Jean CHARTIER: Jean Chartier sitting in his studio

Jean Chartier Burin Jean Chartier assis dans son atelier Verso
Jean Chartier Burin Jean Chartier assis dans son atelier Filigrane
Jean Chartier Burin Jean Chartier assis dans son atelier


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Engraving, 185 x 143 mm. Robert-Dumesnil undescribed, Andresen 4, Duplessis 3, IFF p. 215 (among prints of which no impression is kept at the BnF).

Chartier : excudebat aureliae engraved in the subject bottom left. Jean Chartier is the first known French engraver to use the publishing mention of excudit or excudebat on his prints, sometimes accompanied by a date (1557 or 1558) and the Latin name of his native city, Aurelia (Orléans), as Séverine Lepape reminds us (Simiolus, volume 39).

Superb impression printed on watermarked laid paper. The watermark is difficult to see but seems to be similar to Briquet 5374 and 5375: three crescents with the name PERRET inside a cartouche. These two watermarks were noticed by Briquet on documents kept in Sens and dating from ca. 1569 and 1571. According to Briquet, this paper was made in Mallay-le-Roy’s paper mill, near Sens, that Claude Perret exploited shortly after 1559. This origin and datation seem to be consistent with Jean Chartier’s production of prints in Orléans between 1557 and 1580. A few foxmarks. In very good condition.

Provenance: Alexandre-Pierre-François Robert-Dumesnil (1778-1864), with his blind stamp printed bottom center (Lugt 2200).

Extremely rare. This is the only impression that we know of to date.

Robert-Dumesnil was not aware of this engraving when he published his catalog of Jean Chartier's prints in 1841 (included in volume 5 of the Peintre-graveur français). The impression we present, acquired by Robert-Dumesnil after 1841, appears in the catalog of his sale of Old Master prints on 12 and 13 April 1858, that is, six years before his death, under no. 78: "Pièce capitale non décrite" "Undescribed essential piece" (Catalogue d'estampes anciennes [...] du cabinet de M. R. D., no. 78, p. 21). It is this rare impression, sold in 1858, that Georges Duplessis again mentions when he completes the catalog of Jean Chartier's prints in 1871, in volume 11 of the Peintre-graveur français.

Frits Lugt notes that, if Robert-Dumesnil "succeeded in assembling one of the most considerable collections ever formed by a French amateur", his acquisitions were mainly motivated by his work as a cataloguer. Charles-Philippe de Chennevières explains that Robert-Dumesnil "bought prints in order to better see, handle and describe them; then, after having described them, he would sell them to obtain new means of acquiring other pieces for the same use" (Chennevières, Souvenirs, IV, p. 149, quoted by Frits Lugt).

We know little about the life and work of Jean Chartier. The erudite bibliographer La Croix du Maine (1552-1592) tells us that he was "a native of Orleans, an excellent painter and engraver, etc." and that "he published his first book of Blasons vertueux, containing ten figures engraved and printed by himself in Orleans in the year 1574."(Premier volume de la bibliothèque du sieur de La Croix-du-Maine, 1584, pp. 215-216). The first plate in this series of Blasons de vertus, known under the title Jean Chartier in his bookshop, represents a man with a long beard, standing in front of a shelf loaded with books, wearing a fur-trimmed cap and a long cloak revealing his bare legs, holding in his hand a strip that announces the content of the work. Séverine Lepape notes that this figure is considered by many historians to be a self-portrait of Jean Chartier (Simiolus, volume 39, no. 3, p. 215). 

It is obviously the same man who is represented here sitting in his studio: same face, half hidden by a thick moustache and a bushy beard, same hands with slender fingers, same bare legs. One can also recognize the fur-trimmed cap and the long coat, here revealing a tight-fitting garment over the torso. The decor and the scene are however much richer. While Jean Chartier in his bookshop is limited to a portrait of the artist standing in front of a shelf of books, Jean Chartier sitting in his studio depicts him surrounded by a group of characters and numerous objects. The scene is generally interpreted as a lesson given by the master, who holds a large open book on his lap and points to a map of Ptolemy's geocentric system in the background. The group of students is composed of two teenagers and nine young children, all more or less attentive. Three children in a corner are bending over a small book; two others are requesting the teacher’s attention, one holding out a book, the other a penknife; another, behind him, is looking over his shoulder; another is drinking from a small jug. Two children in the background form an enigmatic group: one, whose head is girded with laurels, is holding a small crown and a banner that reads Laus deo (Glory to God); the other, who has his right arm over the shoulder of the first one, has had his left arm cut off.

Various objects are hung or placed on a shelf on either side of the wall map: on the left, books, vials, a trowel, a small pick, a brush, and a small frame containing a portrait; on the right, an inkwell connected to a pen case, a small pistol, a pocketknife, a small sword, a whip, sticks, a lute, a ruler, a compass, and two keys. Some of the children are also holding objects: a square and a ruler, a quill, a penknife. One of the two teenagers is holding a quill and looking at the other who is wrapping his arms around him, showing him a small open book in one hand and holding a goldsmith's hammer in the other. In the foreground, on the tiled floor strewn with flowers and fruits, are an armillary sphere and a cube, as well as a flat figure representing a circle in which are inscribed a square, a pentagon and an equilateral triangle.

The little we know of Jean Chartier's life does not allow us to distinguish between the real and the symbolic in this print. Several other engravings are allegorical: the Blasons de Vertus, the Naked Man Sitting in a Landscape (R.D. 1), the Half-Naked Divinity Surrounded By Animals (Duplessis 2) or Envy (Duplessis 5). The latter depicts a bearded man, dressed in loose clothing revealing his bare legs, busy writing in a book while next to him a woman combs long hemp fibres on the iron tips of a carding board, when he is suddenly assaulted behind his back by the frightening figure of a naked old woman brandishing snakes.

Jean Chartier sitting in his studio shows the influence of the Fontainebleau school, particularly Primaticcio. Marianne Grivel does not exclude the possibility that Jean Chartier worked at the Château de Fontainebleau: his engraving The Masquerade of Persepolis is an interpretation of a fresco by Primaticcio adorning the wall of the bedroom of the Duchesse d’Étampes in Fontainebleau. (Grove Art Online, notice on Jean Chartier, 2003). Marianne Grivel also notes that "Original prints by him [...] are typical of the style of Fontainebleau and representative of provincial French Mannerism in their almost excessive and somewhat angular refinement." But if the figure of the seated man, with his very delicate hands and his oversized legs, indeed corresponds to the canons of the Fontainebleau school, Chartier's technique remains very personal, as Robert-Dumesnil explains: "His very fine engraving is animated by a subtle drypoint work, the whole seasoned with a kind of stippling that produces an impasto effect tending to better render the effect that the master intended." (Le Peintre-graveur français, volume 5, p. 51).

References: Alexandre-Pierre-François  Robert-Dumesnil: Le Peintre-graveur français, tome 5, 1841; Catalogue d’estampes anciennes […] du cabinet de M. R. D., 12 et 13 avril 1858; Andreas Andresen: Handbuch für Kupferstichsammler, vol. 1, 1870; Georges Duplessis: Le Peintre-graveur français, vol. 11, 1871; André Linzeler: Inventaire du Fonds Français, Graveurs du seizième siècle, vol. 1, 1932-1935; Séverine Lepape: « The production of prints in France at the time of Hieronymus Cock », in Simiolus, vol. 39, no. 3, 2017.