This striking and exceptionally well-preserved portrait presents the forceful personality of a specific but unidentified sitter, a character of the Ancien Régime. We are grateful to Alastair Laing for pointing out that the star on the sitter's breast is that of the Bavarian Order of Saint Hubert, with the arms of the cross painted out. It is possible that the sitter was a Bavarian diplomat living in Paris, or a Frenchman who had been honoured for some service to the Bavarian state. The Order of Saint Hubert was Bavaria's oldest and highest order, founded in 1444 by Gerhard V, Duke of Jülich-Berg. It was revived in 1708, and was regularly bestowed in the eighteenth century. The cross, which normally extends from the centre towards the points of the star, is likely to have been suppressed in the years of the French Revolution, when its connotations of reverence for the Catholic Church could have endangered the sitter.
After winning the Prix de Rome in 1764 with his painting Epponina and Sabinus Condemned by Vespasian (Paris, École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts), Callet completed his studies at the Académie de France in Rome, extending his stay in Italy until 1772. While he pursued history painting as the central focus of his career, he became well-known and highly sought after as a portraitist, and his portrait of Louis XVI (versions of which are in the Musée Carnavalet in Paris and the Musée Bargoin in Clermont-Ferrand) was tremendously successful, becoming one of Callet's most reproduced works. Callet's reputation survived the Revolution, and he remained a much sought after artist in the Napoleonic era.
We are grateful to Professor Brigitte Gallini for confirming the attribution of this portrait, on the basis of photographs, and suggesting a date of circa 1780.