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Between Coloris and Dessein

Entre coloris et dessein
Hector Reyes

Résumés

Charles de La Fosse représente à la fois deux parties opposées dans l’Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture: le clan du dessein, associé à la théorie et la pratique de Charles Le Brun; et celui du coloris, associé à la théorie de Roger de Piles et la pratique d’Antoine Watteau. Dans cette communication, je me pencherai sur l’Assomption de la Vierge (Musée Magnin). J’associerai l’œuvre à l’art de Nicolas Poussin, et en particulier à la manière coloriste et vénitienne des tableaux peints à Rome dans les années 1620 et au début des années 1630. Dépassant les différences entre les clans du dessein et du coloris, La Fosse avait trouvé une synthèse picturale dans l’œuvre de Poussin. La Fosse élargissait alors la conception de la pratique picturale de Poussin hors du système théorique mis au point par Le Brun. L’Assomption de La Fosse représente ainsi une intervention artistique au sein des débats théoriques, rapprochant deux clans opposés.

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Notes de la rédaction

This text belongs to the conference proceedings of « Charles de La Fosse and the Arts in France around 1700 », edited by Béatrice Sarrazin and Olivier Bonfait.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 2, pp. 26–27.
  • 2 The literature on the debates about colour is extensive. The classic studies are Teyssèdre 1965, Li (...)

1The Assumption of the Virgin in the Musée Magnin in Dijon by Charles de La Fosse (fig. 1) was either a preparatory study or later ricordo of the commission for the coupole at the church of Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption in Paris. The commission was completed sometime during the construction of the church, between 1670 and 1676.1 These were the very years during which painter-theoreticians at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture were responding in their monthly lectures to an incipient discourse circulating outside of the Academy. This extra-academic discourse, associated with the term coloris, provided a new philosophical justification for painting.2 It proposed that painting was uniquely capable of causing viewers to reflect on experience because it demonstrated the unified and connected nature of all matter, even air. Explicating the philosophical implications of the artist’s juxtaposition and harmonious synthesis of colours, the proponents of the colouristic understanding of composition authorized artists to develop new ideas about pictorial unity and justified the amateurs’ emphasis on visual pleasure, even, perhaps especially, when it could not be systematically reasoned.

Fig. 1: Charles de La Fosse, The Assumption, 1670–1676, oil on canvas, 90 cm diam. Musée Magnin, Dijon, inv. 1938F567.

Fig. 1: Charles de La Fosse, The Assumption, 1670–1676, oil on canvas, 90 cm diam. Musée Magnin, Dijon, inv. 1938F567.

© René-Gabriel Ojéda, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

  • 3 On La Fosse in relationship to the querelle du coloris, see Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 1, p. 202-209.

2In this paper, I want to situate the production of Charles de La Fosse’s Assumption in relationship to the Academy’s theoretical responses to the proposals put forth by the coloris camp. Clémentine Gustin-Gomez has noted in her magisterial study of the artist that the Assumption marked the beginning of La Fosse’s artistic career.3 I hope to show that his early work already demonstrates a catholic embrace of both the official theories of dessein and the innovative theories of coloris. While his relationship to both Charles Le Brun and Antoine Watteau are well-known, his willingness to reconcile two competing artistic theories can be found already at the outset of his career, in the early Dijon Assumption.

3I hope to make two modest contributions. One, to make a set of formal comparisons between La Fosse’s Assumption and Poussin’s early Roman works. This paper will argue that when La Fosse looked to the early works of Poussin, he adopted more than just a set of formal strategies; Poussin’s conception of colour also carried with it propositions about movement and temporality that were useful for La Fosse. Secondly, this paper will consider what it might have meant in the aftermath of the Academic querelle of the early 1670s to interpret Poussin as an artist that fell within the colorito camp. I demonstrate that the Dijon Assumption might be read as a practical intervention in theoretical Academic debates.

Recovering Early Poussin

Colour and Brushwork of Early Poussin

  • 4 Stuffmann 1964 and Gustin-Gomez 2006.
  • 5 Stuffmann 1964, p. 66.

