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Claude Mellan

(1598 Abbeville – 1688 Paris)

The Three Spiritual Forces: Intellectus, Memoria and Voluntas. Engraving after Simon Vouet. 54.6 x 37.4 cm. 1625. Not in Le Blanc, Inventaire du Fonds Français 259. Watermark: Christ monogram in a circle.

Claude Mellan made this engraving in 1625 after an allegorical painting by Simon Vouet depicting the three spiritual powers Intellectus, Memoria and  Voluntas (now in the Pinacoteca Capitolina in Rome). The work was in the collection of Marcello Sacchetti, a confidant and treasurer of Pope Urban VIII and one of Rome’s most influential patrons. Mellan dedicated the engraving to Sacchetti, who was a poet and scholar himself and probably suggested the subject matter to Vouet. It is assumed that Sacchetti commissioned the painting after the death of his father in 1620, the iconography apparently constituting a reference to his new role as head of the family (see D. Jacquot, in: exhibition catalogue Simon Vouet, Nantes/Besançon 2008, cat. no. 20, p. 122).

The winged and crowned personification of human will, Voluntas, sits next to the genius of Intellectus on the left, above whose shock of hair the spiritual flame shines, and the two-faced figure of Memoria on the right. Floating above Voluntas are two putti, one angelic and the other with diabolical horns, who endeavour to make themselves heard. Individual iconographic elements accord with Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia. According to Ripa, Voluntas is crowned because – under the alternating influence of mind and sensory stimulus – it dominates over the other spiritual forces, and is also winged because it is always engaged in a restless searching flight. Ripa also describes the two faces of Memoria, one looking back and the other looking forward, which symbolises the ability to connect the past with the future.

Vouet’s painting is vibrant with a chiaroscuro verging on the dramatic, which in turn serves Mellan as a starting point for a masterly demonstration of his outstanding engraving technique. The artist dispenses completely with contour lines and creates a graphic continuum with the help of a dense network of highly varied hatching patterns, which creates a sense of depth and a subtle chiaroscuro. A very fine, clear and radiant impression with thread margins around the platemark, to which it is partly trimmed. Minor ageing, otherwise in excellent condition.

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