Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France (1519-72) 1570s

 French School 

Portrait of Gaspard de Coligny, Admiral of France (1519-72),  French School
Oil on Panel
16th Century
20 x 9 inches, 23 x 51 cm
Probably Alexander Lenoir, Paris; Probably sold to George, 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1828; Probably Dukes of Sutherland, Stafford House, 19th Century; W Bundy, Berkshire; Adrensse collection, Parke Bernet, New York, 1948; Christies, London 19th November 1971 (as by Koninck); Alfred S. Karlsen, California, by whom sold to; Peter and Iselin Moller, by whom donated to; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, accession no.76.PB.42; Deaccessioned, 2007.
Probably ‘Collection of the Late M. Alexander Lenoir at Stafford House’, (mid-19th Century), no.38 ‘Gaspard de Coligny, Amiral’; D. Jaffé, ‘Summary Catalogue of European Paintings in the J.Paul Getty Museum’ (Malibu 1997) p.45, as French School, 16th Century, as ‘Portrait of Charles de Gondi, Seigneur de la Tour’.
This recently re-identified portrait is one of only a few likenesses of Gaspard de Coligny, the Huguenot leader at the outbreak of the French Wars of Religion. Until recently, the picture belonged to the John Paul Getty Museum in California, and was thought to show Charles de Gondi. However, the realisation that the picture was once a larger, half-length portrait has allowed a more definitive link to be made with the traditional identification of the sitter as Coligny. The surviving fragment can probably be traced back to the collection of Alexander Lenoir, the noted collector of French historical portraits, where it was known as Coligny, and then sold as such to the Dukes of Sutherland. Comparison with other portraits of Coligny confirms that identification, as do contemporary reports, such as descriptions of his ruddy complexion.

Coligny is one of the most significant figures in French sixteenth century history. He first came to prominence as a soldier fighting in Flanders and Italy in the early 1540s. In 1552 he was appointed Admiral of France, as much for his military skill as his being the nephew of the powerful Anne, duc de Montmorency, and led a number of other military campaigns, culminating in his capture by the Spanish after the siege of St Quentin in 1557. The turning point in his career came after his release in 1559, when he announced his conversion to Protestantism. As ever, religion and politics were inextricably linked, but Coligny’s conversion seems to have been sincere. It was primarily inspired by Calvinism – which would explain the missionary zeal that gripped Coligny for the rest of his life.

Coligny thus went on to become the leader of the French Protestants, or Huguenots. At first, he tried to reconcile the new young king, Charles IX and the regent Catherine de Medici to his views, but the two sides turned to force after the murder of Protestants at Vassy in 1562. Three separate campaigns of civil war followed before Coligny was re-admitted to court in 1571, following the peace of St. Germain in 1570. There he advocate war against Spain, partly as a means of unifying the country, but also to aid the rebellious Dutch protestants in the Spanish Netherlands. Catherine de Medici, however, refused to accept either this change in France’s foreign policy, or Coligny’s growing influence over the King. Her opposition led to the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which Coligny, along with hundreds of fellow Protestants, was brutally murdered in Paris in1572.
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