4Charles de La Fosse’s artistic sources for the Assumption have been studied by Margret Stuffmann and Clémentine Gustin-Gomez.4 The former convincingly argues that de La Fosse would have had two important artistic antecedents for his own Assumption in mind: Palma the Younger’s Assumption in the San Zeno chapel of the Crociferi in Venice; and Charles Le Brun’s Assumption at the Seminary of Saint-Suplice.5 Of particular interest in her discussion of Palma’s painting, Stuffmann notes that the expression of the Virgin and the disposition of her body are similar to Charles de La Fosse’s figure.

  • 6 Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 2, p. 26.

5Gustin-Gomez broadens the list of artistic influences to include Correggio, and Northern painters La Fosse would have known. Specific influences include the circular composition of Rubens’s student Cornelis Schut in his 1645 Assumption; and the Assumption of Theodor van Thulden, which had been painted in 1647 for the Mathurins on Rue Saint-Jacques in Paris.6 In addition to these artistic influences, I would also like to add another set of sources: a group of Poussin paintings of the 1620s and early 1630s. Paintings of this period would have been in Roman collections during La Fosse’s trip to that city. Some formal features of Poussin’s early works seem important for understanding the genesis of the Dijon Assumption.

6First, there is Poussin’s painterly brushwork. I have in mind the loose, sketchy handling of paintings like the Virgin and Child in Brighton from around 1625–1626. Or the painterly manner found in the Venus and Mercury in Dulwich (fig. 2). In La Fosse’s Assumption, Poussin’s Virgin and Poussin’s Venus and Mercury, wide brushstrokes are used to represent distinct folds of fabric. For example, in Poussin’s Venus and Mercury, Mercury’s cloak is made up of various shades of red, that somehow cohere and illusionistically represent the fall of light across fabric. In the same painting, whites, reds and greens are juxtaposed to create the effect of light flickering across bodies. At first glance, the bodies in the Dijon Assumption seem more composed and coherent than the bodies in these two very early works by Poussin. Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, the chest and arm of the blond angel at centre right seem to dissolve completely into the blue clouds, which mimic the flowing fabrics and billowing hair of the angel. The trio of figures on the far right of the Dijon Assumption are painted with a flat, broad brushstroke that becomes finer as on the left side of the painting.

Fig. 2: Nicolas Poussin, Venus and Mercury, 1627–1629, oil on canvas, 80 × 87 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG481.

Fig. 2: Nicolas Poussin, Venus and Mercury, 1627–1629, oil on canvas, 80 × 87 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG481.

Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​451-500/​venus-and-mercury/​

© By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource

  • 7 On Poussin’s early Roman works, see for example Oberhuber 1988.
  • 8 Stuffmann 1964, p. 66.

7Poussin’s early Roman works, made in the late 1620s and early 1630s, evince his interest in the Venetian tradition of colourism.7 In these paintings, Poussin emphasizes subtle tonal differences and broad, visible brushwork. Poussin’s works from this period avoid dramatic spatial recession. The integrity of the painted surface is maintained and the attention to the optical effects of light across a surface does not diminish the sense of each figure’s corporeality and spatial integrity. So too, as Stuffmann notes in her description of the Dijon Assumption, La Fosse achieves a delicate and successful balance between the pictorial and the voluminous.8 This development in La Fosse’s artistic strategies might have had its basis in paintings like Poussin’s The Rest on the Flight into Egypt in the Oskar Reinhart Collection “Am Römerholz” in Winterthur or The Return of the holy family from Egypt in Dulwich (fig. 3). The figures in these paintings are substantial even as they exist still very close to the picture plane.

Fig. 3: Nicolas Poussin, The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt, c. 1628–1638, oil on canvas, 117.8 × 99.4 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG240.

Fig. 3: Nicolas Poussin, The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt, c. 1628–1638, oil on canvas, 117.8 × 99.4 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG240.

Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​201-250/​the-return-of-the-holy-family-from-egypt/​

© By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource

  • 9 See Milanovic et al. 2015 on Poussin’s representation of saints more generally.

