Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 160 x 202 cm
Signed: dated and inscribed on the artist’s portfolio left of centre: …/…/par fra…/De Troy/En 17…/…/…/donné/par/s.a./Monseigneur/le duc du Maine
Duke and Duchess du Maine; Count Horace de Choiseul; His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, May 7, 1897, lot 1; de Boisgelin collection; His sale, Paris Galerie George Petit, May 20 – 21, 1898, lot 200; Private Collection, England; With Wildenstein, New York, from whom purchased; Private Collection, Indianapolis.
Le Mercure de France, May 1730, p. 260; A.J. Dézallier d’Aregenville, Abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintures…, Paris 1762, IV, p. 221; C-M. Saugrain, Curiosités de Paris, Versailles, Vincennes, Saint-Cloud et des environs, vol. I, Paris 1778, p. 124-125; C. Blanc, “François de Troy,” in Histoires des Peintres de toutes les écoles françaises, Paris 1862, I, p. 4; Liste des tableaux et des ouvrages de sculpture exposes dans la grande galerie du Louvre par Messieurs les peintres et sculpteurs de l’Académie royale, en la présente année 1704, Paris, 1704, édition de Jules Guiffrey, Collection des livrets des anciennes expositions depuis 1673 jusqu’en 1800, Exposition de 1704, Paris, 1869, p. 23; E. B. de La Chavignerie and L. Auvray, Dictionnaire général des artistes de l’Ecole française, vol. II, Paris, 1885, p. 597; P. Marcel, La Peinture Française au début du dix-huitième siècle, 1690 – 1721, Paris, n.d., , p.202; J. Guiffrey, “Table des peintures, sculptures et gravures exposées aux salons du XVIIIe siècle de 1673 à 1800,” in Archives de l’Art français, Nouvelle période, volume IV, 1910, p. 42; H. Vollmer, “Troy, François de,” inAllemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler, edited by U. Thieme and F. Becker, vol. XXXIII, Leipzig 1939, p. 440; P. Detroy, “François de Troy, 1645 – 1730,” Études d’Art publiées par le Musée National des Beaux-Arts d’Alger, nos. 11 – 12, 1955-1959, p. 247; H. Bardon, “Les Peintures à sujets antiques au XVIIIe siècle d’après les livrets des Salons,” in Gazette des Beaux-arts, 6ème pér., vol. LXI, April 1963, pp. 220, 229; L. de Saint-Simon, Mémoires complets et authentiques de Louis de Saint-Simon, duc et pair de France, text annotated by Adolphe Chéruel, volume X, Paris 1966, p. 58; J. Cailleux, “Some Family and Group Portraits by François de Troy (1645 – 1730),” in Burlington Magazine, CXIII, no. 817, April 1971 (supplement), pp. xiii, xiv-xv, xviii, notes 71-75. illustrated p. xv, fig. 10; A.P. de Mirimonde, L’Iconographie musicale sous les rois Bourbons: la musique dans les arts plastiques (XVIIe-XViiie siècles), vol. II, Paris 1977, pp. 95-96, and note 46; Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, Le Portrait toulousain de 1550 à 1800, 1987 – 1988, pp. 108; 113, under no. 67; G. Poisson, “La Leçon d’astronomie de la duchesse du Maine, par François de Troy,” in La Revue du Louvre, no. 4, 1989, pp. 242; 244, note 30, illustrated, p. 242, fig.7; C.B. Bailey, The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David, 1992, pp. 545, 560; P. Ramade, Century of Splendour: Seventeenth-century French Painting in French Public Collections, 1993, p. 361, cited under no. 128, reproduced fig. 1; D. Brême, François de Troy 1645-1730, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 1997, p. 9, 14-17, reproduced p. 16.; D. Brême, François de Troy, Paris 1997, pp. 60-64, 86, 92, 105, 160, 165, 183, reproduced p. 61 (overall) and pp. 62 – 63 (color details); D. Brême, “François de Troy, L’art du portrait sous Louis XIV,” in Dossier de l’art, cat. no. 37, April 1997, p. 38; J.-L. Gourdin, La duchesse du Maine, Paris
1999, p. 122-123; D. Brême, Le festin de Didon et Enée, de nouveaux invités à la cour de Sceaux, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2003-2004, p. 9-12, reproduced p. 7, 8, 10, 14, 34, 57, 76.
Paris, Salon, 1704, p. 23 (as “Didon & Enée dans un festin”) Toulouse, Musée des Augustins, Le Portrait toulousain de 1550 à 1800, 1987 – 1988, pp. 108; 113, under no. 67.
