Studio of Corneille de Lyon
circa 1510 – 1575
An Unknown Nobleman in Armour
Painted circa 1560 - 1570
Oil on panel: 13 x 10 inches, 32.5 x 25 cm
- Private collection, New York, USA
Sixteenth century portraits of sitters depicted in armour traditionally portray royalty, a pictorial tradition whose Renaissance precedents notably include François Clouet’s Equestrian Portrait of François I (c.1540, Uffizi Gallery, Florence) and Titian’s portraits of Emperor Charles V on Horseback (1548: Prado Museum, Madrid) and Philip II in Armour (1551, Prado). The present painting best compares with a bust-length portrait of the young Dauphin Henri by Corneille de Lyon, showing the future King Henri II in armour (c.1536-7; Galleria Estense, Modena, inv.no.312). 1
Our young nobleman was likely therefore to have been of some distinction, and certainly of wealth, for such fine and ornate armour would have been very expensive indeed. Fashioned in steel and held together with brass rivets and joins, it is finely tooled in order to create combinations of floral ornaments and geometric patterns. This ‘fluting’, besides being decorative, reinforced the plates, is characteristic of armour from Landshut, a famous Bavarian armour-making centre, made fashionable by Philip II of Spain. Indeed, at this time, Landshut armourers almost exclusively supplied to the Spanish nobility, and it is therefore quite possible that our sitter is Spanish.
The painter has taken great trouble to extensively render the highlights on the metal with touches of pure white. Yet for all this attention, the sitter’s face too is depicted with equal care, his confident gaze perhaps reflecting the near invincibility granted by this steel suit. Far from the noisy chaos of the battlefield, the image conveys a sense of power and order, calm and refinement, the sitter an exemplar of the Renaissance nobleman, both as courtier and as warrior.
The unknown artist’s technique appears to reflect the direct influence of Corneille de Lyon, and it is likely that he may either have worked in that artist’s studio, or at least to have come into contact with his work. Corneille was one of the very finest portrait painters of the French Renaissance. Of Flemish origin, he was recorded in Lyon in 1533, and it was perhaps in that year, while the French court was residing in that city, that Corneille was made painter to Queen Eleanor, the second wife of François I. By 1541, he was painter to the Dauphin Henri, and when the latter succeeded to the throne in 1547, he was created Peintre du Roi. Corneille’s studio was very prosperous and his art was strongly influenced by the tradition of the portrait miniature, especially the example of Jean Perréal (1450/60 – c.1530). His work also shows an affinity with his almost exact contemporary, François Clouet (c.1516-1572); both painters shared the northern inclination towards naturalism, executed with great sensitivity and refinement.2
1 See Anne Dubois de Groer, Corneille de la Haye, dit Corneille de Lyon, Paris, 1996, cat.no.29, pp.133-5, illustrated in black and white; and in colour, p.59.
2 See Philippe Rouillard, entry on Corneille de Lyon in The Grove Dictionary of Art.
Click on image to zoom