French Drawings of the XV-XVI Centuries from
the Collection of the Hermitage
This exhibition in the Hall of Twelve Columns in the New Hermitage includes around 80 works of graphic art from the museum's Cabinet of Drawings.
The collection dates from 1768 when the Russian ambassador to the Hague, Dmitry Alexeevich Golitsyn, purchased on behalf of Empress Catherine the Great some 46 paintings and about 4,000 drawings of various schools from the collection of the Belgian art enthusiast Count Karl Kobenzl (1712-1770). Among the works of French drawing masters there was a small but notable group of portraits in pencil from the 15th and 16th centuries, totaling 130 sheets, of which 30 are splendid "original master works."
Two drawings from the collection of Catherine de Medici are especially worth mentioning. Among these is the Portrait of Charles IX by François Clouet 'Jannet', (1522 - 1572), marked by one of the secretaries of the French king with the name of the sitter and the date (1566). Another is the Portrait of Henri d'Alba, presumably also by Francois Clouet.
Among the works devoted to specific themes, there is an interesting series of Landscapes with Mythological Figures by Jean Cousin the Younger (ca.1522 - ca.1594) and the cycle of Children's Games by Thomas de Leu, which are among the rarest drawings of the artist and come from the collection of President of the Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg, I. I. Betskoy.
The main and most valuable part of the Hermitage collection of French drawings from the 15th and 16th centuries constitutes one of the best collection of portraits drawn in pencil which exists outside of France.
Over the course of two centuries this form of art underwent a significant evolution. The large heads typical of the 15th century were replaced by busts and sometimes by portraits down to the waist. Gradually pencil drawings changed from preliminary sketches for oil paintings on canvas into an independent art form.
The drawings portray the royal family and its suite, military commanders and representatives of the clergy, scholars and poets. The portraits were used as ambassadorial gifts or were sent as presents in anticipation of marriage; they were taken along on voyages, given away, or kept in albums.
Portraits from the 15th century are among the rarest in the collection: the Portrait of a Man in a Hat by Jean Fouquet (ca.1420 - 1481), ās well as portraits by Jean Bourdichon (pre-1457 - ?), Jean Perreal (ca.1455 - 1530) and masters from their circle.
The collection of works dating from the 16th century is significantly richer. Here we find nearly all the major painters represented to a greater or lesser extent: five portraits by François Clouet and his atelier, including three works by Jannet himself; six portraits by an artist close to the master who was known as the Anonymous Lecourier; a very rare portrait drawing by the founder of an artistic dynasty, Geoffroi Dumoustier; six works by Pierre Dumoustier the Elder (ca.1540 - ca.1600) including a rare set of matched portraits of the artist brothers; and nine works by Benjamin Foulon. Most of the portraits of this period were done on a white background using black chalk and sanguine; over time colored chalk was added, and, at the end of the century, pastels as well.
One of the best 16th century French masters of drawing was Francois Clouet (he was a pupil of his father and he also inherited the nickname 'Janet'). In his tribute to this portraitist's work, Pierre Ronsard dedicated a sonnet to him as well as an Elegy to Jannet, calling Clouet the "honor of our France." Clement Marot likened the works of Jannet to Michelangelo's. The master's portrait works in pencil were renowned well beyond France's borders. The Queen of Spain asked to be sent "pencil works" which, in her words, "Jannet knows how to do superbly."