8If La Fosse’s Dijon Assumption should be viewed in relationship to Poussin’s dense brushwork and the colouristic compositions of his early Roman works (arguably Poussin’s most Venetian works), La Fosse was almost certainly thinking about Poussin’s representation of saints in this period too.9 For example, put the Dijon Assumption beside Poussin’s own Assumption at the National Gallery in Washington or The Miraculous Translation of Saint Rita of Cascia (fig. 4). My point is this: that all three paintings make use of a backlit figure. In all three paintings, the main figures are levitating in the middle of the sky. They have their hands raised, signalling the interior acceptance of this state of transition from an immanent terrestrial state of being into another unknown state. The figures are surrounded by clouds. And they are dark clouds. This is the crucial point.

Fig. 4: Nicolas Poussin, The Translation of Saint Rita of Cascia, mid-1630s, oil on wood, 48.8 × 37.8 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG263.

Fig. 4: Nicolas Poussin, The Translation of Saint Rita of Cascia, mid-1630s, oil on wood, 48.8 × 37.8 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG263.

Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​251-300/​the-translation-of-saint-rita-of-cascia/​

© By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource

  • 10 On Poussin and natural phenomena, see also Rosenberg 2008.

9The presence of the dark clouds in the paintings explains why the saints’ faces are dark. Hanging above their heads, the clouds block access to the light that is evident elsewhere in the painting and especially behind the figures. But clouds are substances that are in a state of constant transformation. They are constantly moving, always shifting form: from water, to vapor, to a mass capable of blocking light, and back to water once again.10 I think that La Fosse’s decision to represent the clouds surrounding the Virgin as dark clouds is a conscious invocation of Poussin’s study of visible phenomena and their broader implications. That is, the dark clouds are equated with the bodies of the saints, which are also in a state of material transition.

10Because the shapes of the darkened clouds are more clearly articulated than the shapes of the lighter clouds in the background, they have a greater sense of mass. But more importantly, the dark appearance of the clouds lends credibility to the idea that the clouds could physically support the bodies of the saints that are being transported upwards. The different shades of colour not only make the clouds more legible in relationship to the other figures, but they also make the clouds’ instrumental function within the narrative more believable.

Temporal Implications of La Fosse’s Colour

11Paradoxically, the dark clouds that are able to support the weight of the saints’ bodies are represented at the moment just before the clouds will no longer be needed for support. For the human figures themselves are in the state of transition from terrestrial immanence to heavenly transcendence. The saints and the clouds are both caught in a transitional moment: of substantive ephemerality, or of evaporating substance, or both.

12The varied light effects represented by Poussin and by La Fosse are crucial to the theological meaning of the paintings. The Washington Assumption is remarkable in its description of a weightless, moving body that is also simultaneously static and large. Mary travels upward in a manner similar to Charles de La Fosse’s Mary figure. In both works the delicate, wispy brushstrokes that define the delicate line of the Virgin’s head are congruous with the hazy atmosphere that surrounds the main figure. But colouristically the darker tones of the figure’s head contrast distinctly with the bright tones of the creamy yellow background in La Fosse’s work, and with the crisp light blue sky of Poussin’s Assumption.

13Compare the heads, for example, of de La Fosse’s Virgin to the head of Virgin painted by Theodor van Thulden. In the van Thulden Assumption, the face of the most important figure in the painting is bathed in light. Poussin and Charles de La Fosse, on the other hand, deny our visual expectations by opposing colour and brushwork. This is to say, colouristically, the backlit figures establish a difference between two different types of substances (human body and air) by describing those forms as either dark or light. This difference is asserted even as the wispy brushwork creates a unified effect, establishing a relative similarity between the rarefied air and the floating body. Yet the paintings also suggest that the colour and the brushwork are about to be unified. The sparkling colours and thin brushstrokes surrounding the body of the saints in both Poussin’s and La Fosse’s works suggest a transformation of bodily substance into pure light. The saints are suspended between two states of being that are also about to be resolved.

14The saintly figures, who are of central importance in this trio of works, both thematically and visually, are backlit. This is the formal innovation that La Fosse takes from Poussin in order to suggest temporal progression and movement. If Mary and Saint Rita are not yet radiant, formally or spiritually, this is only a temporary state. They are just about to be fully transformed into their transcendent state that will supersede the dark colours and heavy brushwork. This also relates to the painting’s narrative. Once the dark clouds do their work of transporting the figures to their heavenly home, materiality will be superseded. Poussin and de La Fosse have represented the moment just in between.

