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Claude Mellan

(1598 Abbeville – 1688 Paris)

Allegory of Charity. Engraving. 29 x 44.5 cm. Montaiglon 275 I (of II), Inventaire du Fonds Français 255 I (of II). Watermark: Grapes with countermark.

Claude Mellan’s keenly observed and technically sophisticated engravings attracted the attention of connoisseurs during his lifetime. In his works, whose lightness, in particular, made them stand out from those of his contemporaries, he often dispensed almost entirely with contour lines and, in their stead, achieved the three-dimensional quality of his figures and objects by means of an ingenious system of swelling engravings, thereby producing a very soft, delicately graded chiaroscuro effect in the images. The print on offer is an exemplary illustration of Mellan’s engraving method and demonstrates the aesthetically satisfying results that can be obtained if the burin is employed with technical refinement and precision. The Allegory of Charity shows a female figure sitting on a pedestal – probably the personification of religion – who draws the attention of a man kneeling in front of her to a monk distributing alms in the background. Visible in a prominent position on the pedestal is the coat of arms of Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642). The effective use of the white paper tone and the background, which has deliberately been left neutral, gives the print great linear delicacy and a feeling of purist reverie. The etching was made between 1636 and 1642 and is on offer here in the rare first state, before the change in the coat of arms. A superb early impression with margins. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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