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Pierre Brebiette

(circa 1598 Mantes – 1650 Paris)

Portrait of an Old Woman with an Ostrich Fan. Etching. 15.5 x 11.9 cm. Inventaire du Fonds Français 241.

Vanitas is the real theme of this subtly and closely observed portrait of an old woman. She is shown in half-length figure holding an ostrich fan in her right hand and three tulip blooms in her left, which she is raising to her nose to sniff their scent. Her clothing is that of a simple countrywoman, although the exotic fan and the pearl necklace round her scrawny neck are intended to divert attention from her lowly origins. The folds and creases of her wrinkled face have been rendered with minute attention to detail. Her thick-fingered, slightly swollen hands are not the hands of a fine lady, but testify to a long life of hard physical toil. Despite the evidence of her age, the old woman is trying to make a pleasing impression. Her vanity makes her blind to her own physical decay and approaching death.

Pierre Brebiette, the author of this print, was one of the most original and gifted etchers that France produced during the first half of the 17th century. Little is known of his artistic beginnings. Between 1617 and 1625 he lived and worked in Rome, where he entered into a close association with Claude Vignon
and the publisher François Langlois, also known as Ciartres. After his return to France this association was intensified and he produced an extensive printed oeuvre, in which elements of Caravaggism were combined with Nordic genre elements. Brebiette’s lively etching style betrays a definite satirical gift and an eye for droll detail.

The present etching is extremely rare and is missing from the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. The Inventaire du Fonds Français records an impression in the Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.

A very fine, even and nuanced impression with narrow margins round the borderline. Minor ageing, otherwise very well preserved.

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