Equestrian portrait of the architect Barthélemy Michel Hazon in the costume of a Turkish Mufti
(Joseph-Marie Vien)


Joseph-Marie Vien’s portrait of Barthélemy-Michel Hazon (1722-1822) was apparently expanded from one of the many costume designs Vien executed for a fancy dress party which he, as a pensionnaire of the French Academy in Rome, helped to organize in February 1748 as part of the students’ carnival celebrations.

Here, Hazon is shown by Joseph-Marie Vien dressed in the long caftan, open, fur-trimmed over-tunic and high turban of a Mufti, a Sunni Islamic scholar of Sharia law, what would be, loosely put in religious administrative terms, the Sunni equivalent of a deacon. He is shown mounted on an Arabian horse holding a codex, which is presumably meant to be the Koran. Joseph-Marie Vien also included various Arab monuments in the background to suggest Mecca. Hazon, a confrere of Joseph-Marie Vien’s, was studying architecture at the Academy in 1748 under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour. Upon his return to France in 1749 he received several important commissions and was later, in 1778, appointed general steward of the palaces of Louis XV and Louis XVI.  The present portrait was apparently acquired directly from Joseph-Marie Vien by Hazon, and then passed by descent to the present day when it was sold on the French art market.

The carnival celebrations preceding the Lenten season were one of the premier events in the Roman calendar. The students of the Academy were famous for their elaborately staged and costumed pageants, which were usually based on a foreign theme. However, the pensionnaires’ Turkish masque of 1748, which Joseph-Marie Vien designed and supervised, was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Even Pope Benedict XIV was said to have participated in the revels, albeit incognito. Based on a Roman triumph, the parade of Academicians winding through the streets of Rome was heralded by trumpeters and drummers, followed by twenty horsemen, splendid horse-drawn floats carrying the students disguised to evoke stock figures of the Turkish court, i.e. sultans and sultanas, viziers, eunuchs, etc. Their sumptuous costumes were made of common materials cleverly painted to imitate moirées, velvets and embroidered silks, and all the figures, even the sultanas, were played by the exclusively male pensionnaires. The masque was so celebrated that the pensionnaires were even invited to be guests of Cardinal de La Rochefoucauld at a sumptuous banquet, followed by a ball.

Joseph-Marie Vien drew thirty-two designs for the fête, all of which are now in the Musée du Petit Palais, Paris. In 1749, Etienne Fessard published Joseph-Marie Vien’s engravings after his designs in a series entitled, Caravane du Sultan à la Mecque. Joseph-Marie Vien incorporated other portraits of his fellow pensionnaires in his costume designs including Clément Louis-Marie Anne Belle as the Sultane of Transylvania; Charles Michel Ange Challe as the Grand Vizier, Claude-Olivier Galimard as the Amir-Bashi, and Nicolas Henri Jardin as the Persian ambassador.

Joseph-Marie Vien also made painted studies after at least three of the designs, which are also in the Petit Palais. However, these only show the head and shoulders of the subjects and it would appear therefore that the present work is a unique example.

Born in Montpellier to a family of locksmiths, Joseph-Marie Vien showed artistic promise from an early age and served his first apprenticeship at the age of eleven in the studio of the portraitist Legrand. After training in various fields, including as a painter of faïence, he entered the workshop of Jacques Giral, a student of Charles de Lafosse. Giral probably encouraged Vien to go to Paris in 1740, when he entered the Academy schools studying under Charles Natoire and Charles Parrocel. Vien won the Prix de Rome in 1743 with his history painting David submitting to the will of the Lord (Paris, Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts). The following year he left for Rome to become a pensionnaire at the French Academy in Rome; he was only eighteen. Joseph-Marie Vien quickly distinguished himself to the current director, Jean de Troy, and in some respects, Joseph-Marie Vien’s early style reflects the de Troy’s influence. However, it should be pointed out that le Troy helped shape Joseph-Marie Vien’s style as part of a greater goal, which was to take his place within the grand tradition of French history painting, as it had been established almost a century before by Charles Le Brun. Joseph-Marie Vien still continued to enthusiastically incorporate naturalism and the direct study of nature in developing his art.

Joseph-Marie Vien spent most of his time in Rome designing costumes and chariots for masques and painting religious subjects for Roman churches. After 1750, when Joseph-Marie Vien returned to France, he adopted a growing interest in the Baroque and, in particular, the work of early 17th century Bolognese painters such as Guido Reni, whose interest in nature and the antique he shared. Encouraged by the existing taste in the 1760s for less esoteric, decorative antique subjects, Joseph-Marie Vien produced a number of works, many of them à la grecque, that appear to reject the formal classicism of his earlier works in favour of  capturing a sort of poetic expressiveness and the delicacy and a simplicity of these paintings is similar to those of his contemporary, Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805).

Joseph-Marie Vien returned to Rome in 1775 as the newly appointed director of the French Academy. Under the influence of the Comte Caylus, who helped focus his interest in the frescoes at Herculaneum, he began painting in a neo-classical style, making him the first French artist of his century to paint in that genre. His pupils included some of the foremost artists of the Neo-classical period, notably Jacques-Louis David.

97 x 70 cm (38 ¼ x 27 ½ in)
Oil on canvas

Barthélemy Michel Hazon;
And thence by descent.
Private collection , France

  1. Jacquot, Jean Babault (1718-1762). Le théâtre de la vie italienne, exhib. cat., Strasbourg, Galerie Heintz, 2010, p. 67, fig. 3.
Historical Period
Rococo - 1720-1780
Historical events
Price band
$500,000 - $750,000