Belgium: Private Collection
“(...)Mr Cottelle of the Royal Academy who is both an excellent painter and a very honest man.”
Admitted in 1672 as “Ordinary Painter to the King in his Royal Academy” Jean Cotelle the Younger practiced almost every genre of painting, in addition to the history paintings and mythological scenes which defined his reputation. Celebrated for his series of The Campaigns of Louis XIV, Cotelle’s talents were known both to the monarch who probably personally approved his appointment to decorate the Trianon, and to Monsieur, the king’s brother, for whom the painter worked at Saint-Cloud.
Educated under his father Jean I Cotelle, called Cotelle the Elder, Jean II the Younger was trained as an ornamentalist, a fact which seems to explain the precision and preciousness in his work. Thus, blending his training with his inspiration, Cotelle introduced an element of enchantment which effectively created a new genre of miniatures.
Considered modelli, Cotelle’s works in gouache are so refined that they in fact constitute finished works. They are systematically infused with a delicate poetic atmosphere enlivened by floating figures which appear in the clouds as entrancing illustrations of the Sun King’s reign. Moreover, our two scenes are related to theater scenes, an art which was highly appreciated by the monarch, in which nymphs and cupids at leisure add a pleasant sense of lightness.
One of the pictures presents an episode in the story of Venus, a mythological figure whom the artist favored, as can be seen in his eight page Book dated before 1706 in which several Adventures from the Story of Venus are depicted. The other features Ceres, Goddess of the Harvest. Most of the works known by the artist privilege known mythological figures, indentifiable by their attributes, surrounded by nymphs and cupids who enliven the composition.
Preserved from the wear of time, our two works in gouache have conserved all of their brilliance. The sometimes sparkling colors are so masterfully handled that one’s gaze perambulates through the composition. The small scale gives a precious quality which is reinforced by the vellum support and golden double filigree framing the paintings. The finesse in execution in both quantity and quality of depiction of details is typical of Cotelle. Faces with striking facial expressions and exaggeratedly elongated bodies amble nonchalantly while a light breeze plays with their slightly ballooning draperies. The plump joyful putti have a characteristic common to Cotelle’s works: blond curls are drawn individually across their broad foreheads. They celebrate marriage with their torch and summer harvest with the wheat.
Through these images, Love and France triumph together for the Sun King’s glory. These two gouaches conserved in their original frames enrich the very narrow corpus of an artist known as for his large scale paintings decorating the Trianon who, in fact, was established in his lifetime as a miniaturist.