Jean Baptiste Corneille l’Ancien, Alexandre faisant boire ses soldats

Jean Baptiste Corneille l’Ancien

Alexandre faisant boire ses soldats

On sale June 12, 2024



Jean Baptiste Corneille l’Ancien (Paris 1649-1695)
Alexandre faisant boire ses soldats
118 x 169,6 in.

300 000 / 500 000 €

Classified as a Historic Monument



Most probably from the collection of Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), a painting of this theme is mentioned in the Great Hall of the Château de Sceaux, in his after-death inventory written by Charles Le Brun after September 1683 (see Bibliography, J.-C. Boyer, op. supra., 2014); Probably  from the collection of Louis-Philippe I; sold in 1848 to the Marquis de Courtilloles (bought 1,000 gold francs), according to a family tradition;
Collection of the Marquis de Courtilloles, Château de Courtilloles, Sarthes ;
Sale of the entire furniture of the château de Courtilloles, L’Isle-Adam (Me Elkaïm), June 20, 1993, no. 172 (Attributed to Charles Le Brun, 2 million francs);
Galerie Jean Pierre Gros, Paris, Carré Rive Gauche in 2014.

F. de P. and A.S., “Découvert – Un tableau de Le Brun reste en France”, in Le Figaro, June 22, 1993;
C. Lebrun-Jouve, “Deux têtes pour un seul Corneille: Jean-Baptiste”, in Album amicorum. Oeuvres choisies pour Arnauld Bréjon de Lavergnée, Trouville, 2012, quoted p. 114, reproduction of detail fig. 2 (Jean-Baptiste Corneille) ;
E. Coquery, Charles Errard. La noblesse du décor, Paris, 2013, n° PcE. 3, cited p. 192, reproduced in color p. 194 (Jean Baptiste Corneille sous la direction de Charles Errard) ;
J. C. Boyer, “Some identifications of paintings in the collection of ‘le grand Colbert’”, in The Burlington Magazine, April 2014, quoted p. 214, reproduced fig. 6.

In comparison:
Two preparatory drawings (E. Coquery, ill. 47 and DA. 11; J. C. Boyer, figs. and 8), discovered by Claudine Lebrun-Jouve (“Deux-têtes pour un seul Corneille: Jean-Baptiste”, in Album amicorum. Oeuvres choisies pour Arnauld Bréjon de Lavergnée, Trouville, 2012, pp. 114-115).



This sumptuous painting fits in well with the series of large-scale history paintings produced during the reign of Louis XIV, following the tapestry cartoons for Charles Le Brun’s Life of Alexander the Great (Musée du Louvre) for the Manufacture des Gobelins. It was discovered at an auction in 1993, presented under the name Le Brun, and linked to two drawings by the artist. Since then, its counterpart, Dinocrate, presenting Alexander with his project for Mount Athos, was rediscovered at a Tajan sale in 2008.


An episode from Quinte-Curce’s History of Alexander the Great

To set himself apart from his model, Jean-Baptiste Corneille chose a seldom-represented episode from Quinte-Curce’s History of Alexander the Great (Book VII). After spending eleven days riding in pursuit of Bessos, the satrap of Bactria under the reign of Darius III, Alexander and his men run out of water. On their way, they meet two courtiers who have come to bring water to their sons in the Macedonian army. Seeing the sovereign overwhelmed by thirst, they offer him their water. Unable to bring himself to drink it alone, and knowing that a small quantity would not be enough for all, he refuses. Struck by his greatness of spirit, the soldiers regained their courage and swore to follow him wherever he went.

In this skilful composition, the painter perfectly highlights the warlord’s self-sacrifice. In a symbolic gesture, he pushes aside the vase filled with water and points to his army with his other hand.


Jean-Baptiste Corneille (1649-1695)

Jean-Baptiste Corneille belonged to a dynasty of artists. Like his elder brother Michel II (1642-1708), he trained under his father Michel I Corneille (1602-1664). In 1665, he was sent to Rome to complete his training, becoming one of the Academy’s first boarders. During his long stay, from 1665 to 1671, Charles Errard commissioned him to copy the frescoes in the Galerie Farnèse, for the decor of the Galerie des Ambassadeurs in the Tuileries Palace. Influenced by Le Brun and Giulio Romano, his style is characterized by theatrical compositions, vivid colors and expressive faces. A few years after his return to France, in 1675, he gave as his reception piece The Punishment of Busiris by Hercules, now in the Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1679, he painted La Libération de Saint-Pierre for the May de Notre-Dame, establishing himself as an eminent painter of his generation. The end of his career was marked by considerable activity and an evolution in his style, which became more unrestrained and tormented. He was appointed assistant professor in 1684 and professor in 1692.

The recent rediscovery of one of his most prestigious commissions, a Saint Roch now housed in the church at Mouriès and destined for the Grand Commun de Versailles, confirms the importance of this still lesser_known 17th-century French artist. Jean-Baptiste Corneille’s attachment to color sets him apart from Le Brun in this large-format illustration of the life of Alexander. The almost acidic brilliance of the colors and the way they enliven the composition are seductive to the eye and demonstrate the painter’s commitment to the Querelle du coloris, following the debate launched by Philippe de Champaigne at the Académie in 1671.







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