Title: André le Nôtre, building inspector and designer of the King's Gardens
Author : MARATTA Carlo (1625 - 1713)
Creation date : 1679 -
Dimensions: Height 112 cm - Width 85 cm
Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas
Storage location: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website
Contact copyright: Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Marc Manaï
Picture reference: 13-526188 / MV3545
André le Nôtre, building inspector and designer of the King's Gardens
© Palace of Versailles, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Marc Manaï
Publication date: April 2017
University of Evry-Val d'Essonne
Souvenir from Italy
This portrait was sketched during a trip by André Le Nôtre (1613-1700) to Italy during the summer of 1679. He must inquire about the progress of works commissioned by the king, such as the equestrian statue of Louis XIV executed by Le Bernini (1598-1680). At the beginning of August, a letter from Colbert mentions the painter Carlo Maratta (1625-1713) whom Le Nôtre met a few days later through Charles Errard (1606-1689), director of the Académie de France. . It was probably on this occasion that the gardener commissioned his portrait from the Italian master.
Protected by great patrons, Maratta is the famous artist in Rome. He sketched this portrait before Le Nôtre’s departure at the end of August 1679. The painting was completed and shipped later, with other commissions from the King of France, such as the scene Apollo and Daphne. During the XVIIIe century, the portrait was restored by Robert Picault, before its acquisition in 1822 by the Louvre Museum from a certain Lespinasse de Langeac. It circulated within the Royal House of Saint-Denis, the Château de Compiègne and finally integrated the collections of the Palace of Versailles after 1837.
The master of gardens
The figure of the royal servant covers most of the canvas. Born into a family of King's Gardeners, André Le Nôtre was then 66 years old. He is represented at the waist, with a profile of three quarters, the gaze turned to the right. He sports a large wig and a black satin suit. The latter is enhanced at the collar and sleeves with fine lace, also with the cord of the royal order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem, of which he was knighted in August 1681. He holds in his right hand a roll of paper which reminds us that the exercise of his garden art involves the conception of multiple projects on plans. Her left hand, open, suggests the presentation of an achievement.
A column appears in the background to the right, while on the opposite, a wooded and green landscape recalls Le Nôtre's privileged field of intervention: the gardens. However, the meaning of his action, which consists of "domesticating" nature around geometric patterns characteristic of French gardens, gives way here to a seemingly messy scene. The Italian painter and his collaborators probably lacked information to further relate the subject to its object. Gardener to the king since 1637, his reputation is well established. He multiplied the ambitious and innovative projects which made him a renowned artist in France and in Europe, such as the emblematic gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte, Fontainebleau or Versailles.
Plant arts in the service of the king
The association of architecture and gardens echoes the office occupied since May 1657 by Le Nôtre: Counselor to the King, Comptroller General of Buildings, Gardens, Arts and Manufactures. This function is placed under the authority of Colbert, superintendent and general manager of the King's Buildings and Secretary of State at the King's House. The latter knows how to surround himself with faithful servants and renowned artists who maintain the image of King Louis XIV, patron of the arts, letters and sciences.
According to Nicolas Milovanovic, this portrait constitutes a "tribute to Colbert" by the artist Maratta. This production of Le Nôtre also shows the control that the king intends to exercise over men and things, including nature. Faithful servant, the artist-gardener is covered with honors by a king in love with gardens who is also the author of a Way of showing the gardens of Versailles. Known in 1675, André Le Nôtre enjoyed constant esteem from the sovereign. His fame is confirmed by the production of engraved versions of this portrait by Antoine Masson (1636-1700) and John Smith (1654-1742).
- Louis XIV
- Colbert (Jean-Baptiste)
- Le Nôtre (André)
Patricia BOUCHENOT-DÉCHIN, André Le Nôtre, Paris, Fayard, 2013.
C. GABILLOT, "The portraits of Le Nôtre", Gazette of Fine Arts, 1st half of 1913, p. 319-332.
F. HAMILTON HAZLEHURST, Gardens of illusion: the genius of André Le Nostre, Paris, Somogy art editions, 2005.
Nicolas MILOVANOVIC, "Painted and engraved portraits of André Le Nôtre: the construction of an image", in Georges FARHAT and Patricia BOUCHENOT-DÉCHIN, André Le Nôtre in perspective, Paris, Hazan, 2013, p. 52-59.
To cite this article
Stéphane BLOND, "The King's Gardener: André le Nôtre"