and fills out the same theme by celebrating the Academy through allegorical depiction. The blazon with three escutcheons decorates the cartouche leaning against a pyramidal construction in the center of the page. It is held up by a winged genius, while another with palette in hand points his index finger towards the coat of arms. Another cartouche is attached above it, but this one is empty and seemingly intended for an inscription, as indicated by the figure of Painting, recognizable through her attributes: palette, brushes, and maul stick. A lion stretches out below this assemblage between the volutes and shells of the large cartouche. On either side of the monument, in what seems to be a workshop for a French park, are scattered various works, engravings, famous sculptures including the Farnese Hercules, the Belvedere Torso, a Medici Venus with thin hair, vases, busts, capitals, an oval painting showing Apollo with his lyre, rolls of paper, and squares. Putti can also be seen in the act of drawing. The whole composition has been squared off to facilitate transfer: it was undoubtedly an engraving project, and more precisely, intended for a frontispiece or a heading, the empty cartouche waiting to be filled in with its text. The work for which our sanguine was intended remains to be identified, but it probably was either a commission for the Academy, or a composition sufficiently ambitious that the artist would be received by the guild.
Our drawing’s style is in the tradition of François Boucher’s ornamental compositions, and especially takes after those of Jacques de Lajoue. The inventiveness and spectacularity of forms and ornament, composition in several dense and crowded layers, decorative profusion, and minute attention given to figures which are much more apparent than in the work of other rocaille ornamentalists such as Meissonnier, Babel or Peyrotte. These features and the choppy vibrant line are characteristics of one of the most original 18th century ornamentalists, François-Thomas Mondon.
Son of Pasquier Mondon, a Parisian goldsmith-engraver, François-Thomas Mondon was an engraver, draughtsman, and supplier of models for goldsmithing. He is particularly representative of the marriage between the decorative arts and drawing which took place during the period of French rocaille. Mondon, however, remains a rare artist. His career is only documented with any precision between 1736 and 1740, while under the protection of the Duke of Chatillon, the Crown Prince’s Governor, to whom he dedicated several of his engraved suites which earned him the title of “draughtsman for the King’s Menus Plaisirs.” The artist participated in the publication of several collections of decoration, of rocaille forms, trophies, “cartels” or cartouches, and provided the drawings for several frontispieces, including that for the Nouveau Livre d’Ecriture d’après les meilleues (sic) exemples of the master calligrapher Louis Rossignol.
In several of his compositions, mainly engraved by François-Antoine Aveline, the same architectural elements can be found as in our sanguine, as can the same cartouches all in curves and counter curves, the same putti with mischievous expressions and slightly awkward gestures, the same minute precision in the rendering of details and vegetation, and even, in the Livre de Trophée of 1736, a very similar lion under the cartouche with the coat of arms of Savoy (pl. 1) and the Farnese Hercules (pl. 2). With the Noontime (Heure du Midi) which recently entered the collections of the Cognacq-Jay Museum, our sheet is the second largest sanguine drawing known by Mondon who is revealed as a refined and marvelouosly imaginative artist.
General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Marianne Roland Michel, “François-Thomas Mondon, artiste “rocaille” méconnu”, Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art français, year 1978, Paris, 1981, pp. 150-1558.