Philippe de Champaigne was one of the protagonists of French classicism. His art, inspired in part by his association with Jansenism (a severe Counter-Reformation movement suppressed by Louis XIV), has been described as combining "a scrupulous perfectionism verging on coldness with an inner life of deep intensity." This picture was painted for the private chapel of Queen Anne of Austria (1601–1666), the widowed wife of Louis XIII. The chapel, a small oval room in the Palais Royal, Paris, was decorated by the most prominent French painters of the day.
Philippe de Champaigne painted more Annunciations than any other subject: pre-Revolutionary sources mention at least seventeen examples, ten of which survive today (see Dorival 1970). The present one came to light in 2003, having been known only from a line engraving made in 1812, when the painting was in a private collection in Saint Petersburg.
The MMA Annunciation is painted on a small oak panel, similar to other pictures that were made for the oratory in the Palais Royal of Anne of Austria (1601–1666), daughter of Philip III of Spain and widow of Louis XIII. All documents concerning the oratory are lost, but Henry Sauval gives an idea of its decoration in Histoire et recherches des antiquites de la ville de Paris, published in 1724: "Around the walls of the oratory are pictures, painted in competition by Champagne, Vouet, Bourdon, Stella, Lahire, Corneille, Dorigni, and Paerson, representing the life and attributes of the Virgin." Thus we know the paintings were parceled out to a team of artists comprising Champaigne and Simon Vouet (1590–1649), who had contributed to Richelieu's Galerie des Hommes Illustres in the Palais Royal, and six or seven younger artists. Sauval specifies the subject of only one of the pictures: a Flight into Egypt by Sébastien Bourdon (1616–1671) in the Louvre, painted on an oak panel the same height and almost the same width as the MMA painting. Other works from the oratory are listed in an inventory of the paintings in the Palais Royal drawn up in 1788; it includes another panel by Bourdon, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also in the Louvre and exactly the same size as his Flight into Egypt; a Death of the Virgin by Jacques Sarrazin (1588/92–1660) and a Visitation by Laurent de La Hyre (1606–1656), both missing; and Champaigne's Marriage of the Virgin in the Wallace Collection, which is the same height as the other panels but twice as wide. When the latter appeared in the Pourtalès sale in 1865, it was identified as the altar frontal from the oratory. A Birth of the Virgin by Jacques Stella (1596–1657) in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille, and another panel by Stella, a Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple formerly in the Suida-Manning collection, Forest Hills, New York, may also have belonged to the cycle (Pericolo 2005). The inscription on an engraving of Vouet's Assumption of the Virgin (MMA 45.97) identifies the picture as belonging to Anne of Austria's oratory. Because of its larger size (76 3/4 x 50 3/4 in.) and its date, 1644, it must have been the oratory's altarpiece. Vouet, Louis XIII's favorite artist and the oldest member of the team, may have been in charge of the oratory project.
The decoration of the oratory, a small private chapel on an inner courtyard of the Palais Royal (see Allden and Beresford 1989 and Pericolo 2005), has been connected with the 20,000 livres that the queen received from the royal treasury on September 11, 1645 (see Ingamells 1989). The paintings, however, must have been commissioned earlier, as Vouet’s Assumption is inscribed 1644. Plans for the oratory may have been made soon after Richelieu’s death in 1642. He bequeathed the palace to Louis XIII, who survived Richelieu by a mere five months. Anne of Austria and her two young sons, Louis Dieudonné (1638–1715), the future Louis XIV, and Philippe (1640–1701), the future duc d'Orléans, moved into the Palais Royal in 1643. With the support of Cardinal Mazarin, Anne of Austria governed France as regent from the Palais Royal through the first years of the Fronde, the revolt of discontented nobles against royal authority. In 1649, she fled from Paris to Fontainebleau; with peace, in 1652, she took up residence in the ground-floor apartment in the Louvre traditionally assigned to queen mothers. Her apartment in the Palais Royal was dismantled in about 1752, when the architect Contant d’Ivry remodeled the building (see Sauvel 1968).
