Aretino in the Studio of Tintoretto
(Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret)


(Bordeaux 1782 – 1863 Paris)

Aretino in the Studio of Tintoretto

Oil on canvas: 59 x 49 cm (23 ¼ x 19 ¼ in)

Paris, Salon, 1822, no. 78.
New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art; New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc; Cincinnati, The Taft Museum, Romance and Chivalry.History and Literature Reflected in Early Nineteenth-Century French Painting, June 1996-February 1997, no.1, fig.115, pp.154, 155, 157, 207, 209, 222.

L. N. el-Abd, Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret (1782-1863), unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, New York, Columbia University, 1976, no. 112, p. 393.
Nantes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paris, Grand Palais, and Plaisance, Palazzo Gotico, Les années romantiques – La peinture française de 1815 à 1850, exhib. cat., 1996, listed in the biography for the artist (by M.-Claude Chaudonneret) as ‘lost’, p. 330.
Pierre-Nolasque was born into a family of established printers and publishers and initially trained in his native Bordeaux with Pierre Lacour (1745-1814). In 1799, he travelled to Paris, where he studied with François André Vincent before finally in 1801 entering the studio of Jacques-Louis David. It was here that Bergeret met and befriended Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Pierre Révoil, artists who would join him in developing and promulgating one of the more colourful genres to come out of the bombast of propaganda that typifies post-revolutionary French art: the so-called Troubadour style. Partly formed as a reaction against the neo-antique style and Christian iconoclasm that marked art under the République, troubadour artists appealed to their Restoration patrons by illustrating idealized scenes from French religious and monarchical history, painted in a highly refined technique, with an attention to antiquarian and costume detail, and often underpinned by a moral twist. Of particular appeal were subjects derived from the more apocryphal or anecdotal aspects of French history, often spliced with vignettes featuring Italian renaissance artists. Also popular were literary subjects drawn from the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, Scott, and Byron.
Bergeret produced Troubadour subjects from 1806 and continued exhibiting such works in the Salons well into the 1830’s. His speciality appears to have been ‘fly-on-the-wall’ narratives involving old masters, such as Poussin, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Titian, and, as in the present picture, Tintoretto. Similar examples include Bergeret’s 1806 Salon triumph Les Honneurs rendu à Raphaël après sa mort (now in the Allen Memorial Art Museum of Oberlin College, Ohio), followed in 1807 with Francis I in Titian’s Studio, 1807 (le Puy-en-Velay, Musée Crozatier), and his 1808 canvas Charles V and Titian (Bordeaux, Musée des Beaux-Arts). Other contemporary works by artists in his circle include The Blind Michelangelo by Révoil, possibly based on Bergeret’s earlier version (now lost), and what is arguable the masterpiece of the genre, Ingres’ Don Pedro of Toledo kissing the sword of Henry IV (versions formerly London, Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd., now in Abu-Dhabi and Paris, Musée du Louvre).
For the present picture, Bergeret was probably inspired by Ingres’ 1815 version of the subject, which was exhibited in the 1816 Salon ( Fig.1) alongside his Aretino and the envoy of Charles V and Raphael and ‘La Fornarina’. Pietro Aretino (1492-1556) was one of the most celebrated (and notorious) figures of the Italian renaissance. A playwright, poet and satirist, he is also credited with the revival of literary pornography. Of questionable birth, Aretino styled himself as an aristocrat, but nonetheless revelled in his notoriety, and even gave himself the nickname ‘scourge of princes’. He numbered popes and members of the Medici and Gonzaga families amongst his patrons and was a close friend of Titian, who painted his portrait three times, as well as Tintoretto.
Bergeret’s picture depicts an incident recorded by the seventeenth century art historian Carlo Ridolfi of Aretino’s first encounter with the Venetian painter. Word had reached Tintoretto that Aretino had spoken ill of him, and fuming, the artist invited him to his studio, ostensibly to honour Aretino by painting his portrait. During the sitting, Tintoretto suddenly pulled out a dagger and when a terrified (and somewhat guilty) Aretino screamed “why?!” the painter coldly replied: “Don’t move. I’m just taking your measurements.” According to Ridolfi, Aretino never insulted Tintoretto again and eventually the two men became friends. The fact that in both Ingres’ and Bergeret’s versions of the subject, as well as in a later treatment by Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard, Tintoretto brandishes a pistol, rather than a dagger is apparently due to an error of translation: the Italian word for dagger (pistolese) having been mistaken to mean ‘pistol’.
In addition to his painted works, Bergeret was also a key figure in the development of lithography in France, and made several prints after works by Poussin and Raphael. His lithograph Mercury (1804), after Raphael’s fresco in the Villa Farnesina, Rome, was one of the earliest examples of the lithograph technique. Bergeret also received several commissions under Napoleon to design medals, and produced design for the Sèvres porcelain factory. Probably his most important Napoleonic commission was the decoration of the Colonne Vendôme (1806-11), which was conceived as a copy of Trajan’s Column in Rome. Bergeret’s designs for the column’s bas-reliefs recorded the emperor’s Austerlitz campaigns (1805-1806) . Bergeret also pursued an interest in modern classical history, and frequented the Musée des Monuments Français. He also designed costumes for historical plays produced by the Opéra Comique in Paris.

23 1/4 by 19 1/4 inches (59 by 49 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Literature: Lucrecia N. el-Abd, Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret (1782-1863), Columbia University, Ph.D. dissertation, 1976, cat. no. 112, p. 393


Paris, Salon, 1822, no. 78; New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art; New York, Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc.; Cincinnati, The Taft Museum, Romance and Chivalry : History and Literature Refleted in Early Nineteenth-Century French Painting, June 1996-February 1997,  no. 1, fig. 115, pp. 154, 155, 157, 207, 209, 222

Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Historical events
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