An Unknown Bourbon Princess

Frans Pourbus the Younger
1569 - 1622

An Unknown Bourbon Princess

Painted c.1615

Oil on canvas: 29 ½ x 22 7/8 in. (75 x 58 cm.)


Private collection, France, until

Tajan, Paris, 15 June 2016, lot 48;

Frans Pourbus II was undoubtedly the most influential international court portraitist of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Only recently discovered, this magnificent portrait can be dated on costume and stylistic ground as an exceptional example of the artist’s latter years whilst employed in the Bourbon court of Louis XIII.


Rendered with meticulous attention to detail, it is both a sumptuous costume piece, as well as an astutely observed portrait of a young woman, whose confident, somewhat amused expression is testament to Pourbus’s ability to both capture and flatter a likeness. The gathered black silk of her dress and its extraordinary lace, set against the draped green velvet of the background, are a textural feast for the eye, while her magnificent jewels have a strikingly showy effect. The scarlet rosettes in her carefully crimped hair and the scarlet bow on her large diamond brooch provide bold accents to the whole. She clasps her necklace in an elegant and painterly gesture.


Frans Pourbus the Younger was born in Antwerp and naturalized French in 1617. He developed an extraordinary canon of royal portraiture, and his success was so prodigious that it was only the new artistic approach of Rubens or Van Dyck that would take portraiture in a different direction. His portraits of the French royals in the Bourbon court of Louis XIII served as the prototype for the ultimate princely portrait of his day, and were widely disseminated through foreign courts as an instrument and indication of French power. Pourbus had established a style of painting that was recognized throughout the courts of the Hapsburgs, Bourbons or Medici where he worked, and his importance in the French royal court was attested by the honour of taking up residence at the Louvre itself.[1]


Pourbus sought to both faithfully render a likeness, whilst also aspiring to an idealism – the ‘royal dignitas’ which singles out his work. He endeavoured to represent above all the status and character of the sitter through a set of attitudes, gestures, looks and the sumptuous splendor of their costumes, while the platicity of their flesh, the careful modelling of their faces and hands, evoke the delicacy of French enamels of this period.


Son of Frans Pourbus the Elder and grandson of Pieter Pourbus, he trained in his grandfather’s studio and was accepted as a master in Antwerp in 1591. During his early years in Antwerp, until circa 1590, Pourbus’ style was strongly influenced by the work of his father and grandfather. Although his style was individualised during the course of his artistic development, he always remained faithful to the Flemish tradition and never embraced the baroque movement. Thus Pourbus earned the appreciation of seventeenth century French classicists, and came to be regarded as a founding father of French portraiture, taking forward the aesthetic established by the likes of François Clouet (c.1510 – 1572).


In the 1590s Pourbus worked for the Archdukes Albert and Isabella at their court in Brussels, but departed for Mantua in 1600, where he was appointed court painter to Vincent II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua until 1609. He received numerous commissions from the ducal family and travelled to Innsbruck in 1603 to depict members of the family, followed by Turin in 1605 – 1606, and Paris in 1613, where he painted the young Louis XIII, then Dauphin, and his mother Marie de’ Medici, the sister of the Duchess of Mantua. Following another trip to Italy in 1607, he returned to Paris where he entered the service of Marie de’ Medici and subsequently that of Louis XIII in 1616, until his death in 1622. 





[1] Thieme and Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, Leipzig: E.A. Seemann 1933, p. 315-319.

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