Although none of Champaigne's Annunciations are dated, their chronology is suggested by the change in their style from the exuberant version in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Caen, with its ornate prie-dieu and the dramatic lighting of its figures, to the sober Annunciation in the Wallace Collection, London, in which the Virgin and archangel stand in restrained poses. The Caen version probably dates from shortly after 1633, the Wallace version from the mid-1640s or later (Ingamells 1989). The MMA picture falls between them. A transitional work, it is symptomatic of the trend in Parisian painting of the 1640s toward a chaste classical style, tempered in Champaigne’s case by Flemish figure types. The face of the Virgin, for example, looks like a portrait, perhaps of a member of Champaigne’s family; she has the same girlish features as the protagonist of the Marriage of the Virgin in the Wallace Collection. While the painting is not yet in the severe style associated with Jansenists at Port Royal, the calm composition anticipates that of an etching by Jean Morin after an Annunciation by Champaigne in the Heures de Port-Royal, published in 1650 (see Dorival 1976).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
Inscription: Signed (lower left, on prie-dieu): P . CHAMPAIGNE . F
Anne of Austria, her oratory in the Palais Royal, Paris (from about 1644–d. 1666; probably transferred to her apartment in Fontainebleau between 1651 and 1666); Louis Philippe Joseph, duc d'Orléans, Palais Royal, Paris (by at least 1788, probably until d. 1793; mentioned in "Liste des tableaux destinés à la vente en Angleterre," drawn up in 1788, but not included in earlier inventories); Cabinet de M*** [possibly "Le Bas," as Lugt claims, but see remarks], until 1793; sale, Paillet, Paris, [April 26–27 on catalogue frontispiece, but sale postponed] May 10, 1793, no. 33, an Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne, sur toile, 26 po. x 26 po., sold for 1,370 livres); ?Khiening, Carinthia, Austria; Henri family, Germany; Jean-François-André Duval, St. Petersburg (until 1816) and Ghent (1816–45; sold entire collection to Morny); Charles-Auguste-Louis-Joseph de Morny, duc de Morny, Paris (1845–46; "Duval" sale, Phillips, London, May 12–13, 1846, no. 72, ill., for Fr 1,250); private collection (sale, Fischer, Lucerne, November 8–16, 2003, no. 1018, sold for CHF 550,000 to Williams]; [Adam Williams Fine Art, New York, 2003–4; sold to MMA]
Henri Sauval. Histoire et recherches des antiquités de la ville de Paris. Paris, 1724, vol. 2, p. 169, states that the oratory of the Queen's apartment in the Palais Royal is surrounded with paintings of the life and attributes of the Virgin and that these were produced by Champaigne, Vouet, Bourdon, and other contemporary artists working in competition which each other.
Liste des tableaux destinés à la vente en Angleterre. March 1788 [published in Victor Champier and G.-Roger Sandoz, "Le Palais-Royal d'après des documents inédits (1629–1900)," Paris, 1900, p. 521], lists a Marriage of the Virgin and an Annunciation, both by Philippe de Champaigne and neither followed by a sale date or sale price.
Casimir Stryienski. La Galerie du Régent Philippe, duc d'Orléans. Paris, 1913, pp. 99, 179, tentatively suggests that the Annunciation and the Marriage of the Virgin by Philippe de Champaigne listed in the 1788 inventory [see Ref. Palais Royal 1788] may be the works by Champaigne representing these subjects in the Wallace Collection, London.
Tony Sauvel. "L'appartement de la reine au Palais-Royal." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1968, (1970), p. 67, states that the pictures that decorated Anne of Austria's oratory at the Palais Royal were moved in 1651 to her apartment at Fontainebleau; notes that copies took their place.
Bernard Dorival. "Les oeuvres de Philippe de Champaigne sur le subjet de l'Annonciation." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, année 1970, (1972), pp. 50–51, ill. (engraving by Klauber based on 1812 drawing after this picture by Michailoff; reproduced from 1846 Duval sale catalogue), lists the paintings of this subject by Philippe de Champaigne in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century inventories and sale catalogues; mentions examples in the Le Bas and Duval sales of approximately the same dimensions, but does not connect them.
