Mistaken identity: Bourdon’s portrait of Warin in the Orléans collection.


I’m slowing beginning to unravel the mystery of a lost portrait, supposedly of the medal maker and sculptor, Jean Warin (1604-72), attributed to Sébastien Bourdon (1616-71), which once hung in the Palais Royal as part of the famous Orléans collection.

The painting is illustrated in the third volume of a 1786 publication of the Orléans collection: Galerie du Palais-royal… by the abbé de Fontenay. The inscription of that print names the sitter as: Jean Warin secretaire du Roi, Intendant des Bâtiments, Directeur général des Monnoies de france et l’un des plus célébres Gravure du XVIIeme Siècle

Jean Warin was extraordinarily enterprising man. Born Liege in 1604, he arrived in Paris in 1626 and ingratiated himself with the Bourbons via Louis XIII’s famous premier ministre Cardinal Richelieu for whom he engraved an extraordinary medal in 1631. By 1636 Warin had negotiated a controlling share in the moulin de monnaies in Paris, and in the years that followed, he held a near monopoly on the production of coins, jetons, and medals for Louis XIII and Louis XIV.

Jean Warin, Mens sidera volvit [his intellect makes the stars revolve], 1631, bronze medal. Collection, BnF.
An extant portrait of Warin instructing the young Louis XIV in history by coins and medals suggests that he became close to the young king. Perhaps it was the bond he formed with his royal patron at this tender age that led to the king’s life-long passion for collecting and commissioning medals.

Colour plate 1
François Lemaire (attrib.), Jean Warin instructing the Young Louis XIV in the appreciation of medals, ca.1645. Collection Musée de Monnaie, Paris.

Not only was Warin the greatest medallist of the age, he was also an accomplished sculptor in marble. The portrait bust that Warin carved in 1665 in direct competition with Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) led his French contemporaries to call him the new Praxiteles.

Louis XIV, roi de France et de Navarre (1638-1715), reprÈsentÈ en armure en 1666
Jean Warin, Louis XIV, 1665, Marble. Collection: chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Since I found that print of a portrait of Warin by Bourdon in routine web searches for an artist who has occupied my thoughts for the last decade, I have been puzzled as to why Warin is shown holding the so-called “Gonzaga Cameo” (now in the Hermitage Collection, St Petersburg).

Detail from abbé de Fontenay’s Galerie du Palais-royal… 1786. vol. 3.
So-called Gonzaga Cameo
Cameo. Portraits of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe II (The Gonzaga Cameo)
Egypt, Alexandria, 3rd century BCE. Collection, The Hermitage, St Petersburg

As Nancy Grummond persuasively argued in her 1974 article “The Real Gonzaga Cameo,” the engraved gem in the Hermitage collection, held by the figure in our print, is not, in fact, the Gonzaga Cameo after all.

The double portrait cameo once hailed by the painter and avid engraved gem collector Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) as the finest double portrait of its kind to survive antiquity, is more likely to be the one now held in the Kunsthistoriches museum in Vienna.

Ptolemaic Cameo, 278 BCE – 269 BCE, ten-layered agate. Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

The cameo illustrated in our portrait is a Ptolemaic gem carved in the 3rd century BCE, and once belonged to Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-89), who took it with her into exile in Rome in the 1650s. Christina bequeathed the cameo to her favourite, cardinal Decio Azzolino 1623-89), and it was then acquired along with the rest of her collection by the Duke of Bracciano, Livio Odescalchi (1652-1713).

By 1794 the gem was in the collection of Pope Pius IV (1717-99), from whom Napoléon seized it for his own collection at Malmaison. After Napoléon’s defeat, Joséphine de Beauharnais gifted the gem to Tsar Alexander I of Russia (1777-1825) in thanks for the kindness and assistance he had offered her. The cameo has remained at the Hermitage ever since.

Where in the story of that remarkable Ptolemaic cameo does it come to rest in the hands of the gentleman in our print? With no evidence to connect this famous ancient gem to Louis XIV’s medal maker, I’m increasingly confident that abbé de Fontenay was wrong, and this is not a portrait of Warin after all.