  • 11 On Poussin’s critical relationship to past art forms see for example Neer 2006 and Cropper and Demp (...)
  • 12 Rosenberg 1988, p. 296

15Poussin’s early works might have provided a set of strategies for adopting and synthesizing a wide range of artistic traditions. Was this not precisely the nature of Poussin’s own artistic achievement?11 I wish to suggest that La Fosse’s interpretation of coloris exists here at the level of practice, even though the very subtle implications of his use of colour might have had theological significance. I wish to take seriously the idea that artists could see in the works of artists of the past certain important theoretical innovations, while also translating those insights formally. For example, Pierre Rosenberg has discussed how Fragonard would later see in La Fosse’s work a unique sensibility of an artist “who treated colours as large masses, or groups such that each group of clouds, figures or ground had a general tonality; the effect of the picture was determined first, and then each mass was diversified by light, shadow and the variety of more or less bright related hues with which he enriched it.”12 What I wish to suggest is that La Fosse might have seen similar forms of colouristic unity in the early works of Poussin, which would have been one of the most unlikely of sources in the 1670s because of the increasingly rigid divide between coloris/Rubenisme and dessein/Poussinisme.

The Theoretical Context of La Fosse’s Colour

The Temporal Implications of Colour in Theory

16In these paintings of saints, I have argued that Charles de La Fosse uses precisely the same inversion of pictorial norms found in Poussin’s early works. Rather than highlighting the most important figure in the painting, the two artists darken the figure’s face and lighten the tone of colours surrounding the main figure. That is, La Fosse makes the description of human and divine substance a question of colour, as Poussin had done. But these issues about light, substance and divinity had already been part of Academic official theory in the late 1660s. In his reading of La Mise au Tombeau by Titian (fig. 5), Philippe de Champaigne gave a tour de force reading of the painting’s light and colours on 4 June 1667. Champaigne notes the contrast of the colouring of Christ’s body. The paleness of the limbs correctly mark the deprivation of blood and life. And the whiteness of the limbs is contrasted with:

  • 13 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 123.

l’ombre d’un de ceux qui portent ce corps en couvre une partie, et particulièrement le visage, afin de faire fuir la tête et avancer les jambes, pour imprimer davantage sur ce corps les marques de la mort, dont l’ombre et les ténèbres sont une véritable image, et pour faire en sorte que dans l’obscurité des coleurs on y vît moins la face adorable du Sauveur du monde qui ne paraît plus avec ces beautés qui le faisaient considérer durant sa vie comme le plus beau de tous les hommes.13

Fig. 5: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), The Entombment of Christ, c. 1520, oil on canvas, 148 × 212 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 749.

Fig. 5: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), The Entombment of Christ, c. 1520, oil on canvas, 148 × 212 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 749.

© Stéphane Maréchalle, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

17The series of colouristic contrasts, from vivid flesh of the straining men, to the pallid, lifeless body of Christ, to the shaded, barely visible face of the most important figure in the painting, does not create a jarring visual effect because of the harmony of colour. It is precisely in the story of colouristic harmony that the theological significance is to be found.

  • 14 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 124.

18The bodies in Titian’s painting are unified, according to Philippe de Champaigne because they are differentiated. He notes that the “beauté de teintes qui paraît dans les carnations, à ces dispositions de couleurs si bien mises les unes auprès des autres dans les draperies, soit pour faire enfoncer les parties les plus reculées, soit pour faire avancer les plus proches, et encore pour produire cette douceur.”14 No colour is too pronounced. And yet each creates very different meanings. Champaigne focuses on the triangle created between Christ’s arm and head, his body and John’s arm. These are three different types of flesh. Christ’s body, which is theologically the most significant, is the brightest. John’s arm is darker and more vivid. Christ’s face is shaded. And yet, behind these figures is a bright light that does not overwhelm any one of the figures. In spite of its brilliance, the bright light is legible as a light in the far distance. And although he does not explain it explicitly, this light symbolizes the return of Christ which has not yet come but which is about to be revealed. The dawning light is about to reveal itself and become visible. But the light of dawn is not yet the visual focus of the work. Titian paints the moment just before, when Christ’s dead body still deserves to be the theological and colouristic focus of the painting.

