• According to Dezallier d’Argenville, in Toulouse, in a private study (cabinet) in 1762.
• Probably sale of the Cabinet de M. D*, December 29th, 1766, Paris, lot 58: “Two pictures painted by Rivaltz the Father, on canvas 45 inches high by 36 wide; one depicts Samson asleep on Delilah’s lap; the other Judith holding the head of Holophernes, lifesize figures to the knees; these two pictures have merit.”
• France, Private Collection.
• London, Private Collection
Etching by Barthélemy Rivalz (current location unknown).
The Education of the Artist: Toulouse, Paris, Rome, Toulouse
The son of Jean-Pierre Rivalz who was the official City Hall architect and painter in Toulouse, Antoine Rivalz began his apprenticeship in his father’s studio. He then entered the studio of the already famous draughtsman Raymond Lafage before leaving to perfect his training at the Royal Academy in Paris. Upon his return to Toulouse, he is said to have received his first commissions for private mansions, but soon left his native city for Rome. The young artist remained there more than ten years, where he frequented circles interested in classicism. In 1694, he received second prize at the Academy of Saint Luke, behind Balestra and Nardi. This competition marked a turning point in his Roman career. Enjoying the friendship of artists such as Carlo Maratta, Luigi Garzi, and Benedetto Luti, he was now solicited by Roman and French society. Certain important commissions also came to him from his native Toulouse.
Called back by his father, Rivalz left Italy in 1701. By1703, the municipal magistrates, the Capitouls, had appointed him City Hall painter. Not very well remunerated, this responsibility which the artist assumed until his death in 1735, allowed him to build advantageous relations with the Toulousain patriciate and to benefit from a virtual monopoly on public, religious, and private commissions in Toulouse. Rivalz imposed his personal brilliant style which was striking in its diversity. It was influenced sometimes by Roman baroque art, sometimes by Parisian Atticism, depending on the works and subjects.
Series of Illustrious Women
In all likelihood, Rivalz realized his series of “illustrious women” for a private individual in Toulouse not long after his return from Rome, probably for Jean-Mathias de Riquet, President of the Toulouse Parlement, who, in 1702 at the age of sixty-four, had married Marie-Louise de Montaigne, thirty-six years younger than he. Riquet had entrusted Rivalz with producing two portraits of the young bride as Diana, one of which is conserved in the Augustin Museum in Toulouse and the other known by an engraving. Riquet’s death in 1714 obliged his wife to sell Lespinet Castle which could have housed the series. In fact, the whole group was rapidly dispersed: thus according to their dedications, the engravings, The Death of Paetus and The Death of Arria were to be found in about 1720 at Pierre de Lagorrée’s and Antoine Glassier’s. Three canvases were subsequently found in the possession of Louis de Fumel who had acquired Lespinet Castle.
Composed of pictures with strictly identical formats, the series presented different types of women: heroines accomplishing exceptional acts (ex. Judith, Pero from the story of Roman Charity); women preferring death to dishonor (Arria, Cleopatra); and seductresses with insidious intent (Delilah, Potiphar’s wife). Thus the Rivalz series of illustrious women, of which there were at least ten, could have been organized in pendants playing on the various perceptions of how women could use their inherent power, such as the Death of Cleopatra compared with Death of Lucretia; Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife opposed to Susanna and the Elders; Judith in contrast to Samson and Delilah. Most of these compositions were engraved by Barthélemy Rivalz, the artist’s cousin and student. All of the “illustrious women” were depicted life-size and half-length, based on examples set by Simon Vouet, Claude Vignon, and the Toulousain Caravaggisti which unquestionably corresponded to President Riquet’s taste which had been formed in the second half of the 17th century.
Of the entire series, only three originals have been conserved: The Death of Cleopatra (Toulouse, Augustin Museum), The Death of Arria, and Delilah cutting Samson’s Hair (Private collections). Barthelemy Rivalz’ engraving being lost, a picture coming from an English collection whose dimensions corresponded to those of the others in the series was believed to be the Judith and Holophernes. However, everything seems to indicate that it is probably by another artist, perhaps Jean-Pierre Rivalz, trained in the studio of the painter Ambroise, and then in Paris, probably under Vouet, and finally in Rome. The composition so dense that only one eye of the servant remains visible, the upper part of the picture too charged and light, the static figure of Judith with a “masculine” face, and the lack of effort in the clothing seem to be totally foreign to the art of Antoine Rivalz.
Our "Strong Woman"
Our Judith and Holophernes, whose dimensions are identical to the other pictures in the series, fits perfectly into the group of “strong women,” as well as into Antoine Rivalz’ production dating to the first years after his return from Rome. As in other pictures, here can be seen turbulent yellow ochre draperies with iridescent reflections; the heroine’s pose emulating antique statuary; sculptural volumes, especially in Holofernes’ head; the extreme refinement of certain details, such as Judith’s crown which resembles that worn by Cleopatra, and the servant’s sleeve in shot blue and yellow-green silk which corresponds to Arria’s fringed drapery.
The symmetry between our picture and its possible pendant, Samson and Delilah), is perfect even to the servant’s hand which has its counterpart in Samson’s hand posed on Delilah’s knee. The profiles of Delilah’s and Judith’s two servants are strikingly similar, while the negligee of the white-breasted seductress contrasts with the complex chaste attire of the widow from Bethulia who has just decapitated the enemy general.
The Originality of Our Painting
All of the originality of Rivalz’ talent is revealed in our painting, whether it be the audacious juxtaposition of colors on Judith’s shoulder, the handling in delicate shadows of her determined face turned away from the viewer, the heavy brilliance of the motif on the tent’s green drapery, or the dark atmosphere inherited from the Caravaggisti in Toulouse.
Bibliography of the Work
Pierre RIVALZ, Catalogue de la collection laissée par Antoine au Chevalier, s. l. n. d. (before 1765).
Jean PENENT, Antoine Rivalz. 1667-1735. Le Romain de Toulouse, exh. cat. Paris, Somogy, 2004, p. 210, no 315 (as lost).
Valérie NEOUZE, Le peintre Antoine Rivalz (1667-1735), Thesis for the Ecole des Chartes, 2000.
Antoine Joseph DEZALLIER D’ARGENVILLE, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, vol. IV, Paris, 1762, pp. 359, 361.
Robert MESURET, L’Estampe toulousaine, les graveurs en taille-douce de 1600 à 1800, Toulouse, Paul-Dupuy Museum, 1951, cat. 144 (engraving).
Robert MESURET, Les Expositions de l’Académie Royale de Toulouse de 1751 à 1791, Toulouse, 1972, cat. 2899.