Ceiling painted with singeries

Attributed to Claude III Audran (1657-1734)
Paris, c. 1720
Oil on primed canvas, molded stucco cornice, painted and gilt
Long-term loan from the Ministère de l’Instruction Publique, des Beaux-Arts et des Cultes, 1929
Inv. MIN B.A. ss n° (76)
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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This ceiling recalls the decoration of one of the most famous mansions in Paris during the Régence, that of the Comtesse de Verrue. From 1683 to 1700, Jeanne Baptiste d’Albert de Luynes lived at the court of Turin with her husband, Joseph Ignace de Scaglia, the Comte de Verrue, a Gentleman of the Chamber of the Duc de Savoie. After returning to France in 1700 and becoming a widow in 1704, the Comtesse had two adjoining mansions built by Victor Dailly (from 1719 onward) on rue du Cherche-Midi and rue du Regard: the one in which she lived housed her famous collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings (“one of the greatest and most precious collections in Europe”) and her library of almost 18,000 volumes. This ceiling is the surviving trace of the decoration of the mansion, which was demolished in 1929. Claude III Audran, the uncontested specialist of arabesque decoration in the early eighteenth century, designed and created this ceiling for a small oval room.

The artist, whose assistants included Antoine Watteau, made a name for himself as the disseminator of arabesque decoration, restored to fashion by Jean Bérain; but according to Daniel Cronstrôm, the Swedish envoy to France, his style was “rather different from that of M. Bérain,” being “more delicate and svelte.” The decoration is elegant and uncluttered, forming a spidery network. Its dominant theme is the singerie (monkeys apeing human behavior), often combined with grotesques, which first appeared in Audran’s work at Marly in 1709. In this work, dated to around 1720, monkeys dressed as musicians on the ceiling and monkeys dressed as hunters on the cornice are framed by an elegant interlacing of flowers.

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