This magnificent group portrait may be considered the masterpiece of François de Troy, a painter better known for his history paintings and single or two figure portraits than multi figured works on this ambitious scale. The artist’ s father, also Francois De Troy was a painter of portraits in the Flemish style and his grandfather, Antoine de Troy, 1608-1684) a portraitist of some local renown; an uncle, Jean De Troy (1638-1691) founded the academy at Montpellier. Brought up in the Languedoc where he received the early artistic training from his father and probably from the more talented painter Antoine Durand, he moved to Paris in 1662 to study with Claude Lefebvre and Nicolas-Pierre Loir, marrying the latter’ s sister-in-law in 1669. Agrée at the Royal Academy in 1671 he was received as an Academician in 1674; shortly thereafter he received his first notable commission, a series of tapestry designs, from Mme de Montespan.
The principal figure in our painting, Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Duke du Maine (1670-1736) and his brother, the Count of Toulouse were two of several bastard children of Louis XIV invested with enormous wealth by their indulgent father. The Duke du Maine and the Count of Toulouse owed much to their extraordinary mother, the beautiful Françoise-Athénaïs de Rochechouart-Mortemart (1641-1707), a daughter of the Marquis, later 1st Duke of Mortemart. Mme de Montespan bore the King seven children, entrusting their education to her friend and protégé, Mme Scarron, the future Madame de Maintenon who would later replace Athénaïs in the King’ s affections and became his second, secret wife. Athénaïs’ s children by Louis XIV were legitimised in 1673 and raised to the rank of Princes du Sang in 1714 (this status was later denied them, in a 1717 edict of Louis XV), causing considerable resentment on the part of those born to that august rank. Louis-Auguste was created Duke du Maine when just three years old and subsequently inherited from his father’ s cousin, the Grande Mademoiselle, the small quasi-sovereign principality of Dombes and the county of Eu, with its splendid château. In 1692 he married the sixteen year old Louise-Bénédicte de Bourbon, called Mademoiselle de Charolais, and they enjoyed what was to be a remarkably happy married life together. As the daughter of Henri-Jules de Bourbon, Price de Condé, a cousin of the King descended from the younger brother of his grandfather, Henri IV, she was a princess of the Blood Royal and her marriage to a legitimated bastard occasioned much critical comment, compensated, somewhat by the Duke’ s considerable wealth.
Louis-Auguste was the King’ s favourite son but his appointment in 1715 as a member of the council of Regency and guardian and tutor of the five year old Louis XV in the King’ s Testament, along with the latter’ s nephew, the Duke of Orléans, proved impossible for the royal family, peers and Paris Parliament to accept and Maine was deprived of his position. After conspiring late in 1718 with the Prince of Cellamare, an agent of the King’ s grandson, Philip V, King of Spain, to insure the latter’ s succession in the event of the death of Louis XV, the Duke and Duchess were arrested; he was imprisoned while she was expelled from court and exiled to Dijon. Following the Duke’ s release in 1720 they returned to Sceaux, where they spent the remainder of their lives. The young couple’ s principal residence was the château of Sceaux, which they acquired from the heirs of the Marquis de Seignelay, the son of Louis XIV’ s great minister, Jean-Baptiste de Colbert. Sceaux, originally a much more modest house, had been enlarged by Colbert after he acquired it in 1670 and its gardens redesigned by the great Le Nôtre, architect of the park of Versailles. The chateau was augmented by Colbert with two flanking wings, a chapel with the ceiling by Charles Le Brun, an orangerie and walled and terraced formal garden opening up to the park beyond. When Colbert died, his son, the Marquis de Seignelay, entirely redecorated the interiors in a more fashionable style, but following the death of his widow in 1699 the estate was put up for sale, to be acquired by the young Duke and his wife in 1700. They did little to the exterior of the château aside from adding, in 1704, a Pavillon de Menagerie, but acquired furniture and decorations concordant with the latest fashions in decoration. The Duke’ s vast wealth and the couple’ s hedonistic lifestyle brought them some considerable notoriety; well-educated, interested equally in science and the arts, the Duchess surrounded herself with poets, comedians, musicians, dancers, as well as leading intellectuals. While sometimes accused of decadence and their indulgences criticised by the more censorious members of the royal court, the Duke and Duchess possessed qualities which attracted the best and worst elements of early 18th century society. The Duke’ s old tutor described life at Sceaux as ‘a prison boat for the witty.’
