Historical Portraits Picture Archive

A portrait enamel of a young man, wearing black doublet, lawn collar with tassels, his hair worn long and curled circa 1675

Swiss School circa 1675

A portrait enamel of a young man, wearing black doublet, lawn collar with tassels, his hair worn long and curled, Swiss School
Enamel on gold
Oval, 32mm (1 1/4in) high
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This characterful enamel, dating to the 1670s, depicts a young man wearing a full wig and fine lace collar. The initials of this unknown man are painted on the counter enamel, flanked by palm branches (traditionally symbols of peace or eternal life).

Although it has not been possible to identify, with any certainty, an artist for this enamel, at this date, enamel portraits often have strong associations with the goldsmithing or watch-making communities centered around Geneva or Paris. This enamel shares some characteristics with the painted enamels by Jean-Pierre and Amy Huaud, who went into partnership in Geneva in 1682 and worked in Berlin from 1686 until 1700. The oval shape of this portrait, however, denotes that it was painted as a stand-alone portrait, rather than as a watch case.

This portrait also shares some traits with the work of the French enamellist Josias Barbette (1657-1732). A slightly later enamel by Barbette in the Victoria and Albert Museum (dating to circa 1690) , also has a cipher on the counter enamel, albeit more sophisticated in design. Barbette was trained by his father, Frederic Barbette, although he eventually outshone him, producing work of great finesse in enamel. He left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, working then in Geneva and Copenhagen. The pose of the sitter and the great attention lavished by the artist on the hair and lace collar suggest at the very least an awareness of the work of Barbette.

The artist of this portrait was clearly aware of the tradition of both English and French portrait miniatures. This is reflected in the blue background behind the sitter echoing the azurite pigment employed particularly by British and French limners of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. It is an unusual colour as a background for the miniatures painted in the later seventeenth century, although the vastly influential Samuel Cooper (1607/9-1672) occasionally used this paler blue in his late miniatures.
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