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Old Masters, Allegory of the Element Air, Charles Le Brun, Antique Print, Paris, late 17th Century

$950

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690) (after)
Sébastian Le Clerc (1637-1714) (engraver)
[L’Air, The Air]
Paris: Late 17th Century
Black and white copperplate etching and engraving
14.25 x 20.75 inches, image to ruled border
15.25 x 21.75 inches, sheet size overall
$950

An allegorical image of the element  air represented as winds.  This engraving is derived from one of a set of four tapestries of  the four elements — air, earth, fire, and water — designed by Charles Le Brun, court painter and manager of decorations for the palaces of King Louis XIV. The original tapestries were woven for Louis XIV though later examples of them were made for Ralph Montagu in England. Each image of an element — as depicted in the prints by Sébastian Le Clerc — has a  cartouche and mottos explaining the element in aggrandizing the life of Louis XIV.

Product description continued below.

Description

The winds tapestry shows a group of birds — animals associated with the air — as an audience to classical figures. A writer in Time magazine explained its underlying political symbolism:

Among the first woven was Le Brun’s series on The Elements, which ransacked classical mythology to celebrate the events in Louis XIV’s reign. One of the most famous, L’Air, drew from the full range of the factory’s 79 colors to depict, in wool, gold and silk threads, Juno, the goddess of marriage, rebuffing Boreas, the god of the north wind in Greek mythology. Courtiers understood that the real subject was Louis’ marriage to Marie-Therese of Spain, which had brought to an end France’s 25-year war with that country.

A companion tapestry (previously sold by George Glazer Gallery) representing Earth depicts gods and goddesses representing Earth (Ceres and Cybele), Water (Neptune and Amphitrite) and Air (Juno and Iris) with an audience of a lion and camel, earthbound animals.

One of the great French Baroque painters, Charles Le Brun trained under the direction of the painter Simon Vouet, in France and Rome. He became the principal interpreter of the political and artistic prestige of France as First Painter of the court of King Louis XIV. In that capacity he decorated most of the king’s palaces, planned Versailles’ garden statues, and created several grand series of decorative cycles of tapestries to decorate Versailles and other palaces. The famous Gobelins royal tapestry factory was founded in 1662 to produce tapestries for Louis XIV, including Le Brun’s elaborate designs. Among the tapestry series he created were the planets, the worship of Apollo, the four elements, the four seasons, the four hours of the day, the four parts of the world, and the four temperaments of the man. Today, Le Brun’s paintings and tapestries are in palaces and museums throughout France, including a large collection in the Louvre.

Sébastian Le Clerc the Elder was a French draftsman and engraver. He was taught drawing and engraving by his father, a goldsmith, then came to Paris where he continued his studies. Under the guidance of Charles Le Brun, who served as First Painter to King Louis XIV, he became a well-regarded engraver, and an extraordinarily busy one – one scholar has catalogued almost 3,400 prints. Le Clerc became a member of the Academy in 1672 and taught perspective there. He also served as Engraver to the King and taught at Gobelins royal tapestry factory.

Allegorical Tapestry of Air (Winds)

Cartouche: LUDOVICUS XIIII. HOSTIV M SVIQVE IPSIVS VICTOR, FORTISSIMAM GENTEM BELLO FRACTAM GEMINO PACIS AC CONNVBII FOEDERE SIBI DEVINXIT; IAMQVE AER TVRBVLENTO ARMORVM STREPITU NVPER COMO TVS, FESTIVIS PVBLICAE LAETITIAE COCENTIB PERSONABIT

Corner roundel mottos:
TERRAS DEVINXIT OLLMS C
SEMPER SVBLIMIS
MERVITQVE TIMERI
SIGNAT CLEMENTIA REGEM

Motto on goddess’ shield: CITIVS VENTOS ET NUBILA PELLIT [more quickly the winds and clouds are sent]

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and restored with only minor remaining toning and wear. Restoration included remargining of left and bottom margins, restoration of slight defects to the other margins, and backing overall with Japanese tissue.

References:

Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 5, p. 465 (LeClerc).

“Versailles La Visite.” Editions Montparnasse. 1999. http://www.a-versailles-dvd.com/visite_web/biograph.html (28 January 2003).

“Warp and Woof for the Ages.” Time. 30 September 1966. Online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,836458,00.html?promoid=googlep (1 August 2007).

Additional information

Century

17th Century