With this condottiere, the French master of neoclassicism painted a face far removed from the smooth canons of beauty that frequently defines his work. A gem in the sale of the Talabardon & Gautier Gallery collection.
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), The Condottiere, 1821, oil on canvas extended by three wooden slats, 53.5 x 43 cm/21 x 17 in.
With his imposing gaze, full beard befitting a man of war, shining armor (yet not lit by sunlight) and three-quarter bust proudly proclaims his military role. A raw virility emanates from this condottiere: almost a tête d'expression (expressive head). This painting is a far cry from another, better-known condottiere by Antonello da Messina (Musée du Louvre), which makes a decided play on charm. It may come as a surprise, but this piece is by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), the painter of the Turkish Bath and Madame Moitessier, Sitting. It brilliantly evokes another less explored but equally interesting facet of his art: his detour into history painting. After a long period of work and study in Rome, Ingres moved to Florence in 1820—on Christmas Day, to be precise. When the fall of the French Empire deprived him of a rich clientele, he had to reinvent himself and paint portraits to survive, much to his distaste. He then turned to subjects from the past, executing some 30 works in the "troubadour" genre, of which he was considered a leader. He approached it by reconciling anecdotal inspiration with the grand style of historical scenes. Its date, 1821, shows that this painting of a Renaissance adventurer, leader of mercenary soldiers, was one of the first he produced during his stay by the Arno. Lacking the means to hire a professional model, he sought out a man in the street, like his illustrious predecessor, Caravaggio. The work, which belonged the Monbrison, Lecomte and Wildenstein collections, was last exhibited in public in 1867 at the Imperial School of Fine Arts, when it was stated that "the cuirass was painted by the master around 1855." Interestingly, this addition is contemporary with Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII (Musée du Louvre), whose raised arm prefigured that of the condottiere. So this work, which will be auctioned, is a major rediscovery. Notably, it also illustrates the type of work championed by the Paris gallery Talabardon & Gautier for over 30 years, with an unwavering determination and boldness that has earned it the admiration of the profession. This piece is a cornerstone in its collection, shortly coming up for sale.