Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Last Supper by Pourbus the Younger

Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622)
The Last Supper
Oil on canvas
287 x 370 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622)
The Last Supper
Black stone, black and brown ink on paper
33 cm x 52.1 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Last Supper was painted for the high altar of the church of Saint-Leu-Saint-Gilles in Paris, which dates back to the 13th century

Apparently Poussin admired the work and praised it greatly

It was considered to be Pourbus` masterpiece

It had a considerable influence on French painting

The work appears to have been commissioned when Cardinal Henri de Gandi, Archbishop of Paris, (« cardinal de Retz »)  made it into a parish church in its own right in 1617 after the erection of the choir of the church in 1611

Flemish by birth and training, Pourbus was court painter of Archduke Albert in Brussels when in 1600 he went to Italy at the invitation of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua

In 1611 he became Maria de' Medici's court painter in Paris as well as that of Louis XIII

He is renowned now mainly for his portraits and for his historical scenes

His religious art is often overlooked

Late Mannerist, he was the son and grandson of artists

It has been said of the artist that he inherited from them "an incredibly ornate, decorative style, and the ability to depict the various textures of skin, hair, fabric, lace and pearl with admirable precision"

In his portraits he followed the international style where the portrayal of character was less important than the meticulous reproduction of sumptuous costumes and jewellery.

Image was more important than the reality

But here in this religious work we see the intelligent characterisation and dramatisation of an historical event which  was to change the history of mankind

We see a Christ who is majestic yet human, humble and of common stock

He is seated not lying down on a couch

His authority is evident and natural

His hands are in a tender embrace towards his apostles

Each apostle is differeniated

Judas rises from the table, with his purse, the sole object of his attention

In the standard work on the artist, Blaise Ducos, Frans Pourbus le Jeune (1569-1622): Le Portrait d’apparat à l’aube du Grand Siècle entre Habsbourg, Médicis, et Bourbons. Paris : Faton, 2011. 399 pp. ISBN: 978-2-87844-151-2,  Ducos (curator of Dutch and Flemish Painting at the Louvre) argues that the artist`s key to success was his ability to adjust his pictorial style subtly to suit the particular needs and tastes of the court for which he was working 

This was the age of Rubens, a man Pourbus knew very well. It was a time when  the artist was expected to serve and advance the interests of his patrons as players in a highly theatricalised court culture. 

But in this work there is no flattery and no advancement of human patrons

It is simply a prayer and a statement of an article of the artist`s faith

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