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    Sale 7743

    Old Masters & 19th Century Art Evening Sale

    7 July 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 27

    Jacques Courtois, il Borgognone (Saint-Hyppolite 1621-1676 Rome)

    Battle scene with infantry, cavalry and cannon, a fortress and a city beyond

    Price Realised  


    Jacques Courtois, il Borgognone (Saint-Hyppolite 1621-1676 Rome)
    Battle scene with infantry, cavalry and cannon, a fortress and a city beyond
    oil on canvas
    62½ x 104 1/8 in. (159 x 264 cm.)

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    Selected by Giancarlo Sestieri to illustrate the cover of his seminal book on Italian battle painting, this picture is in many ways a superlative example of the genre. Dramatic, exciting, compositionally complex and on a monumental scale, it achieves the primary aim of the seventeenth-century battle painter - to make the viewer feel as though he is literally 'in the thick of it', in the thick of battle. In a century when military skill was a source of great pride, scenes such as this were meant not only to glorify war, but also to illustrate the full range of human drama, to record examples of skill and ingenuity, and to document the harsh realities of the battlefield. Such pictures can be seen as forerunners both of modern photojournalism and of cinema, with their vivid evocations of the smoke, the noise and the overwhelming tide of the mêlée.

    Here Borgognone unleashes the full timbre of his abilities. The abrupt framing of the scene at the lower edge, just below the tumbling figures, brings the viewer closer to the picture plane and to the action beyond it. The swirling, interlocking shapes of men and stallions convey the confusion of the moment. This complex juxtaposition of figures is accomplished with apparent ease. The sharply receding cloudscape adds a sense of grandeur that reflects the feats of arms below.

    One of Borgognone's most monumental achievements, this painting is of similar dimensions to his celebrated canvases in the Uffizi, Florence, depicting scenes from the Castro War (1641-3) - The Battle of Mongiovino and The Fall of Radicofani, two of the four pictures which Baldinucci states were commissioned by Prince Mattias de' Medici circa 1651-5 for the Villa di Lappeggi. Arguably the greatest of Italian battle painters, Borgognone was famous for working alla prima on the basis of rapid pen sketches; his fierce, rapid approach to painting echoes the dynamic qualities of the battles that made him famous.

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    Private collection, Florence, by 1994.


    G. Sestieri, I pittori di battaglie: Maestri italiani e stranieri del XVII e XVIII secolo, Rome, 1999, no. 50, pl. 6 and on cover.