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Head of a Bearded Man Gazing Upwards. Black, red and white chalk (aux trois crayons). 22.7 x 16.3 cm. Circa 1715–17.
This powerful and distinctive study of a head has a fascinating physical presence and a highly effective mise en page. Coypel’s abundant talent surfaced at an early age. In 1672, at the age of eleven, he accompanied his father Noel Coypel to Rome, where the works of art he encountered left a lasting impression. Antoine received a sound academic training; he copied the works of Raphael in the Vatican and was given an award for disegno at the Accademia di San Luca. In Rome he made the acquaintance of the universal genius Gianlorenzo Bernini and the powerful prince of painters Carlo Maratta, who may also have influenced his style. On the advice of Roger de Piles, Coypel interrupted his return journey to France to spend time studying the works of Correggio, Titian and Veronese in Northern Italy. Invested with the valuable potential resulting from his visual impressions, the young artist returned in 1676 to Paris, where he began a chequered career marked by ups and downs. In 1681 Coypel was accepted into the Academy; in 1685 he was appointed peintre ordinaire to the Duke of Orléans, the brother of the king, and from then on enjoyed the special protection of the House of Orléans. The outbreak of the Nine Years’ War in 1688 marked a temporary caesura in Coypel’s career, as important state commissions evaporated for almost a decade. His search for new patrons was accompanied by a change in style. Hitherto Coypel had specialised in monumental religious and mythological paintings à la Lebrun. Now, however, he turned to cabinet painting, becoming a passionate advocate of rubénisme, a style in which pre-eminence was given to warm, sensuous colours and Baroque verve (see Nicole Garnier, Antoine Coypel (1661–1722), Paris 1989).
This drawing stems from Coypel’s late period, beginning around 1700, when he reverted to a more classical style of painting and achieved considerable succès d’estime with his interpretations of little known themes from antiquity. The present sheet is related to the painting Aeneas and Achates Appear Before Dido in the Temple and dates to around 1715–17 (Arras, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Garnier No. 128). Our study of a head is a preparatory sketch for the bearded old man standing immediately to the right of Queen Dido’s throne. Six other detail studies for this painting, all of which were executed aux trois crayons, have survived (Garnier 498–503). A study for one of Dido’s ladies-in-waiting, which is now kept in the Louvre in Paris, is of almost identical size as the present drawing (fig. 1). A characteristic feature of all these sheets is a vigorous and unerring draughtmanship, in which borrowings from such illustrious predecessors as Raphael, Carracci und Rubens are interwoven, producing a distinctive style that is both masterful and highly expressive.