Charles-Antoine Coypel (Paris 1694-1752)
The Property of the Descendants of Hippolyte Taine
Charles-Antoine Coypel (Paris 1694-1752)

The Destruction of the Palace of Armida 

Charles-Antoine Coypel (Paris 1694-1752)
The Destruction of the Palace of Armida 
signed and dated 'CH. COYPEL. 1737' (lower right)
oil on canvas 
50 3/8 x 76 in. (128 x 193 cm.) 
(Probably) Jean-Louis Tocqué (1696-1772), the portraitist, from 1750.
(Probably) Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), philosopher, historian, and member of the Académie Française, and by descent to the present owner.
J.-A. Piganiol de La Force, Extrait des différents ouvrages publiés sur la vie des peintres, Paris, 1776, II, p. 640.
E. Dilke, French painters of the XVIIIth Century, London, 1899, p. 153.
F. Ingersoll-Smouse, ‘Charles-Antoine Coypel’, La Revue de l’Art ancien et moderne, XXXVII, 1920, p. 286.
I. Jamieson, Charles-Antoine Coypel, premier peintre de Louis XV et auteur dramatique (1694-1752), sa vie et son oeuvre artistique et littéraire d’après des documents inédits, suivies d’une de ses comédies inédites, Paris, 1930, p. 51.
A. Schnapper, ‘Musées de Lille et de Brest. A propos de deux nouvelles acquisitions. Le chefd’oeuvre d’un muet ou la tentative de Charles Coypel’, La Revue du Louvre, Paris, 1968, p. 256, nos. 4-5.
Trésors des musées du nord de la France: La Peinture française aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles, exhibition catalogue, Arras, 1980, p. 135.
T. Lefrancois, Charles Coypel, peintre du roi (1694-1752), Paris, 1994, pp. 186 and 302, with reference to a 1905 sale in Paris.
E. Bell, Charles-Antoine Coypel: Painting and Performance in Eighteenth-Century France, unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York University, 2011, pp. 289-320.
E. Bell, Charles Coypel, (forthcoming).

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Abbie Barker
Abbie Barker

Lot Essay

An almost hallucinatory fantasy of madness, vengeance and black magic, The Destruction of the Palace of Armida is a unique masterpiece of French narrative painting of the eighteenth century and the chefd’oeuvre of Charles Coypel. Executed in 1737, it is associated with a suite of four designs by the artist that were commissioned by the French Crown between 1733 and 1741 for tapestries to decorate the private living quarters of Queen Marie Leszczynska at Versailles. This series, known as the Tenture des Fragments de l’Opéra, featured scenes from the théâtre lyrique of composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and librettist Philippe Quinault (1635-1688), and was woven at the Manufacture Royale des Gobelins (fg. 1). Executed on a vast scale, these complex compositions depicted episodes of high drama and operatic passions, something of a specialty of Charles Coypel, who was one of the most original and versatile artists of the ancien régime. The Destruction of the Palace of Armida would prove a virtuoso effort that occupies a singular place at the nexus of fine art, theatre, art theory and philosophy in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Charles Coypel (1694-1752) was the youngest member of a dynasty of history and genre painters that included his grandfather Noël Coypel (1628-1707), his father Antoine Coypel (1661-1722) and his half-uncle Noël-Nicolas Coypel (1690-1734), all of whom had successful official careers. He was recognised as a prodigy and was accepted into the Academy aged 21 with the submission of the vast history painting, Jason and Medea (1715; Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg). Curious, highly intelligent and independently wealthy, Coypel was able to follow his interests where they led, and he pursued careers as a playwright and literary theorist as well as painter. He was, in several ways, a perfect choice to design the Tenture des Fragments de l’Opéra as he was an experienced actor and man of the theatre by the 1730s, whose first commission had been for twenty-eight tapestry cartoons illustrating episode of Cervantes’s Don Quixote. He understood better than most the requirement for designs to translate successfully into tapestry.

This picture is the modello, or ‘original en petit’, for Coypel’s third entry in the Tenture des Fragments de l’Opéra series. Together with two other designs in the set, it recreates a moment from Armide (1686), a musical tragedy based on the most celebrated epic poem of the Italian Renaissance, Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Delivered), first published in 1581. The fifth and final act of Armide is set in the gardens of the witch’s enchanted palace, and opens with Armide and Renaud’s only love scene, following which the sorceress descends into the Underworld to commiserate with the demons on her passionate enslavement to the handsome crusader. In her absence, Renaud’s companions-in-arms find him and break Armide’s spell, persuading their compatriot to abandon her and follow the call of his destiny. Coypel’s stunning canvas illustrates the spectacular final moments of the opera in which the sorceress, seated on a dragon, first devastated, then despairing, and finally enraged by Renaud’s abandonment of her, orders the demons to rise from Hell and demolish her magical palace in an orgy of destruction and self-immolation, ultimately offering her own body for sacrifice.

It would take a full year to transfer the composition of this modello into the vast, finished cartoon that has been in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy (fig. 2) since 1872. And although the cartoons became the property of the Crown, Coypel retained control over the modelli, which he seems to have sold or given away. We know from records of the Académie that Coypel gave this painting to the distinguished portrait painter and academician Louis Tocqué (1696-1772) in 1750 in honour of Tocqué’s presentation to the Académie of his portrait of Le Normant de Tournehem; however, The Destruction of the Palace of Armida was not listed in Tocqué’s estate when he died in 1772 and it is not known when or under what circumstances it left his collection.

Our gratitude to Dr. Esther Bell for giving us generous access to her unpublished 2011 doctoral dissertation on Charles Coypel, which will be the subject of a forthcoming book; this entry is substantially based on material from her chapter ‘Coypel and Royal Patronage: The Tenture des Fragments d’Opéra (1733-1741) and the Tenture de Dresde (1741-1748)’, (pp. 289-344).

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