The hairstyle and clothes worn by this figure date the portrait to between 1650 and 1660. It does look very much like the portraits produced by Bourdon around that date, but the man in this picture looks much younger than 45 to 55 years old, as Warin was then. Neither does he look much like the portrait of Warin engraved by Gérard Edelinck (1640-1707)—the only labelled portrait of artist from the seventeenth century.

edelinck warin
Gérard Edelinck, Jean Varin, c. 1670, engraving. Collection: chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Granted, it’s hard to match distinguishing features in portraits from this period, with wigs and clothes that have a tendency to obscure evidence of age and the idiosyncrasies we look for in a good likeness. So let’s suppose that Fontenay was right, and this is Warin. How then did he come to be holding a prized cameo from the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden?

Had Warin met Christina, it would have been after her abdication from the Swedish throne in 1654, and during her two sojourns in France from 1656-58. In that period, Warin was fully occupied with his work for Louis XIV at the Moulin des monnaies, and as his preferred engraver of medals, so it seems unlikely that he would have left France to meet with Swedish Christina. But no matter if and where they would have met, it’s very unlikely that Bourdon would paint Warin holding a cameo in the collection of a foreign princess.

Sébastien Bourdon, Queen Christina of Sweden, ca. 1652-54, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Bourdon’s portraits of artists and writers of that period tend to show the sitter with the tools of their craft. For example, a fascinating portrait of an engraver attributed to Bourdon, sold by Christie’s to a private collector in 2003 shows the engraver with a hammer in one hand and a repoussé punch in the other, about to set to work on a silver portrait.

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 4.09.33 am
Sébastien Bourdon, anonymous engraver, c.1662, private collection.

The man in our print holds the cameo, but there are other objects in the picture too—a tray of medals, the bust of a philosopher (perhaps Socrates) looking upon them, and mercury gesturing to the heavens behind (perhaps a copy of Giambologna’s famous bronze). On the table next to the tray of coins is a quill sitting in a pot of ink, strongly suggesting that the sitter’s craft was writing. I would argue that this is a portrait of an antiquarian scholar.

If we accept abbé Fontenay’s attribution of the painting to Bourdon, there is another reason to connect this lost picture to Queen Christina, as Bourdon was her principle painter from 1652.

Could this be a portrait of a friend or advisor to Queen Christina painted for her by Bourdon that she took with her to her exile in Rome? Was he an antiquarian in Christina’s circle who drew inspiration from her collection? If so, that portrait may very well have been one of the many paintings from Christina’s collection purchased by the regent Philippe II, duc d’Orléans from the heirs of duke Odescalchi after the latter’s death in 1713.

That painting, along with the rest of the famous Orléans collection, was sold en masse by the regent’s heir, Philippe Égalité in 1792. The collection was kept together and passed through various hands until in 1798, twelve years after abbé Fontenay published his three-volume catalogue of the paintings at the Palais Royal, when the collection went on sale in London at two venues. A catalogue for the paintings displayed at the Lyceum in the Strand in December 1798, lists six portraits by Bourdon. Queen Christina is the only one of those six sitters named. Annotations to one copy of that catalogue suggest that our painting was one of the five anonymous portraits by Bourdon that sold for 10 guineas a piece.

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 4.10.36 am

All evidence points towards an error made by Fontenay in his catalogue of paintings at the Palais Royal. In reattributing the portrait as an antiquarian in the circle of Queen Christina of Sweden, we are losing one of only three known portraits to survive of a great artist who helped to form in the image of Louis XIV in the eyes of posterity.

It is my hope that further research into Queen Christina’s circle, and the Orléans collection will help to name this sitter and to shed more light on the life of the extraordinary Ptolemaic Cameo that he holds.

Robert Wellington, 2019


Notes from the field: A Louis XV jeton for Martinique, not Canada.

Jeton, Louis XV, Sub Omni Sidere Crescunt, 1751. Collection: The American Numismatic Society.

