François I visiting Benvenuto Cellini at the Castle of Nesle
(Louis-Joseph Grisée)


1845 Salon, no. 765. Grisée entered the Ecole des beaux-arts as a pupil of Paul Delaroche in 1842. He frequently exhibited genre and literary pictures as well as enamel portraits at the Salon from 1844 through 1867.

The text of the famous Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, the sixteenth-century sculptor and goldsmith, was the inspiration for this picture. Cellini, who had a great ego, recounted with pride how the King visited him at his studio in the Castle of Nesle: The King now came to Paris, and I went to pay him my respects. No sooner had his Majesty set eyes upon me than he called me cheerfully, and asked if I had something fine to exhibit at my lodging, for he would come to inspect it. I related all I had been doing; upon which he was seized with a strong desire to come. Accordingly, after this dinner, he set off with Madame de Tampes, [1] the Cardinal of Lorraine, [2] and some other of his greatest nobles, among whom were the King of Navarre, his cousin, and the Queen, his sister; [3] the Dauphin and Dauphiness [4] also attended him; so that upon that day the very flower of the French court came to visit me. I had been some time at home, and was hard at work. When the King arrived at the door of the castle, and heard our hammers going, he bade his company keep silence. Everybody in my house was busily employed, so that the unexpected entrance of his Majesty took me by surprise. The first thing he saw on coming into the great hall was myself with a huge plate of silver in my hand, which I was beating for the body of my Jupiter.” [5]

The nineteenth century’s fascination with the lives of kings and with the lives of artists are combined in this picture of the “supreme royal aesthete” [6] paying homage to an artist under his protection. [7]

Grisée has eschewed the hyper-realism and melodrama that his master Delaroche used in historical scenes in favor of a style similar to the earlier “troubadour” painters, particularly Pierre Révoil. Like them he has attempted an accurate reconstruction of a sixteenth-century scene while at the same time recalling the style of sixteenth-century painting. His own experience with enamel portraiture also guided his treatment of the figural group on the right side of the composition. For this gathering of King and courtiers Grisée has clearly studied original sixteenth-century portraits, including Titian’s well-known profile of François I. For the contents of Cellini’s studio Grisée has used a combination of his knowledge of Cellini’s works, such as the famous Nymph of Fontainebleau lunette against the wall, [8] and his imagination, as in the depiction of the lost Jupiter, [9] the only one of three large projected mythological figures in silver that Cellini had completed for François.

[1]Madame d’Etampes, the King’s mistress.

[2]John of Lorraine, son of Duke Renée II, who was made Cardinal in 1518.

[3]Henri d’Albret II and Marguerite de Valois.

[4]the Dauphin, afterwards Henri II, and his wife, the celebrated Caterina de’ Medici, daughter of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino.

[5]Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Book Second, 1566, Trans. Symonds, John Addington, Part XV. The 1845 Salon livret included this quote, in its French translation, in its explication of the painting: “Le roi vint à Paris, j’allai lui faire ma cour. Dès que sa Majesté me vit, elle m’appela d’un air riant et me demande si j’avais chez moi quelque chose de beau à lui montrer, qu’elle s’y rendrait. Je lui rendis compte de tout ce que j’avais fait, elle eut aussitôt le plus grand désir d’y aller, et après son diner elle donna des ordres en conséquence. Le cardinal de lorraine, plusieurs grands seigneurs, entre autres, le roi de Navarre, beau-frère du roi, la reine sa soeur, le dauphin et la dauphine, enfin, presque toute la noblesse de la cour l’accompagnèrent chez moi ce jour là. J’étais rentré à mon atelier, et je m’étais mis au travail. En arrivant à la porte de mon château, sa Majesté entendant le bruit des marteaux, défendit à chacun de se déranger (car chez moi tout le monde était à l’ouvrage); de façon que je me vis surpris par le roi au moment où je ne l’attendais pas. Il entra dans ma grande salle, ce fut moi qu’il vit le premier. (Vie de Benvenuto Cellini, écrite par lui-même).”

[6]Desmond Seward, Prince of the Renaissance. The Golden Life of François I, N.Y., 1973, p. 12.

[7]This subject had been painted in 1828 by François Jespeh Heim for the most important room of the Musée Charles X in the Louvre (see Louvre, François I et ses artistes, 1992, p. 83).

[8]This bronze lunette for a door at Fontainebleau is in the Louvre, Paris.

[9]All that is currently known about this statue’s appearance is that Jupiter’s right arm was raised and held a thunderbolt (John Pope-Hennessy, Cellini, p. 104).

23 3/4 by 29 inches (60.4 by 73.7 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘Romance & Chivalry’, 1996-7

Where is It?
Stair Sainty Matthiesen
Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
Historical events
1996-Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting.
Hardback book. 300 pages, fully illustrated with 90 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations. Introduction (40 pages) by Guy Stair Sainty, twelve essays, catalogue, appendix of salons 1801-24 and bibliography. £50 or $80 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$100,000 - $150,000