A Portrait of Jacques Dalechamps (1513-1588). ATELIER DE CORNEILLE DE LYON

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A Portrait of Jacques Dalechamps (1513-1588)
Oil on panel
Panel size 16 7/8 x 11 5/8 in
Framed size 19 1/4 x 24 3/4 in
Inscribed u.l.: MENTO. MORI, and u.r.: AETATIS SVE
Ca. 1588


The half-length figure of the sitter, Jacques Dalechamps, is painted in front of an emerald green background. His delicate ruffled collar stands in sharp relief against his black jacket, the red detail drawing the eye to the center of the painting. Dalechamps’ pale blue eyes, his vacant stare, his dark moustache and beard lend his face a singular attraction and the whole is a telling portrait of the confident personality and aristocratic charm of a true Renaissance man, renowned during his time for advancements in medicine, botany, ornithology and letters.

Jacques Dalechamps was born in 1513 in Caen, and died in March 1588 in Lyon after a long and prosperous career as a French naturalist, medical doctor, philologist, and botanist. In addition, he was well-regarded for his many translations of important works into French and Latin, which he enriched with notes of Athenaeum. Dalechamps joined the University at Montpellier in 1545 and received a PHD in 1547. He lived for several years in Grenoble and Valence, and settled in Lyon in 1552, where he practiced medicine at the Hotel Dieu. His most important work is the Historia Generales Plantarum printed from 1586-1687- a compilation of all botanical knowledge of his time published in Lyon. This comprehensive natural history also functions as an herbal, detailing the healing properties of plants as well as their various species, shapes, sizes, origins, seasons, and temperament. In the late 15th century, public interest in natural history emerged as a result of advances in thought, the revival of Greek medical texts, and curricular reform in medicine. Dalechamp’s Historia was a timely and complete work that contributed greatly to both the popularity and practical uses of the plant world. Though Dalechamps published several other books including a medical volume entitled Francoise Surgery, his contributions to botany sealed his legacy: “Dalechamps is considered by some authorities to have been one of the most erudite of the French botanists of the 16th century. His book is a compilation of the botanical knowledge available at that date, and is important as it shows another grouping attempt at a classification of the plants which he described. A number of woodcuts were especially made for the book from plants sent to the author by Lobel, l’Ecluse, and others, but for the most part were taken from previously published works” (Hunt 154).

Corneille de Lyon (ca. 1500-1575) was an illustrious Netherlandish painter active from 1533 until his death in Lyon. As a young man, he traveled to France and became attached to the royal court in Lyon. In 1541 his considerable talent was recognized, and he was appointed as the official painter to the Dauphin, the future King Henry II. When Henry ascended the throne in 1547, he continued his relationship with the painter and promoted him to the position of chief valet. De Lyon’s major work during this period was a series of portraits of the French court. In 1564, Catherine de’ Medici visited the court and was impressed by the lifelike quality of her own portrait.

Presently, very few existing works bear the de Lyon signature, and though he is well documented as the leading painter of this distinctively French style, no single identifiable work can be unquestionably attributed to him. As a result, many of the surviving portraits in the de Lyon style are judged and attributed based on their quality alone. The portrait of Dalechamps is a splendid example of de Lyon’s style of painting. While de Lyon’s portraits are nearly miniature in scale, ranging from the size of a postcard to about 8” x 10”, he worked in oil paint on wood panels similar to this painting, with the flesh areas painted very thinly and the greenish backgrounds painted more thickly. The present portrait shares these qualities, with a thicker layer of emerald-green in the background and thin, delicate layers of paint used on the face and garment details. As with all other works from the School of Corneille de Lyon, a faint overall crackling of the paint has occurred. A slight splitting of the wood is perceptible just to the right of the middle of the painting, running vertically and faintly restored. Additional wooden panels have been added to the back of the original wood to prevent bowing. Overall, the painting is in excellent condition, and represents a rare opportunity for collectors of Northern Renaissance painting.

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