This unusual family portrait on canvas was the work of the Baroque painter Pierre Mignard (1612 – 1695), who painted it in 1691. This French-born artist was He was known at the time as “the Roman” since he lived for more than 20 years in the Italian capital until he returned to France because King Louis XIV requested his services.
The Marquise de Seignelay with her children by Pierre Mignard
During his years in the land of Italy he was always fascinated by the work of artists like Anibale Carracci or Il Domenichino , and even his style can be related to another of the quintessential French painters of the Baroque: Nicolas Poussin. However, when he settled back in his country, he discovered that in order to distinguish himself he had to do something different and so he came much closer to the vibrant colors he had known from studying Venetian painters.
However, it must be said that his art never ceased to be essentially French and adapted perfectly to the tastes of the Sun King's court. And a wonderful example of this is this canvas that today hangs in the rooms from the National Gallery in London, but it was commissioned by the aristocrat Marquise de Seignelay, who was already the widow of the former powerful minister of the French Navy: Jean Baptiste Colbert.
The woman had thecaprice that the artist painted her as a nymph of Thetis, of which in Ovid's Metamorphoses we can read that a son would be born “whose deeds will surpass those of his father and will be even greater than the". In other words, she wanted to capture that one of those two children, with whom she appears portrayed, is also destined to be a relevant figure in French politics. In fact, according to mythological accounts, the descendant of Thetis wasAchilles, and we see her son dressed in the attributes of the Greek hero
That in relation to the showy representation, but pictorially it must be said that it is an excellently resolved work and fulfills marvelously with the expectations of its commissioner. It's a brilliant piece of work, literally. It shines for its color, it is special for that great electric blue mantle capable of contrasting with the white skin of the lady or the pearls that she wears. Just as the boy on the left dressed in ancient clothing vibrates colorfully, evoking Achilles.
However, let's go back to that blue cloak, an ultramarine blue that at the time was a very expensive pigment. So wearing it so lavishly proclaimed a woman's we alth. Which she also aspired to be the monarch's lover, hence the presence of the other son portrayed as a smallCupidwho offers her jewels worthy of a king. In short, that all the knowledge that Mignard possessed of Greco-Latin mythology and classical compositions was put at the service of the pompous and arrogant French aristocracy.