19This reading is remarkably similar to my reading of the shaded face of Mary in La Fosse’s and Poussin’s Assumption. Darkness provides visual variety; but it also suggests a moment that will soon be superseded and overcome by brilliance and radiance. But if de La Fosse makes reference to Poussin’s subtle colouristic harmonies, and not those of Titian, it is because by the 1670s Titian had become a lightning rod for the colouristic debates. To the extent that Titian’s colouristic exploration of temporality was a source for La Fosse, it was through Poussin’s own interpretation of brushwork and colour.

Colour as substance

  • 15 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 363.
  • 16 Ibid.

20On 12 April 1670 Louis de Boullogne lectured about Titian’s La Vierge au lapin in order to provide a thorough defence of coloris as the basis of pictorial structure. His first two sections on disposition and on dessin are but justifications for what might be viewed as incorrect judgements made by the painter (the iconographic choices or the drawing of the figures.) Instead, de Boullogne focuses on coloris as “une des plus nécessaires parties de la peinture”.15 And he argues that the Venetians were uniquely skilled at harmonizing “une si bonne couleur, une si belle union et un si beau jeu de pinceau”.16

  • 17 Ibid., p. 407.

21The importance given to coloris by Louis de Boullogne will in turn cause Philippe de Champaigne to backtrack in his praise for Titian as a worthy model for students. On 12 June 1671, Champaigne will give a reading of Titian’s La Vierge et l’Enfant (fig. 6), admitting that “ce paysage est extraordinairement beau … Il est coloré et traité de la même force que les figures, sans affectation de le tenir brun pour les faire paraître, en sorte qu’il semble que le clair et l’éclatant proche et derrière les carnations aient fait un pacte et un accord particulier avec ce savant imitateur de la nature pour ne se pas nuire les uns aux autres.”17 This is familiar territory. Champaigne’s views are similar to those posed four years earlier. But then, having admitted that Titian is capable of creating a subtle but forceful colouring, he goes on to point out the lack of attention given to drawing. And this re-evaluation of Titian’s merits happened just a few months after Nocret dared to give a reading of Poussin’s Ecstasy of Saint Paul (fig. 7), one which is attentive to the distribution of light and shadow across the tableau. Not only will this appropriation of Poussin by the coloris camp prompt Champaigne to criticize Titian; it would also lead Le Brun to give a counter-reading of the very same painting just one month after Nocret’s colouristic reading.

Fig. 6: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Madonna and Child with Saints Agnes and John the Baptist, c. 1535, oil on canvas, 128 × 161 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, inv. 3744.

Fig. 6: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Madonna and Child with Saints Agnes and John the Baptist, c. 1535, oil on canvas, 128 × 161 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, inv. 3744.

Notice: http://mba-collections.dijon.fr/​ow4/​mba/​voir.xsp?id=00101-14297

© Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

Fig. 7: Nicolas Poussin, The Apotheosis of Saint Paul, 1649–1650, oil on canvas, 148 × 120 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 7288.

Fig. 7: Nicolas Poussin, The Apotheosis of Saint Paul, 1649–1650, oil on canvas, 148 × 120 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 7288.

© Stéphane Maréchalle, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

  • 18 See Bonfait 2015.

22Charles Le Brun gave his lecture about the Ecstasy of Saint Paul on 10 January 1671. There was nothing remarkable about Le Brun lecturing about a Poussin painting. Le Brun had delivered several lectures about Poussin’s works and he was instrumental in making Poussin, an artist who lived most of his life in Rome, the theoretical and stylistic foundation of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture.18

23Le Brun makes several points about the painting which all revolve around the investigation of the hidden mysteries of the Christian religion. He asks three separate questions. Why are there three figures? They represent three states of grace: efficacious, helpful and triumphant. Why are the three figures positioned as they are? Efficacious grace is forceful and strong. It helps us. It is represented by the straining body that is partially on view. Helpful grace is introspective. It is the figure that represents our own recognition that we are sinners. For this reason, the angel is partly hidden and shaded. Thirdly, there is an angel who is triumphant is full, perfect, abundant. The figure is oriented completely to the picture plane.