Bernard Dorival. Philippe de Champaigne, 1602–1674: La vie, l'œuvre, et le catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre. Paris, 1976, vol. 2, pp. 17, 140, no. 255, pl. 255 (Klauber engraving), dates the Marriage of the Virgin and an Annunciation [the Wallace Collection painting and present picture] which Champaigne produced for the Queen's oratory to about 1644, as she was widowed in 1643 and moved to the Palais Royal with her sons in the following year; offers as further evidence for this date the presence at the extreme right of the Marriage of the Virgin of a likeness of the painter's daughter Catherine as she would have appeared in about 1644, judging from her appearance in a 1647 drawing (Dorival no. 326); identifies the Annunciation by Philippe de Champaigne, sold as no. 33 in the Le Bas sale of 1793, with that sold in 1846 in the Duval sale [see ex. coll.]; states that the present location of this picture is unknown, but tentatively [and erroneously] identifies it with one of the scenes from the Life of the Virgin painted for the carmelite convent of Faubourg Saint-Jacques, or with one that hung in the church of Notre-Dame in Paris.
Mary Allden and Richard Beresford. "Two Altar-pieces by Philippe de Champaigne: Their History and Technique." Burlington Magazine 131 (June 1989), pp. 395–96, fig. 10 (Klauber engraving), publish a 1745 architectural drawing of the Palais Royal and suggest that a small oval room at the north-west corner of the building, marked "cabinet," and the rectangular "antichambre" to which it was connected comprised the oratory of Anne of Austria; conclude that the oratory measured no more than 7.3 x 5.85 meters in total; note that apart from the large Vouet on the main altar, the four works which can reasonably be assumed to have been part of its decoration are all painted on panel and comparatively small; conclude that the Annunciation in the Wallace Collection is too large to be the one mentioned in the 1788 inventory and suggest instead that the lost Annunciation by Champaigne from the 1846 Duval sale [the MMA picture] is the one in question.
John Ingamells. The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures. Vol. 3, French before 1815. London, 1989, pp. 94–95 n. 9, pp. 110, 112 n. 16, mentions the "lost" Annunciation from the 1846 Duval sale [the present work] in his discussion of Champaigne's Marriage of the Virgin (P119), also from the oratory of Anne of Austria; notes that the "simple classical pedestal" in the lost work "would be consistent with a date in the mid-1640s".
Jacques Thuillier Musée Fabre, Montpellier. Sébastien Bourdon, 1616–1671: Catalogue critique et chronologique de l'oeuvre complet. Paris, 2000, p. 233, mentions the "lost" Annunciation by Champaigne from the oratory of Anne of Austria.
Victor Franco de Baux. Letter to Derek Johns. January 13, 2004, states that the arms on one of the wax seals on the reverse of this picture appear to be those of the Khiening family of Carinthia, Austria; describes the crest on this seal as "a demi-man, holding in his right hand three arrows," but finds it difficult to see.
Victor Franco de Baux. Letter to Derek Johns. January 29, 2004, identifies the arms of the Henri family of Germany on one of the wax seals on the reverse: "Sable, on a mount of three peaks argent, a demi-griffon Or, Crest: A demi griffon Or".
Richard Beresford. "Philippe de Champaigne, 'Philippe, homme sage et vertueux': Essai sur l'art et l'oeuvre de Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674) . . . , by Lorenzo Pericolo, 2002." Burlington Magazine 146 (April 2004), p. 268, ill. p. 295.
Lorenzo Pericolo. "Two Paintings for Anne of Austria's Oratory at the Palais Royal, Paris: Philippe de Champaigne's 'Annunciation' and Jacques Stella's 'Birth of the Virgin'." Burlington Magazine 147 (April 2005), pp. 244–48, ill. (color), believes that a recently discovered panel, the Birth of the Virgin in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lille, is almost certainly part of the same cyle as the MMA panel; comments on the wax seals on the reverse of this picture, stating that "one of them [presumably with the large script "D"] confirms that it belonged to Duval," but provides no source for this information.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 151–55, no. 42, ill. (color), lists six related compositions.
Nicolas Sainte Fare Garnot inPhilippe de Champaigne (1602–1674): Entre politique et dévotion. Ed. Alain Tapié and Nicolas Sainte Fare Garnot. Exh. cat., Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Paris, 2007, p. 130, ill. (color), mentions it in relation to Champaigne's closely related Annunciation in the collégiale Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Montresor (215 x 170 cm), which he believes was made for the oratory or private chapel of Léon Bouthillier in Paris.
Keith Christiansen inPhilippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 34.
A pentiment visible to the naked eye shows that the angel originally had his foot on the pavement as is the case in Champaigne's "Annunciation" from about 1639 now in the church of Notre-Dame-du-Port at Clermont-Ferrand (Dorival no. 22).