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Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret, 1782-1863

Study for Fra Filippo Lippi Enslaved in Algiers, Painting a Portrait of His Captor

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Previously identified simply as An Artist Drawing a Turk, we now believe the present sheet to be a study for a painting (location unknown) exhibited in the Salon of 1819, the subject of which was taken from Vasari's Lives of the Artists and depicted a scene from the biography of Filippo Lippi.1 Vasari wrote that the artist and his friends were captured at sea by Moors, who took them as slaves to Algiers. Lippi remained in captivity for eighteen months and, so the story goes, won his release when he picked up a piece of charcoal from a fire and drew his captor's portrait on a white wall. Among Muslims, who had no such tradition of naturalistic representation, the act was regarded as a miracle deserving of liberation.

A student of Jacques-Louis David, Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret employed a friezelike composition and planar arrangement of space in his treatment of the narrative. The linear perspective of the stone floor and the strong geometry of the walls, doors, and balustrade of the courtyard form a tight grid that unifies the two pyramidal figures. Yet the divide between master and servant or patron and artist is articulated in the emphatic vertical that defines the edge of the wall on which Lippi draws. The artist, whose left hand is chained to his left foot, has his back to the spectator, his face cast in shadow, while his captor is shown frontally in three-quarter view. The drawn image itself is shown in greater intensity and is placed on a higher level than the artist who is its creator. The wall blocks Lippi's exit and confines him to the space before the picture. The artist is bound, both compositionally and iconographically, within the context of the frame. The patron/captor, however, is placed near a door that leads to the outside, and he places his hand on the wall, barring the artist's escape.

The illustration of Lippi's "liberation" is one in a series that Bergeret made exploring the theme of the tense relationship between artists and their patrons. The earliest one, Honors Given to Raphael After His Death, was exhibited at the Salon of 1806 and won a Grand Prix. Napoleon purchased the painting and subsequently commissioned drawings for the Vendôme column as well as many projects at the Sèvres porcelain factory. Others in the series include Charles V Picking Up Titian's Brush; Titian Painting Francis I; Blind Michelangelo Touching an Antique Torso; and the Funeral of Poussin.

Whether Bergeret related more closely with the enslaved or the liberated Lippi is unclear. It is interesting to note that this work was under way when his relationship with the Opéra Comique, for whom he had worked for many years, was becoming strained. Only a year after the painting was displayed at the Salon, Bergeret filed a court case against his employer to settle a financial dispute. After that time, it was very diffcult for him to secure offcial commissions, although he continued to show at the annual Salons until 1853. Disillusioned, he wrote letters trying to dissuade a friend from allowing his three sons to become artists: "[If] you believe you are giving them a "sure thing" and are assuring them of a future, you are completely wrong. Before entrusting me with the instruction of your eldest son, I must in all good conscience warn you of the risks he will run, of the setbacks he will suffer, and of all sorts of miseries he will have to endure."2

fig 1, Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret, Fra Filippo Lippi Enslaved in Algiers, Painting a Portrait of His Captor, etching, 1838. The Baltimore Museum of Art, 2003.22Bergeret is better known as a printmaker and for his contributions to the development of lithography in France, introducing one of the earliest examples in 1804 with a copy after Raphael's Mercury from the Villa Farnesina in Rome. He published an etching of Filippo Lippi Enslaved in Algiers (1838; fig. 1), which signals his continued interest in the subject of the beleaguered artist.3 Made about twenty years after his painting, the print is highly finished and replete with details, such as the black servant carrying a peacock fan and the vase of flowers on the stone basin at the right, making apparent the preparatory nature of the present drawing. Cheryl K. Snay

1. The entry for no. 56 in the Salon catalogue reads, "Philippe Lippi, peintre Florentine esclave en Barbarie, ce malheureux peintre gémissait depuis dix-huit mois dans l'esclavage, lorsqu'un jour, il s'avisa de prendre du charbon et de tracer sur une muraille le portrait de son maître; la resemblance frappe si fort ce barbare, qu'il lui rendu sa liberté en le comblant de présens."

See P. Sanchez and X. Seydoux, Les Catalogues des salons des beaux-arts (1801-1819) (Paris, 1999), 1:324.

2. C. Gabet, ed., Lettres d'un Artiste sur l'état des arts en France (Paris, 1848), 38.

3. A state of the print avant-la-lettre is in the collection at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Medium: Pen and iron gall ink, brush and brown wash, over graphite on beige, medium-weight, slightly textured wove paper
Dimensions: Sheet: 178 x 265 mm.
Date: before 1819
Category: portrait/historical
Subject: Artist Orientalism
Alternate Title: Philippe Lippi esclav? ? Algers
Inscriptions and Markings: RECTO: LR, ink, '1819 / Bergeret'; VERSO: TRC, graphite, 'B'; UR, graphite, 'No 12'; UR, crayon, '1'; URQ, crayon, '215'; RC, graphite, '[illegible] / picture / at [illegible]'
Provenance: Maryland State Archives by transfer, 1996; Johns Hopkins University by transfer, 1979; Peabody Institute, Baltimore, by bequest, 1893; Charles J. M. Eaton (1807-1893), Baltimore.
Collection: State of Maryland Archives: Peabody Collection
Credit Line: The Peabody Art Collection. Courtesy of the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property of the Maryland State Archives, on loan to The Baltimore Museum of Art MSA SC 4680-13-0000
Object Number: R.11826.362