By the beginning of the 18th century, Hyacinthe Rigaud was the undisputed leader in a new era of French portraiture, the court painter par excellence to whom every great noble of Versailles sat, whose breathtaking sense of swagger and luxury would rival the most bravura of Baroque portraitists. This magnificent, three-quarter-length depiction of a nobleman, dressed in military splendor in a pose loosely derived from the Apollo Belvedere, is one of Rigaud’s most striking achievements from the start of the new century. Although old labels of the reverse of the canvas identify the sitter as Claude Louis Hector, duc de Villars (1653-1734), it is clear from undisputed portraits of the subject that this identification is incorrect. (For comparison, see Rigaud’s documented portrait of Villars from 1704 in the Invalides, Paris.) Although he remains anonymous, the sitter in the present portrait shares with the aforementioned portrait of Villars, and with Rigaud’s animated portrait of Louis Antoine de Pardaillan de Gondrain, duc d’Antin (Versailles), an identical pose and armored costume. This was standard practice in Rigaud’s studio: portraits such as the present one were “habillement répété” – in other words, the portrait type (pose, costume, setting) was chosen by the client from among existing studio patterns, and would have cost around 250 to 300 livres, as opposed to entirely new compositions – “habillement original” – for which the artist charged several times more. This in no way diminishes the painting’s richness or opulence, or the vigor of its characterization. Rigaud clearly lavished his attention on the vivid rendering of the sitter’s face and hands, which emerge forcefully from the dazzling swirl of velvet, fur, leather and polished metal that surrounds them.
Ariane James-Sarazin has confirmed the attribution of the present work to Rigaud, based on photographs, and dated it to not later than 1704. Sarazin intends to include this work in her forthcoming monograph on the artist.