Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Du Naturel, or Philippe de Champaigne Against Nature. Portraiture, artifice and the natural in seventeenth-century France

  • Author(s): Douplitzky, Karine
  • Advisor(s): Olson, Todd P.
  • et al.

Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) is mostly remembered for his triple portrait of Richelieu and his hieratic series of Jansenist leaders' portraits but rarely considered for his rapport with nature despite his training as a Flemish landscape artist. By introducing the unexpected question of the natural in the context of his artistic practice, I reconsider Champaigne's rich corpus of portraits, which map his contemporary society and provide a new perspective on the evolving web of social identities.

I explore how the concept of the natural, as opposed to artifice, is a shifting term that questions the ability of the painter to imitate nature, create a prototype, and give it "life." I successively qualify Champaigne's artistic praxis in relation to its contemporary reception within different communities – the nobility, the Crown, the Jansenist community, and finally the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. Champaigne's approach to portraiture raises the issues of exemplarity, resemblance, and presence of the model. These three problematics offer a chronological and thematic understanding of the painter as a multifaceted artist who leads portraiture into different paths – decoration, diplomacy, and even the sacred.

The position of the portraitist within the complex social and political agenda of the French Grand siècle, provides a particularly interesting and underexamined insight into the intricate relations between power and religion under Louis XIII's reign and later, during the Regency's social unrest. By combining formal analysis with anthropologically rich archival evidence, I consider Champaigne's portraits as active agents in history, thus providing a conceptual framework to analyze the different actors' strategies of representation.

Main Content
Current View