Life and Career of Robert Nanteuil
Birth of Robert Nanteuil in Reims, France, the son of Nicole Dizy and Lancelot Nanteuil, a wool merchant.
Nanteuil starts training with the engraver and etcher Nicolas Regnesson (c. 1616-1670), while studying rhetoric at the Benedictine school of the Abbey of Saint-Remi.
Nanteuil defends his philosophy thesis and illustrates it with an engraving (now lost).
Nanteuil marries Jeanne Regnesson, Nicolas’ sister.
Nanteuil begins to live off of his art; however, the print market in Reims is limited.
Nanteuil moves to Paris with his wife, hoping to find a more active market there.
Nanteuil engraves Vincent Voiture's portrait, his first interpretive print after Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), whose studio he likely frequented around that time.
Nanteuil also becomes acquainted with the dynamic milieu of printmakers, publishers and print sellers established on the rue Saint-Jacques near the Sorbonne. The proximity with the University is critical, as the print production at the time consists primarily in book and thesis illustrations – the two domains in which Nanteuil himself begins to specialize. Nanteuil’s portrait of François Molé (1649) is an early example of a commission the artist received for the decoration of a thesis, while his portrait of Antonie Le Paultre(or Le Pautre or Lepautre) (c. 1621-1679), engraved around 1653, was made to illustrate the book entitled Les Œuvres d’architecture d’Anthoine Le Paultre, Architecte ordinaire du Roy.
The English scholar John Evelyn, author of Sculptura; or, the History and Art of Chalcography, and Engraving in Copper (published 1662) sits for Nanteuil. The artist proceeds to engrave Evelyn's portrait on the copper plate, thus confirming his practice of drawing his sitter ad vivum, i.e., from life, then translating the portrait on the copper plate.
Nanteuil and twenty-eight other members of the Parisian print milieu succeed in stopping the architect François Mansart in his attempt to apply a tax on all the images printed in France. This event signals the beginning of Nanteuil’s adroit defense of his craft.
The etcher and theorist Abraham Bosse (1602/04-1676) publishes Moyen Universel de Pratiquer la Perspective sur les Tableaux ou Surfaces Irrégulières (Universal Method for Practicing Perspective on Pictures or Irregular Surfaces), in which he describes the principle of the raquette (racket) and its technical implications on the practice of engraving – an aspect he discussed with Nanteuil. This marks the beginning of Nanteuil’s theoretical engagement with his craft. However, unlike Bosse who taught perspective at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture from 1648 to 1661, Nanteuil never attempted to join the prestigious institution.
According to Filippo Baldinucci’s 1686 biography of Nanteuil, the artist increasingly focuses his artistic energy on the representation of his sitters’ faces, relying on studio assistants for the engraving of secondary elements (hair, costumes, fictive frames). His assistants include Louis Coquin dit Cossin (1627-1704), Gérard Edelinck (1640-1707) and Pierre van Schuppen (1627-1702).
The Cardinal Mazarin, Prime Minister to the Queen of France Anne of Austria, sits for Nanteuil for the first time (the drawing is lost). This shows the artist’s growing proximity to the Court. Nanteuil engraved a total of thirteen portraits of Mazarin. His 1659 portrait of the Cardinal was made after a painting by Pierre Mignard (1612-1695), as was his 1660 portrait of Anne of Austria.
Nanteuil is appointed Dessinateur et graveur en taille douce ordinaire du Roy (Designer and Engraver to the King) by Louis XIV. He takes his oath of fidelity to the King the following year in the presence of Godefroi-Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne, Third Duke of Bouillon. From then on, Nanteuil receives a pension of 1,000 livres per year.
Nanteuil writes his Réflexions ou maximes sur la peinture et la gravure (Reflections or Maxims on Painting and Engraving). They remained unpublished until 1861-63 but likely circulated during Nanteuil’s lifetime. Henri-Marcel Cadgène translated them into English in 1941.
Nanteuil begins to use pastel rather than pencil to draw his sitters, as his own self-portrait shows. The inscription faciebat, visible on the 1656 portrait of Marie de Bragelogne engraved after a drawing, would indicate that the artist used pencil to portray his sitter. In contrast, the inscription pingebat, visible on the 1669 portrait of Pierre Bouchu engraved after a pastel (now lost), would confirm Nanteuil’s use of the colored medium.
On May 26, 1660, Louis XIV ratifies the edict of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. In promoting engraving to the status of liberal art, this edict blocked the attempt by an individual named Lavenage to turn the engraver profession into a guild. As one of the authors of the document that persuaded the King to ratify the edict (Abrégé de quelques raisons contre l’établissement d’une maîtrise en l’art de la gravure en taille-douce), Nanteuil appears as a key defender of his profession. His main argument in favor of his medium was that engraving, which required genius, did not fulfill a basic human need but instead primarily sought to bring pleasure to its viewer.
Louis XIV sits for Nanteuil for the first time. The pastel is lost but served as the basis for the 1666 engraved portrait of the Sun-King.
Louis XIV grants Nanteuil a twenty-year privilege recognizing the artist’s monopoly over the printing and selling of his work. Nanteuil’s inclusion of the inscription cum privilegio Regis on the 1661 portrait of Michel Le Tellier, absent from the 1659 portrait of the same sitter, refers to this newly acquired privilege.
The scale of Nanteuil’s prints starts to increase, as shown by the large 1665 portrait of the Viscount of Turenne.
Once again, Nanteuil, joined by other Parisian engravers, intervenes with the King in favor of the freedom of his profession, this time opposing Sébastien Pontault de Beaulieu’s attempt to obtain the monopoly over the engraving, printing and selling of subject matters pertaining to Louis XIII and Louis XIV’s conquests. Their plea is heard.
At the request of Cosimo III of Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, the aspiring portraitist Domenico Tempesti (1652-after 1718) settles in Nanteuil’s house and starts training with him. Tempesti returned to Italy after his master’s death, bringing back with him the Reflections or maxims. He complemented them with an account of Nanteuil’s pastel practice, Avverti et regole del Maestro per ritrarre dal natural in pastello, translated into English by Cadgène under the title Advice for the Execution of Portraits in Pastel as Recorded by his Pupil Domenico Tempesti (1941).
In the wake of a fever that struck him while he was portraying Louis XIV at Versailles, Nanteuil dies at his Paris home on December 9. His wife Jeanne dies the following year (June 25, 1879).