Today I became aware of a fascinating jeton (a small medal-like token) from the reign of Louis XV. The reverse carries the image of what was thought be a First Nations Person of New France (Canada). This ‘Amerindian’ has plumes in his hair, he carries a bow, and gazes over his shoulder to look at an crop of giant lilies (the fleur de lys of France). The inscription—Sub Omni Sidere Crescunt [under every constellation they grow]—a reference to the lilies of France (her colonies) that grow simultaneously in lands across the globe.

I was excited to find another numismatic image of what I believed to be an indigenous warrior from New France. The only other numismatic representation of that kind is found on the Honos et Virtus [honour and virtue] medal awarded to Amerindian warriors who collaborated with the French colonists.

honon et virtus

That medal depicts the First Nations warrior in classical garb, wearing the toga of an ancient Roman, and in a comparative state of undress compared to the centurion-like figure (the representative of France) with whom he shakes hands.

In comparison, the figure from the jeton is dressed in what appears to be traditional costume. It is, nevertheless, a rather generic and fictionalised version of what an indigenous person from the New World ought to look like.

Numismatic society of america

The exergue beneath the feet of our warrior bears the words Col. Franc. De LAM. 1751. Numismatists, have assumed that this text is a contraction of ‘Le colonies françaises de l’Amerique’ [French colonies in America]. This is the meaning given by Charles Wyllys Betts, whose catalogue American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals (1894) is the standard text for citations of medals that relate to the history of North America and Canada:

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 3.14.34 pm

Betts took his reading, it seems, from a notice published in the American Numismatic Journal in 1879:

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 3.38.53 pm

George Parsons wrote a longer article for the American Numismatic Journal on the ‘Colonial Jetons of Louis XV’ in 1884. He makes the following interpretation of the jeton in question:

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 3.42.51 pm

That jeton, with its wonderfully evocative image of a native in the colonies gazing upon the lilies of France, is indeed ripe for such an interpretation. In the copy of the jeton described by Parsons there’s even an alligator climbing from the water – presumably a reference to the native fauna found in the southern parts of the French territories in the New World.

Sadly, it seems that these worthy American numismatists of the nineteenth century had not found any contemporary French descriptions of that jeton. Had they done so, they would have learnt that it was, in fact, intended to celebrate the French colony in Martinique, as a description from the Mercure Galant of April 1751 confirms.

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 2.36.46 pm

In an article title ‘Devises pour les jettons du premier de janvier 1751’ [Devises for the jetons of the first of january 1751], our jeton is described as:

“Une Sauvage, & des Lys plantés auprès de lui. Légende: Sub omni sidere crescunt; ils croissent dans tous les climats. Exergue, Colonies Françoises de la Martinique, 1751.”

[A savage, & some lilies planted next to him. Legend: sub omni sidere crescunt; they grow in every climate. Exergue, French colonies of Martinique, 1751.]

So it seems that this image of a First Nations warrior from Canada was intended to be an indigenous man of Martinique. There is something to be said here about the generic way in which native people of colonised territories were depicted in the ancien-régime. It is true that this image of a ‘noble savage’ among the lilies could just as easily have represented any number of the many peoples whose lands were occupied by Europeans in the early modern period.

This is an example of the kinds of misconceptions that have been passed down from nineteenth-century descriptions of coins, medals, and jetons that have been take up uncritically by the dealers and collectors of American numismatics who have sought them out. To be sure, a connection with the colonial history of America and Canada has made this jeton highly collectible in those countries. Where an average Louis XV jeton might be sold for US$50-100, copies of this piece have sold for over US$1,000.

Contracted inscriptions can lead to confusion and lasting misconceptions. This was the very opposite of what the designers of medals and jetons had intended. These miniature monuments carried inscriptions that were supposed to preserve historical information for posterity – to provide clarity about historical details that might otherwise be lost.

For me, this is a timely reminder to return to the archive, and to render my own readings of artefacts from the ancien-régime, rather than relying on what has come before.

Robert Wellington.

8 February 2018.