Oil on turquoise blue marble
37 x 28.6 cm. (14 9/16 x 11 ¼ in.)
Gilt wood Louis XIII frame
• France, Private Collection.
• François-Georges Pariset, “Claude Deruet, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1952
• Edouard Meaume,Recherches sur la vie et les ouvrages de Claude Deruet: peintre et graveur lorrain (1588-1660), A. Lepage, Nancy, 1853
Considered one of the best painters from Lorraine in the 17th century, Claude Deruet’s name undeservedly fell into oblivion over the next two centuries, before finding an honorable place again in the 19th century, mainly thanks to Edouard Meaume’s writings. Son of a clockmaker for the Dukes of Lorraine, the young Deruet received an education in Nancy under the famous Jacques Bellange (1575-1616), painter, draughtsman and official engraver at the court of Charles III of Lorraine, and then under another artist from Champagne named Claude Henriet (1539-1604) before visiting Italy. In Rome, he studied under the guidance of the famous Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavaliere d’Arpino (1568-1640), and started a career as an engraver. Soon he was spending as much time with his engraver’s point as with his brushes. From his return from Italy in 1620 until his death in 1660, his activity was as varied as it was considerable.
In Italy, Deruet met Antonio Tempesta (1555-1630), a Roman artist influential in the first third of the 17th century and whose impact would broadly mark much of Deruet’s work. Tempesta found inspiration in Italian Renaissance and 16th century art which Deruet would reinterpret in his own fashion, especially in the poses and complex torsion of figures learned from Mannerism. Hence certain specialists have classed Deruet as a “late Mannerist.”
In this work, which seems to have been realized around the year 1640, Claude Deruet depicts Louis XIII a few years before his early death at age 41. The realism with which the artist handles the monarch’s face with its lively penetrating gaze allows him to render known physical details, such as the hollowness of his cheeks and the pronounced chin. The king is depicted in military attire, with the baton of command firmly in hand. He wears a cuirass adorned with the insignia and ribbon of the Holy Spirit over which his white scarf, a symbol of royal power in France, waves in the wind. He wears white kid boots with beige flaps similar to those seen in a few other illustrious portraits of the monarch such as the one by Philippe de Champaigne in about 1639. The king is seated in his saddle on a swathe of red silk which extends behind his boots to prevent the leather from being worn out by stirrup straps rubbing against it.
Probably under Tempesta’s influence, the artist was led to work on different surfaces such as hard stone. In our heroic image, Deruet chose to leave grey marble in reserve so one could appreciate the aesthetic quality of the carefully selected stone with its visible veins which take on the appearance here of heavy clouds in a stormy sky controlled by the proud monarch.
In numerous battle scenes painted by Tempesta, Deruet examined the particular attention given to depicting horses and then worked from some of the master’s models. Moreover he did some equestrian groups in series, including a suite of Lorraine princes which is conserved in a private Lorraine collection. In our portrait, the monarch turns towards the viewer, and as in most of his equestrian portraits, the caracoling horse is shown in profile. The exquisite rendering of the animal evokes lessons learned from Tempesta. The artist presents the king effortlessly mastering his powerful steed, which is made more beautiful than in its natural state by force of its trappings: the red leather saddle and bridle heightened by gold trim echo the finely worked cuirass, all of which give the refinement and wealth required by the subject.
Deruet’s interest in Flemish artists whom he frequented between Rome and Paris is felt in most of his small scale works which he executed with the finesse of Nordic workmanship. This composition’s rigorous and voluntarily geometricized drawing accentuates the lines and reinforces the desired impression of royal grandiosity.
As opposed to the version on canvas depicting the monarch on his mount, the artist is committed to making a precious work. The harmonious coloring is rendered in transparency on the marble through pure hues: the black of the cuirass is skillfully counter-balanced by the red saddle. As in his religious pictures, Deruet uses flat brushstrokes to interpret the figure through simplicity and suppleness.
After a decisive Italian journey, Claude Deruet became a highly appreciated artist at the Court, patronized, like Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), by the Maréchal de la Ferté, Governor of Nancy. A prolific polyvalent painter, Deruet approached his various commissions, whether they were religious, allegorical, or royal, with great self-discipline,. His style varied according to the format and surface which he systematically mastered: in passing from canvas to copper or marble, the paternity of his works was often confused with those of numerous contemporary artists. Collected in his lifetime, a large part of his work is still held in private collections.