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Pierre Brebiette

(circa 1598 Mantes – 1650 Paris)

Self-portrait. Etching. 11.4 x 16.1 cm. Circa 1637–38. Le Blanc 49; Inventaire du Fonds Français 215.

Pierre Brebiette, the author of this print, was one of the most original and talented etchers in France in the first half of the 17th century. Knowledge of his artistic beginnings is sparse. Between 1617 and 1625 he lived and worked in Rome, where he collaborated closely with Claude Vignon and the publisher, François Langlois, known as Ciartres. He intensified this cooperation after his return to France, producing an extensive corpus of prints in which aspects of Caravaggism blend with northern European genre elements.

The appeal of this touching Self-portrait derives from its introspective character and strong emotional impact. The artist’s facial expression with his deep-set, darkly shadowed eyes betrays profound sorrow. His head resting on his left hand, Brebiette reflects on the death of his wife, Louise de Neufgermain, who passed away in October 1637. He holds her medallion portrait in his right hand as a memento. Even the two putti flanking the portrait exude a deep melancholy. The small etching served as the frontispiece for a complete edition of Brebiette’s etchings issued by the Parisian publisher Augustin Quesnel in 1638, of which only one bound copy has been preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. A very fine impression, trimmed to the platemark. Minimal traces of handling, otherwise in excellent condition.

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