7.5 x 5.5 cm. (2 15⁄16 x 2 3⁄16 in.)
Miniature in oil with white gouache highlights on rigidified playing card
• France, Private Collection.
• Stéphan Perreau, Hyacinthe Rigaud : 1659-1743: catalogue concis de l’œuvre, Nouvelles Presses du Languedoc, Sète, 2013.
• Ariane James-Sarazin, Hyacinthe Rigaud 1659-1743, Doctoral Thesis in Art History, Paris, École pratique des hautes études, Éditions Faton, Paris, 2008.
The famous French painter Hyacinthe Rigaud was actually born Spanish in what was then North Catalonia. In 1659, Perpignan was still under Spanish domination before being ceded to the kingdom of France a few months later by the Treaty of the Pyrenees which brought peace between the two monarchies. Rigaud was the son of a master tailor, a fact which probably triggered the artist’s precocious taste for fabrics and their sensitive rendering which distinguished his oeuvre.
Upon leaving the Pyrenees, young Rigaud began an apprenticeship in Montpelier (Languedoc) in 1673, when he entered the studio of the painter Antoine Ranc (1634-1716). Through reference to Anthony Van Dyck’s oeuvre (1599-1641), Ranc taught him Flemish painting techniques of which Rigaud would make great use. The evolution of the Catalan’s career was as spectacular as it was dazzling. It culminated in his appointments as First Painter [to the King] and then Director of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Praised for the virtuosity with which he rendered his portraits, although the genre was still considered minor according to André Félibien’s theories (1619-1695), he met with fabulous success. In Europe, he was the favorite painter of the elite and dominated portrait production in the 17th, and even more so, in the first half of the 18th century.
Shortly after arriving in Paris in 1681, between hours devoted to large ceremonial formats, easel paintings, and drawings, Rigaud became interested in the art of miniature Recently the discovery of manuscripts from the collection of the Historian Jaubert de Passa, acquired by the Département [County] of the Pyrénées Orientales [Eastern Pyrenees] which have been studied by the specialist on the artist, Ariane James-Sarazin, led to the revelation of a small notebook which had belonged to Rigaud. It seems that the artist was working on his own treatise on miniatures inspired by a few extracts conserved in this notebook of a text dated 1672 and entitled, “Treatise on Miniatures for Easily Learning to Paint without a Master, with the Secret of Making the Most Beautiful Colors, browned gold and seashell gold,” by an older artist, the miniaturist Claude Boutet.
Our work is a terrific example of this narrow aspect of Rigaud’s miniature production, which is deduced from some known evidence concerning the artist, including a Self-Portrait and a Portrait of a Man recently added to the supplement of the catalogue raisonné of his work. In our small-scale picture no more than 7.5 centimeters (2 15/16 in.) in height, the artist presents a male sitter in a bust-length view, his shoulders turned to the right with the fully frontal face looking straight at the painter. The close-up composition and simplicity of the pose are recurring components in Rigaud. Currently anonymous, the sitter’s physiognomy is expressed though the penetrating gentleness of the gaze heightened by a lightly sketched smile. The man is attired in a wide, bright red, velvet cape lined with gold brocade silk from which an elegantly tied lace cravat escapes. His not-very-high wig centered on his face, as well as the carefully organized and lightly geometrized cape folds, indicate a work dating to the late 1680s.
The treatment of the fabrics and silks are a mark of Rigaud’s workmanship. Skillful use of white highlights allows the rendering of wig powder fallen on the shoulder, on the one hand, and the brilliance of the thick red velvet, on the other, while the gold brocade is finely treated in oil.
The figure stands out from a background which is between coppery green and brushed brown tones and allows the viewer’s attention to focus on the sitter’s facial features: almond-shaped eyes with thick eyebrows, not to mention the shaved mustache. Finally, Rigaud’s ingenious hand adds minute details such as the point of light on the bridge of the nose and the finely traced shadow on the pinkish cheeks.
Hyacinthe Rigaud turned the portrait into the rival of history painting. Between François de Troy (1645-1730) and Nicolas de Largillierre (1656-1746), the artist gained recognition for the excellence of his depictions in painted portraits, especially male portraits, as did Largillierre in female physiognomies.
Having produced more than 2700 canvases, Hyacinthe Rigaud was one of the most important portraitists of his time. In addition to all of these portraits, – be they for the court, ceremonial, intimate, in informal indoor dress (amateurs, collectors, artists), familiar or narrative – Rigaud’s genius also found its outlet in the art of miniatures.