Title: The provost of the merchants and the aldermen of the city of Paris.
Author : by CHAMPAIGNE Philippe (1602 - 1674)
Creation date : 1648
Dimensions: Height 200 - Width 271
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website
Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Gérard Blot / Christian Jean website
Picture reference: 88-001766-02 / MI911
The provost of the merchants and the aldermen of the city of Paris.
© Photo RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre Museum) / Gérard Blot / Christian Jean
Publication date: February 2016
Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director
The collective portrait of a municipal body
Painted at the end of the year 1647 or at the beginning of the year 1648, on the eve of the Fronde, the collective portrait of the provost of the merchants and aldermen of Paris is part of the orders placed to Philippe de Champaigne by the municipal officials to enhance their function and their social success.
In 1648, the painter met with great success, in particular for the quality of his portraits. Solicited by the Church and the Court since the 1620s, he became the King's official painter during the last years of the reign of Louis XIII and the beginning of that of Louis XIV. His activity as a portrait painter was at its peak during the minority of Louis XIV, a period during which he approached the Jansenist milieu.
The provost of merchants and the four aldermen of Paris who assist him are no exception to the fashion for portraiture and have regularly ordered portraits since the 16th century.e century. Municipal officers elected for two years by a small college during elections over which the royal power weighs with all its influence, they form the "small office" of the city body which exercises administrative and judicial functions and various competences relating to the organization of the city (traffic, roads, supplies, parties, etc.).
They are helped, here behind the provost, by a city clerk, a King's receiver and a King's prosecutor. This is Jérôme Le Féron, president of the second chamber of inquiries of the Parliament of Paris. These influential notables are at the same time in competition with the Parliament of Paris as for the definition of its sphere of competences and resulting from the same middle-class environment as the parliamentarians.
For the greater glory of the Parisian city councilors
The canvas consists of two vertical parts separated by a crucifix placed on an altar. This is decorated with a bas-relief depicting Saint Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, as well as the city's coat of arms. At the foot of the crucifix, the keys to the city rest crisscrossed on a black cushion. On the few carpeted steps raising the altar two coats of arms stand out (the arms of Jérôme Le Féron are recognizable on the left, symmetrically to those of Jean de Bourges, the oldest alderman, elected in 1646).
To the right of the altar, the four aldermen are in an attitude of meditation or prayer, kneeling and hands clasped, one of them holding a (prayer?) Book in his hand. On the left, Jérôme Le Féron dominates the other characters with his stature and his red dress with silky reflections; as provost of the merchants, he is the master of this venerable assembly. Behind the provost, the king's prosecutor precedes the city clerk and receiver. Six of the eight men stare at the spectator, as if to make him witness to their piety and their attachment to their city. The monotony of the clothes is broken by the diversity of the faces and their expressiveness.
The composition gives off an impression of gravity, control and balance (even stiffness), reinforced by the solid columns, of which only the lower parts can be seen, and the effect of symmetry produced by the vertical axis formed by Christ and Saint Geneviève.
The fleur-de-lis hanging between the two columns - and which separates the painted scene from a dark background - inscribes the alderman gesture within a strong monarchical framework. It recalls that submission to God is also an allegiance to the king and to the legitimate and legitimizing principle of royalty. The king is both present and absent, and the hanging defines the foreground as a scenic space where the Parisian bourgeois move.
A political, social and religious manifesto
Is it a sort of ex-voto celebrating the healing of the young king, who in November 1647 had smallpox (an episode that Le Féron had already chosen to have a medal struck at the beginning of 1648) ? This hypothesis is plausible, but it is challenged by a more political and traditional interpretation of the portrait. By subscribing to the tradition of portraits of the Parisian city body and by using the main pictorial codes, this "corporate portrait" (Bernard Dorival) would recall the legalistic and religious attachment of municipal officers. The fleur-de-lis hanging would therefore be the tangible symbol of the privileged and legitimizing link between the king and the city body. After the beginning of the Fronde, in the summer of 1648, the town office would indeed be seen attempting appeasement in the context of the emerging parliamentary unrest.
This large canvas is thus a political, social and religious manifesto. She assimilates the robins that are the aldermen with a nobility of heart and gravity, if not of immemorial blood. The point here is to highlight the social success of the aldermen and the provost of the merchants, while inscribing them in ostentatious piety. This assertion contributes at the same time to install these bourgeois in the political sphere of the Paris of the royal minority and to show a hierarchical and strictly organized vision of the institutional structures of the French monarchy.
Champaigne continued the tradition of “corporate portraits” and painted two other representations of the provost of merchants and aldermen in 1652 and 1656. However, only fragments of these canvases remain.
- Louis XIV
DORIVAL Bernard, Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): life, work and the catalog raisonné of the work, Paris, Laget, 1976, 2 vol.
MARIN Louis, Philippe de Champaigne or the hidden presence, Paris, Hazan, coll. "35/37", 1995.
TAPIÉ Alain, SAINTE FARE GARNOT Nicolas (dir.), Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674): between politics and devotion, cat. exp. (Lille, 2007; Geneva, 2007-2008), Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2007.
To cite this article
Jean HUBAC, "The provost of the merchants and the aldermen of the City of Paris"