Julie and Isaac-Louis de Thellusson by Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1760
Thanks everyone for bearing with me through the summer break. I feel a lot better now. Sorry it's 18th century again. I'd meant to present something else this time, but then I re-found these on my harddisk. 18th my favourite period, vibrant blue my favourite colour - I simply couldn't resist!
Blue is what makes these potraits special: A hue as strong, almost eye-searing as this is extremely rare in historical portraits. But is the colour as we see it here a truthful representation? Probably not. It is a common misconception that it was impossible to dye vibrant hues before the advent of synthetic dyes, but in this case, i think it's a stylistic element rather than representation of reality. I'm not denying that their clothing may have had this colour Consider that this is obviously a marriage portrait: It makes sense to introduce elements that identify the two as belonging together. This eye-catching blue connects them like a club to a head. No-one could mistake the meaning. That's what these portraits are all about - the clothing is just "thrown in", as it were. Isn't it charming how they smile at each other?
The clothing... Julie is wearing a white robe with ruchings, probably satin. In the 18th century, white wasn't obligatory for brides - infact, most wedding dresses were anything but white - , but the association was there. The echelles should be taffeta rather than satin: Satin is too droopy. It's hard to see, but she's also wearing a mantelet, i.e. a short cape that usually comes with a hood. The blue ribbon hanging from her left (from her perspective) hand runs through a half-traslucent tunnel in the neckline of the mantelet to emerge on the other side of her neck and run down her right arm. The lace that half hides it on that side seems to be part of the mantelet trimming. Julie wears only two pieses of jewelery: A piece of string knotted at her throat, charming in its simplicity and enhancing her simple, down-to-earth handsomeness much better than diamonds would. The other is a medallion bracelet with a portrait in it - undoubtedly that of her husband.
He, accordingly, wears a ring with another portrait medallion. I bet it's a picture of his wife. His clothing is much more leisurely than hers: She could leave the house as is, but his clothing is clearly for inhouse use. His shirt is open at the neck, beautifully showing the thread buttons at the neck. The breast slit and sleeve cuffs are lavishly trimmed with wide tulle bobbin lace. It must have cost a small fortune. His outer garment is a banyan, or house coat. Judging from the snininess, it must be silk, very probably taffeta, or maybe satin. A sparse pattern of flowers in Asian style is sprinkled across it. His hair - and apparently it is his hair, not a wig - is powdered grey just like his wife's, but it seems the hairdresser didn't quite finish his job: Lock is hanging loosely off the back and there's something at the back of his head , under the hair, that might be a pice of cardboard meant to support the hair.
I've blurbed more than enough this time, but I feel I must commend the artist on his craftsmanship. I know how hard it is to achieve colour blends with pastels, so I cannot but admire Liotard's talent. Just look at how he managed to capture the shininess of the silk, even down to the small puckers made by the stitching at the front edge of the banyan, the fine lines of the lace tulle - not to mention the realistic rendering of skin tone. It's not just the blue that very obviously connects the two pictures: Look at the orange and white in the banyan pattern, reflected in the medallion on her bracelet and her dress, reinforcing the connection between the two. Orange and blue are complementary colours, i.e. they make each other appear more vibrant. All this makes it obvious that Liotard knew his craft - and knew how to use colours. Which supports my theory that the colours here are only artifice, however much I would like to find proof that vibrant blue wa in fact use in 18th century costume. Anyway: Chapeau to Liotard!
Pictures of the month archive
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