A Voyage To Kinghood

March 21 2013, 10:18am

This interesting French petit-point needlework in the Carlton Hobbs collection depicts a voyage of Henri II of France (1519-1559). Henri, holding a crown and scepter, stands on the bow of a galley as it heads towards the sun and away from night. Two flags fly on the central mast, a tricolor flag of red, white and blue (colors associated with France since the Middle Ages), and above this a flag decorated with a crescent moon. The crescent was a symbol of Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, borrowed from the Goddess Diana, which he also adopted as his device.   Carlton Hobbs LLC The large sea creature in the lower left can be taken to be a dolphin, symbolizing Henri’s position as Dauphin before becoming king. At the top of a scene hangs a banner with the Latin phrase RATIONE ACTIONES TUMPERANTVR, or “Our actions are tempered by reason.” (The use of a ‘u’ in place of an ‘e’ in the word ‘temperantur’ appears to be a misspelling.) Professor Daniel Russell, a Renaissance scholar who specializes in emblem studies, remarked that “because the scene combines both text and image, it is reminiscent of the emblems and devices that were coming into fashion in the middle of the 16th century in France.” Thierry Crepin-Leblond, Director of the Musée National de la Renaissance, Château d’Ecouen, agreed that “the overall presentation is that of the emblem books of the European Renaissance.” Mr. Crepin-Leblond also informed us that the style and treatment of the landscape relate to the school of Fontainebleau.   Figure 1 ("Images Parisiennes du XVIeme Siecle, Rue de Montorgueil") In 1527, Francis I, Henri II’s father, returned to the throne of France after spending two years in captivity under the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He aimed to elevate the country’s cultural profile and “was able to lure an unprecedented number of talented artists, architects, and artisans from Italy” following the sack of Rome by imperial armies in the same year. The Florentine painter Rosso Fiorentino was the first artist to arrive in France in 1530, followed by the Francesco Primaticcio from Bologna. They were put in charge of restoring the hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, which became Francis’ new royal palace. It was under these two men that the mannerist-influenced style of the School of Fontainebleau evolved, “which sought to create a harmonic confluence between painting and decoration in the interior apartments of the Château.” Characterized by elongated figures, often set in mythological landscapes, the School of Fontainebleau lasted from the 1530s to the first decade of the 17th century. The design of the present needlework was almost certainly informed by a contemporary engraving, although the exact print has yet to be determined. The scene is evocative of the so-called “Rue de Montorgueil” woodcuts, which were executed in Paris in the second half of the sixteenth century. Figure 1 depicts a print from this series, entitled “Comment Saine Pierre marche sur les eaux, & doubtant en la foy, enfondre dedans la mer,” which displays compositional parallels. In both works, rolling hills dotted with buildings comprise the left and right sides of the scene with the center devoted to an maritime landscape with distant horizon. Additionally the portrayal of night on the right and day on the left is used in the woodcut as well as present needlework. Lastly, treatment of the elements in the print is comparable to the needlework, for example, the definition of the dark clouds and waves.   Figure 2A (The Entry of Henri II in Lyon) The ship also relates to woodcuts of a galley and bucentaure included in Maurice Scève’s The Entry of Henri II in Lyon, September 1548 (figure 2), an account of the preparation and events surrounding the tour of Henri II to the principal cities of France upon becoming King. The similarities between these ceremonious vessels and the ship depicted on the needlework includes pennants and the crescent moon on the mast, manned oars, and a striped covered dais at the stern. This, coupled with Henri’s position on the bow of the galley holding a crown and scepter, as well as the Latin inscription which would appear to convey a piece of wisdom on governing, suggests the needlework maybe symbolic of Henri’s ascension to the French throne.   Figure 2B (The Entry of Henri II in Lyon) The scene of the needlework is framed by an embroidered guilloche border, a favorite embellishment in Renaissance Italy and, occasionally, France. For instance, a large oval ceiling fresco of the zodiac in the dining hall at Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, painted by Giovanni Battista Fontana in 1583-84, utilizes the same guilloche border as the present needlework (figure 3). Indeed, the oval is a veritable keynote of decoration at Fontainbleau. A number of the chimneypieces have painted vignettes above the mantels framed by a painted guilloche, such as the chimney of Le Tribut à César. Given the similarity in scale of the present panel to the Fontainbleau vignettes, it is possible that it fulfilled a similar decorative function.   Figure 3 (Schloss Ambras) Two further examples of 16th century embroideries once formed part of the collection of the 19th century Parisian art dealer Frédéric Spitzer. One depicts a combat between a bear and dogs in front of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers and the court, and the other depicts the hunt of a stag (figure 4). Interestingly, these examples are also of an oval shape and notable size, measuring 1 meter long by .78 meters high. The tapestry “medallions” belonged to a set of nine representing the divertisements of François I and Henri II, and appear in the 1599 inventory of Gabrielle d’Estrees, mistress of King Henry IV of France. Frédéric Spitzer was a leading collector and dealer, with a particular passion for the art of the middle ages and the Renaissance. His collection was published in six volumes and, after his death in 1890, was sold at public auction over three months in 1893.   Figure 4A (Formerly in the Spitzer Collection)     Figure 4B (Formerly in the Spitzer Collection)     The present needlework panel previously belonged to renowned Portuguese collector Jorge de Brito (1927-2006). At the age of 18, even before completing high school, de Brito became a banker with Banco Espírito Santo. His drive and business savvy led him to become a world-class financier, acquiring and merging several banks to create the Banco Internacional Portugues in 1972. He also owned companies in the agriculture, tourism, and insurance sectors. He lived in Paris for a period after the revolution of 1974, returning to Portugal in 1980 to negotiate his debts and reestablish his banking practice, as well as to prepare his candidacy to the presidency of Sport Lisboa e Beneficia. He also began to organize the sale of selected artworks from his collection, which continued until his death in 2006. De Brito inherited his keen interest in antiques from his father, who had “strong ties to all the antiques dealers of his day.” He was a competitor in the auction rooms, amassing a collection of over 3,000 diverse and unique works including paintings, sculpture, porcelain, books, coins and furniture. The collection, representative of de Brito’s erudition, taste, and special interest in Portuguese history, is among the most important Portuguese collections of the late 20th century. De Brito’s lifelong cultivation and appreciation of art and antiques can be best described by the collector’s own view that “artworks have their own personality and he who truly loves them must find their natural and rightful destination.”