36.5 x 54.5 cm. (14 3⁄8 x 21 7⁄16 in.)
Sanguine over black chalk lines
• France, Private Collection.
• Brejon De Lavergnée, Barbara, “Les Corneille entre le père (vers 1603-1664) et le fils (1642-1708),” Nouvelles de l’estampe, 2011, (235), pp. 6-13.
A student of his father Michel Corneille the Elder, Michel Corneille the Younger (or Firstborn) was trained in painting practices from his earliest childhood, as was his younger brother Jean-Baptiste Corneille (1649-1695) a few years later. Recognized very early for his artistic gifts, he was taught by the most famous painters in the kingdom, including Charles Le Brun (1619-1690), the king’s painter, and his main rival, Pierre Mignard (1612-1695).
After winning a prize created by the Academy, Corneille arrived in Italy in 1659 where he assiduously copied the works of the Old Masters. His instruction continued in Bologna, when he entered the Accademia degli Incamminati founded by the Carraci. The refusal of Mannerist artifice and the return to Antique forms as the supreme references in art inspired the young artist who henceforth also extolled the importance of drawing as a means of synthesizing observed reality and desired ideal.
Upon his return to Paris in 1663 at the age of 21, he was received with honors into the Academy where he would also be appointed professor in 1690. Acclaimed by his contemporaries, Corneille le Jeune was called to work at Meudon, Fontainebleau and Versailles by the king, while benefitting from the patronage of Louvois and his many commissions, including some tapestry cartoons for the Gobelins Manufactory.
His Italian experience made it possible for the artist to develop a more personal [visual] language. As Michel Corneille le Jeune was a terrific draughtsman, the quality of execution of his surviving graphic production is extremely high. In terms of his taste for Antiquity, he realized a great number of studies taken from Greek mythology, and also of religious scenes, of which our sanguine is a marvelous example. It depicts the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem (Luke, 19, 28-44), a subject which had already begun to interest the artist during his Italian sojourn under Carracci influence, as can be seen in a brown ink and wash study conserved in the Louvre in Paris (Graphic Arts Dept. inv. 25425 recto).
The generous dimensions of our folio signal an ambitious layout, learned from observing his father, as well as his teacher, in the choice of subject depicted a few years earlier by Le Brun. Using a horizontal format, Corneille places Christ surrounded by women and a child on the left. On the right, a male figure is depicted standing with his bust turned three-quarters as if being questioned, his gaze fixed on Christ. By thus placing the figures, our composition is comparable in every way to Le Brun’s. The work can be read in two stages: women and children precipitate towards the Messiah, while the men gradually lay their cloaks and fabrics on the ground to wait for his arrival. For his final work, Le Brun had produced multiple preparatory sketches from which Corneille could draw inspiration, such as the study of A Donkey following a Donkey Foal (Paris, Louvre Museum, Graphic Arts Dept. inv. 27710 recto).
Certain stylistic details have practically the same value as a signature in Michel Corneille le Jeune’s oeuvre. Among his many studies, the handling of thick curly hair and beard seems to be drawn from observation of his father’s work, as does the drapery wrapped around Christ’s waist in thick, almost sculptural folds, which were characteristic of his father’s late period. Although Corneille the Younger does not always respect the Antique canon on anatomy, his rigorous drawing is enriched by intense study of the rendering of flesh traced in sanguine. Musculature is made powerful through a play of hatching used in most of his studies of male bodies, such as the study of a Seated Antique Warrior in left profile, conserved at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
Corneille seems to give particular importance to his characters’ gaze and their eyes are often exorbited and emphasized by heavy eyelids. Here again, comparison is necessary with Michel Corneille the Elder’s work in the handling of the man’s profile on the right in our composition, and that depicted in The Visitation on the left side of the composition.
Finally, according to his studies of the 16th century Italian grand masters, Corneille rendered women’s hair with great acuity. Here they are braided and tied the way he could have observed in Raphael’s works, sometimes through hatching, sometimes through undulating curves.
An indefatigable worker, Michel Corneille the Younger died in 1708 in his work environment, at the Gobelins Manufactory, a fact which earned him the name of Corneille of Gobelins. Having stayed a long time in his master’s circle, the artist suffered from Charles Le Brun’s fame and the two artists are often confused with each other in the attribution of their works, thus considerably reducing Corneille’s corpus. We propose to return this drawing to this admirable artist whose production had been long eclipsed by his father’s production and his masters’ influence.