In 1703 the Duchess invented for her own amusement an imaginary chivalric order she named the Ordre de la Mouche à Miel or the Order of the ‘ Fly to Honey.’ It comprised, like the French Academy, forty members; she presided over it as the Reine des Abeilles (Queen Bee). Some praised the Duchess’ s charm, wit and imagination; others scorned her extravagance and folly. Saint-Simon disliked the Duke, despite having at one time admired his mother, and scorned the Duchess; his friendship with the Duke of Orléans and his outrage at the advancement of the royal bastards inevitably placed him among the critics of both the Duke and the Duchess’ s father, the Prince de Condé. Among the regular guests at Sceaux were the playwright-priest the Abbé Charles-Claude Genest, the poet and academician François-Joseph de Beaupoil, Marquis of Saint-Aulaire (called by the Duchess Apollon) the Duke of la Force, the Duchess of Nevers, Charles-Jean-François Hénault d’Armorezan called the President Hénault, a distinguished amateur poet and composer, the Duchess of Brissac, the author Bernard Le Bouyer de Fontenelle, the political theorist and philosopher Charles Baron de Montesquieu, the dramatist Antoine Houdart de la Motte, and in later years the young Jean-Baptiste Rousseau and even Voltaire, who wrote his play, Zadig (or La Destinée, of 1748), there. The ducal guests would typically pass their evenings watching the Duchess act in plays and masques, play cards and enter lotteries, with fireworks lighting the sky. The Duke was to die in 1736 but his widow survived him by some seventeen years: at her death Sceaux passed in turn to each of their surviving sons. De Troy’ s excellent relationship with the Marquise de Montespan, whose portrait he had painted, led the Duke to choose him to celebrate and memorialise on canvas life at his court. De Troy had earlier painted several portrait of the ducal couple; one of Duke was destroyed during the bombing of Dresden, but portraits of the Duchess in conversation with Malézieu and enjoying an astronomy lesson have survived, the latter acquired recently for the Château de Sceaux. It was no doubt the romantic and celebratory aspects of the story of Dido and Aeneas rather than the tragic end to their romance that attracted the Duke and Duchess to this subject. Our painting is singular in the history of French painting: never had a portraitist united in a large-scale work such a number of accurately depicted models, each with their particular physiognomy. Along with the portraits of the princely family, the companions in their revels were also included, something that had never been permitted at Versailles. The rigid protocol of the French court dictated that a group portrait should not place a person of princely rank in equal position with those of lesser rank. To accomplish this without diminishing the status of his august patrons the artist disguised the Duke and Duchess in a carefully chosen subject from antiquity, the feast of Dido and Aeneas. Dido, the daughter of the King of Tyre and Queen of Carthage in her own right, was of course born a royal princess, while Aeneas was the son of the goddess Venus by a mere Trojan shepherd. This made immediate and obvious reference to the Duke’ s ambiguous birth, even though it was with his father that the parallel of divinity should have been made, while the Duchess surely intended to draw an analogy between the splendid court she had established at Sceaux and Dido’ s mythical foundation of Carthage.
Virgil’ s Aeneid recounts how Aeneas, separated by a storm from his fellow fugitives from Troy, had been washed ashore on the North African coast. There, Venus disguised her son cupid as Aeneas’ s own and, when Dido embraced the boy, she was promptly overcome with desire for the handsome Aeneas. After a glorious period of passionate lovemaking and hedonistic indulgence, Aeneas departed for Italy where his sons founded the city of Rome. Dido, devastated by his departure, built a funeral pyre in the city, and unable to bear the loss of her love consigned herself to the flames. The Duke and Duchess naturally chose for themselves the principal roles in this elaborate tableau, while their eldest surviving son, the Prince de Dombes, plays cupid. Here he is shown being presented to the Duchess-Queen by her Master of Ceremonies and close confident, Nicolas de Malézieu, a distinguished man of letters, hellenist and mathematician. The Abbé Genest is perhaps the figure to their left. Behind Malézieu, De Troy (like Aeneas, ‘ of Troy’ ), who was justly proud of this painting and his participation in life at Sceaux, included himself standing in front of a column wearing classical costume, in the act of drawing. Behind the Duchess stands her sons’ tutor, Malézieu’ s wife, Françoise Faudel. The younger ducal children, the Count of Eu and the new born Duke of Aumale (who died aged four, in 1708) are pictured in the lower right of the composition, the baby in the arms of a wet nurse. To the left of Madame de Malézieu can be seen the Countess de Chambonas, a maid of honour to the Duchess, who remained faithful to her mistress through her exile and return. The Countess d’ Estrées (a frequent and talented participant in the court’ s plays) is portrayed behind, with other figures that have yet to be identified. The painting was begun in 1704, a few weeks after the birth of the Duke of Aumale and was exhibited at the Salon du Louvre that same year. Its considerable impact was later noted in the artist’ s obituary, published in the Mercure de France in 1730: “He joined, thereafter, the two talents of history painting and portrait painting in several family paintings of an unparalleled taste, among which we have to mention the one painted for the Duc du Maine. [It was] a work of astonishing composition due to the staggering amount of figures he included …[This is] a painting that one can call the ultimate endeavour in painting and a masterpiece of art.”