Cimon discovering the sleeping Iphigenia
(Jacques Blanchard)


Paris 1600-1638

Cimon discovering the sleeping Efigenia

Oil on canvas: 139 x 108 cm (54.72 x 42.52 ins)

Despite his polished and prolific output as a religious and decorative painter, very little is known of Blanchard’s early development. He apparently spent his adolescence apprenticed at the Paris studio of his maternal uncle Nicolas Baullery (c. 1550/60–1630). By 1618, he travelled to Lyon to work in the studio of Horace le Blanc, who must have recognised the young artist’s promise because when he left for Paris in 1623, Blanchard is known to have finished a number of the works he left behind in his studio, including perhaps the Virgin and Child with a Bishop and a Woman Holding a Baby (Lyon, St Denis).

At the end of October 1624, Blanchard travelled to Rome in the company of his brother Jean, where it is possible that he encountered such contemporaries as Simon Vouet, Jacques Stella, Claude Mellan and Nicolas Poussin. Later, around April or May of 1626, Blanchard progressed to Venice, where he remained for two more years and it was here that his style matured. Throughout his career Blanchard was to borrow lavishly from Titian and Tintoretto, but more specifically from Veronese, whose silvery blond palette and limpid light Blanchard used most effectively in his small religious and mythological subjects.

While Blanchard’s travels and encounters in Italy between 1624 and 1629 are relatively well-documented, all that is really known of his actual output during this period comes down to us through accounts by the French historian, architect and theorist André Félibien, and the writer Charles Perrault. Both authorities recount, for example, that Blanchard’s Venetian oeuvre included depictions from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and that he executed such works as the Loves of Venus and Adonis executed in Turin for Charles-Emanuel I, Duke of Savoy. After his tenure in Turin, and following a brief return to Venice, in 1629 Blanchard finally re-patriated himself to France, where he was to remain for the rest of his career. It is within this ten year span between his return to France and his death in 1638 that most of his surviving works, including the present painting can be dated.

Blanchard’s first major French commission is his earliest surviving dated work, the Virgin with the Christ Child Giving the Keys to St Peter (Albi Cathedral), painted in Lyon in 1629. The painting shows Bolognese influence in such details as the faces, but overall is still more indebted to the artist’s knowledge of 16th Century Venetian painters. Between 1631 and 1632, he undertook his next important project, the decoration of the Hôtel le Barbier. While these works no longer survive, they were recorded by Dézallier d’Argenville in his Abrégé of 1762, wherein the writer recalls that Blanchard executed fourteen compositions with mythological and literary themes. Admittedly some doubt lingers as to the exact extent of the literary themes Blanchard explored in his scheme for the Hôtel de Barbier, however our painting, which was made to fit within boiseries, would appear consistent with these works and indeed with Blanchard’s Venus and the Three Graces Surprised by a Mortal, dating from the same years, and now in the Louvre.
The subject of the present painting is taken from Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron’ (5:1) and illustrates the exact moment in this paradoxically erotic and moral chapter wherein Cimon, a handsome but coarse and uneducated youth discovers his future wife Efigenia while she lay sleeping in innocent but evident deshabille. Cimon immediately falls in love with Efigenia and marries her. The moral of their story lies in the gradual elevation of his loutish manners and rough character under the tender influence of his wife, which eventually transforms him from something of a peeping tom into an educated and graceful man.
In addition to his religious, literary and mythological subjects, Blanchard was also a sensitive portrait painter, and in his short career played a leading part in the development of French painting in general during the 1630’s. Perrault called him the ‘Titian of France’, and Félibien stated that he reintroduced le bon gout to French painting. Blanchard oscillated throughout his career between two distinct tendencies—the cool and polished handling of the Bolognese painters and the more sensuous and warm colourism of the Venetians. , But it is perhaps the Venetian element which is particularly evident in the present work. Similar works are Blanchard’s several versions of Charity, particularly the canvas in Toledo, Ohio and his sensual and complex Bacchanal in Nancy. These allegorical and mythological works vividly illustrate Blanchard’s sensitive approach to colour and light and possess a delicacy of sentiment that is perhaps nearer to the 18th rather than to the 17th century.

139 x 108 cm
Oil on canvas

Private Collection, France

Where is It?
Acquired by The Art Gallery of New South Wales 2008 through The Matthiesen Gallery
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
2008-Jacques Blanchard: Myth and Allegory.
A discussion of Venus and Adonis departing for the hunt by Jacques Blanchard.

(Click on image above)
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