  • 19 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 397.

24The third question that Le Brun addresses is the question of colour. The golden yellow light, representing the purity of Saint Paul’s conversion, has now almost transformed his body into light itself: “cette couleur représente celle de l’or et de la lumière, l’on peut dire aussi que par ce vêtement le peintre a représenté la lumière et la pureté de la grâce dont ce saint fut rempli au moment de sa conversion”.19 Le Brun suggests that what had been a spiritual conversion will become a material conversion as well. Heavenly splendour is represented in material terms. The blue air is turbulent and agitated. It represents the disturbed soul of the sinner, moving to the state of purity, which is discussed in the book of Romans, chapter 7. What does colour tell us about Saint Paul? The green robe represents hope, while the red represents passion, desire for God’s grace.
Le Brun’s lecture differed from Nocret’s lecture about Poussin’s Saint Paul at the previous Academic meeting on December 1670. Nocret had called attention to the fall of light and shadows in the painting, which created a unifying visual effect. Nocret’s reading of Poussin’s painting was purely about pictorial composition as a colouristic issue.

25When Roger de Piles translated Dufresnoy’s treatise, De Arte Graphica (1668) it was divided into three parts. The third, Couleur or Cromatique, concerns, explicitly, air, bodies and the unity of substance. What the colourists show is an obvious but often ignored fact about painting: that it uses the same material to describe voids as it uses to describe present bodies. Roger de Piles explicitly investigates painting’s ability to show interconnectedness of matter and its relationship to visible phenomena. The colourists will deploy visual “deception” as way to understand the disparity between visual phenomena and underlying substance. The colourists had superseded the “line” camp not on authoritative artistic models, but on philosophical grounds.

26Le Brun’s reading of Poussin’s Saint Paul instead imbues colour with a philosophical meaning because it has become a substance. His reading of the body of Saint Paul demonstrates a split and dual nature. The legs are separated; one going towards the divine; the other away, towards the sinning nature of humanity. Saint Paul is covered in green which is the symbol of hope. But if we extend Le Brun’s explicit comparison of yellow to light and blue to water, then green is earth. It is the terrestrial, materiality, humanness. The red robe then must be fire, which still takes on the human quality of being enflamed and impassioned.

  • 20 Reyes 2009 and Reyes 2011.

27I have argued elsewhere that both Poussin and Le Brun were readers of Cicero.20 Balbus’s speech from Cicero’s De Natura Deorum seems relevant to Le Brun’s reading of two types of red in Poussin’s painting. Speaking of Cleanthes, Balbus notes:

  • 21 Cicero 2012, p. 65.

Since the sun is fiery and fed by the moisture of the Ocean … it must resemble either the fire that we use in daily life or the fire contained in the bodies of living creatures. The fire sought for daily use destroys and consumes everything … The vital and healthful fire of the body protects everything, it nourishes, augments, sustains and supplies sensation.21

28Balbus explains that there are two different types of fire: a life-giving force and a mundane, destructive force. Le Brun applies a similar reading to Poussin’s Saint Paul. The red burning passions of Saint Paul are still human. It is the air around Saint Paul that is the divine fire, a “universal preservative” in the words of Balbus. As Le Brun will argue that the air is a kind of divine fire.

  • 22 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 398.

L’air échauffé qui paraît autour des figures n’est pas sans mystères. Je crois qu’il est ainsi pour montrer que ceux qui veulent s’élever dans la grâce ne doivent pas être tièdes, mais qu’il faut qu’ils soient ardents et échauffés pour profiter de la grâce.22

29By distinguishing the red used to represent the air from the red used to represent the robe, we have a perfect demonstration of the meeting of two different types of fire: the visible, non-divine fire seen in the robe; And the invisible, divine fire that gives rise to the actions we see on the canvas. The mysterious and divine “air échauffé” creates the sense of dynamic movement of the saint’s body upward, while also suggesting what type of substance the saint’s human body will become. Like the colourists, Le Brun here admits that colour is a substance. But to equate colour with substance is to discuss causality, and not pleasure. The meeting of the divine and non-divine substance, that boundary, is the very contour of grace. Body, material and air are in the process of coming together, conforming to the divinely ordered nature of the universe. Inward passionate desire FOR grace is co-extensive with the surrounding fiery air that surrounds us WITH grace.

30We know that what was at stake in the debates about coloris and dessein at the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture was the philosophical underpinnings of painting. But it is important to highlight that these stakes would have impressed the young Charles de La Fosse. Champaigne’s about-turn regarding Titian’s colourism was delivered in June of 1671, just three months after La Fosse was admitted into the Academy (agréé). And it was also delivered at a time when La Fosse is working on his Paris Assumption of the Virgin, a work that must be read in relationship to the Dijon painting. My argument is that in the midst of these fraught debates about the relative merits of Titian and about who owns Poussin, de La Fosse chose both Titian and Poussin. Or rather, he chose those works by Poussin that were compatible not only with the Venetian tradition, but with a broader painting tradition.

31By way of closing, I want to suggest that de La Fosse’s subtle colourism might be read as a practical intervention within theoretical debates about the meaning of Poussin’s works, and specifically, the extent to which they might serve as an organizing principle for the interpretation of painting. The harmony of colours offered a completely different way of organizing the canvas. La Fosse, as we know, was sympathetic to this view of art. But he was also indebted to Le Brun’s view that artistic innovation could come about by reusing past forms, by synthesizing and even by reconciling seemingly opposite views. Rather than weighing in on the supposed authority of Titian, Rubens or Poussin, La Fosse developed a new sense of pictorial space, of colouristic harmony and of theological meaning that was both novel and indebted to the formal research of his predecessors.

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Bibliographie

Printes sources

Cicero Marcus Tullius, 2012, On Living and Dying Well, translated by Thomas Habinek, London: Penguin.

Studies

Bonfait Olivier and Neil McGregor eds, 2000, Le Dieu caché : les peintres du Grand Siècle et la vision de Dieu, exhib. cat. Rome: Villa Médicis/De Luca.

Bonfait Olivier, 2015, Poussin et Louis XIV : peinture et monarchie dans la France du Grand Siècle, Paris: Éditions Hazan.

Lichtenstein Jacqueline and Christian Michel eds, 2007, Conférences de l’Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture, Paris: ENSBA, t. 1, v. 1.

Cropper Elizabeth and Charles Dempsey, 1996, Nicolas Poussin: Friendship and the Love of Painting, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gustin-Gomez Clémentine, 2006, Charles de La Fosse, 1636-1716, t. 1: Le maître des Modernes, t. II: Catalogue raisonné, Dijon: Faton.

Gustin-Gomez Clémentine, 2011, L’avènement du plaisir dans la peinture française : de Le Brun à Watteau, Dijon: Faton.

Lichtenstein Jacqueline, 1987, La couleur éloquente: rhétorique et peinture à l’âge classique, Paris: Flammarion.

Neer Richard T., 2006, “Poussin and the Ethics of Imitation”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 51, pp. 297–344.

Oberhuber Konrad, 1988, Poussin, the Early Years in Rome: The Origins of French classicism, New York: Hudson Hills Press.

Puttfarken Thomas, 1985, Roger de Piles’ Theories of Art, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Reyes Hector, 2009, “The Rhetorical Frame of Poussin’s Theory of the Modes”, Intellectual History Review 19, no. 3, pp. 287–302.

Reyes Hector, 2011, “Ekphrasis and the Autonomy of Painting: On Charles Le Brun’s Entrance of Alexander”, Classical Receptions Journal 3, no. 1, pp. 77–108.

Stuffmann Margret, 1964, “Charles de La Fosse et sa position dans la peinture française à la fin du xviie siècle”, Gazette des beaux-arts LXIV, July–August, pp. 1–121.

Teyssèdre Bernard, 1965, Roger de Piles et les débats sur le coloris au siècle de Louis XIV, Paris: La Bibliothèque des Arts.

Wright Christopher, 1985, French Painters of the Seventeenth Century, London: Orbis.

Exhibition catalogues

New York 1988: Rosenberg Pierre, 1988, Fragonard, exhib. cat., New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

New York 2008: Rosenberg Pierre and Keith Christiansen eds, 2008, Poussin and Nature: Arcadian Visions, exhib. cat., New Haven: Yale University Press.

Paris 2015: Milovanovic Nicolas et al. eds, 2015, Poussin et Dieu, exhib. cat., Paris: Musée du Louvre-Éditions Hazan.

Versailles 2015: Sarrazin Béatrice et al. eds, 2015, Charles de La Fosse (1636-1716) : le triomphe de la couleur, exhib. cat., Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art.

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Notes

1 Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 2, pp. 26–27.

2 The literature on the debates about colour is extensive. The classic studies are Teyssèdre 1965, Lichtenstein 1987 and Puttfarken 1985.

3 On La Fosse in relationship to the querelle du coloris, see Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 1, p. 202-209.

4 Stuffmann 1964 and Gustin-Gomez 2006.

5 Stuffmann 1964, p. 66.

6 Gustin-Gomez 2006, t. 2, p. 26.

7 On Poussin’s early Roman works, see for example Oberhuber 1988.

8 Stuffmann 1964, p. 66.

9 See Milanovic et al. 2015 on Poussin’s representation of saints more generally.

10 On Poussin and natural phenomena, see also Rosenberg 2008.

11 On Poussin’s critical relationship to past art forms see for example Neer 2006 and Cropper and Dempsey 1996.

12 Rosenberg 1988, p. 296

13 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 123.

14 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 124.

15 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 363.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid., p. 407.

18 See Bonfait 2015.

19 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 397.

20 Reyes 2009 and Reyes 2011.

21 Cicero 2012, p. 65.

22 Lichtenstein and Michel 2007, p. 398.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Charles de La Fosse, The Assumption, 1670–1676, oil on canvas, 90 cm diam. Musée Magnin, Dijon, inv. 1938F567.
Crédits © René-Gabriel Ojéda, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Fig. 2: Nicolas Poussin, Venus and Mercury, 1627–1629, oil on canvas, 80 × 87 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG481.
Légende Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​451-500/​venus-and-mercury/​
Crédits © By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Fig. 3: Nicolas Poussin, The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt, c. 1628–1638, oil on canvas, 117.8 × 99.4 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG240.
Légende Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​201-250/​the-return-of-the-holy-family-from-egypt/​
Crédits © By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Fig. 4: Nicolas Poussin, The Translation of Saint Rita of Cascia, mid-1630s, oil on wood, 48.8 × 37.8 cm. Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, DPG263.
Légende Notice: https://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/​explore-the-collection/​251-300/​the-translation-of-saint-rita-of-cascia/​
Crédits © By permission of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery / Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Fig. 5: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), The Entombment of Christ, c. 1520, oil on canvas, 148 × 212 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 749.
Crédits © Stéphane Maréchalle, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Fig. 6: Titian (Tiziano Vecellio), Madonna and Child with Saints Agnes and John the Baptist, c. 1535, oil on canvas, 128 × 161 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, inv. 3744.
Légende Notice: http://mba-collections.dijon.fr/​ow4/​mba/​voir.xsp?id=00101-14297
Crédits © Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 432k
Titre Fig. 7: Nicolas Poussin, The Apotheosis of Saint Paul, 1649–1650, oil on canvas, 148 × 120 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. 7288.
Crédits © Stéphane Maréchalle, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
URL http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/docannexe/image/15952/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 41k
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Référence électronique

Hector Reyes, « Between Coloris and Dessein », Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles [En ligne],  | 2018, mis en ligne le 22 février 2019, consulté le 18 mars 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/crcv/15952

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Auteur

Hector Reyes

Hector Reyes is Assistant Professor (Teaching) at the University of Southern California. His main research interests include history painting and the legacy of Nicolas Poussin during the long eighteenth century.
Hector Reyes enseigne à l’Université de Southern California (Assistant Professor of Teaching.) Ses travaux portent principalement sur la peinture d’histoire et le nachleben de Nicolas Poussin au xviiie siècle. hectorre@usc.edu

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Le Bulletin du Centre de recherche du château de Versailles est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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