The Best Portraits in Engraving

Nanteuil was an artist of different character, being to Masson as Vandyck to Visscher, with less of vigor than beauty. His original genius was refined by classical studies,Nanteuil. and quickened by diligence. Though dying at the age of forty-eight, he had executed as many as two hundred and eighty plates, nearly all portraits. The favor he enjoyed during life was not diminished with time. His works illustrate the reign of Louis XIV., and are still admired. Among these are portraits of the King, Annie of Austria, John Baptiste van Steenberghen, the Advocate-General of Holland, a heavy Dutchman, François de la Motte Le Vayer, a fine and delicate work, Turenne, Colbert, Lamoignon, the poet Loret, Maridat de Serrière, Louise-Marie de Gonzague, Louis Hesselin, Christine of Sweden—all masterpieces; but above these is the Pompone de Bellièvre, foremost among his masterpieces, and a chief masterpiece of art, being, in the judgment of more than one connoisseur, the most beautiful engraved portrait that exists. That excellent authority, Dr. Thies, who knew engraving more thoroughly and sympathetically than any person I remember in our country, said in a letter to myself, as long ago as March, 1858:

"When I call Nanteuil's Pompone the handsomest engraved portrait, I express a conviction to which I came when I studied all the remarkable engraved portraits at the royal cabinet of engravings at Dresden, and at the large and exquisite collection there of the late King of Saxony, and in which I was confirmed or perhaps, to which I was led, by the director of the two establishments, the late Professor Frenzel."

And after describing this head, the learned connoisseur proceeds:—

"There is an air of refinement, vornehmheit, round the mouth and nose as in no other engraving. Color and life shine through the skin, and the lips appear red."

It is bold, perhaps, thus to exalt a single portrait, giving to it the palm of Venus; nor do I know that it is entirely proper to classify portraits according to beauty. In disputing about beauty, we are too often lost in the variety of individual tastes, and yet each person knows when he is touched. In proportion as multitudes are touched, there must be merit. As in music a simple heart-melody is often more effective than any triumph over difficulties, or bravura of manner, so in engraving the sense of the beautiful may prevail over all else, and this is the case with the Pompone, although there are portraits by others showing higher art.

No doubt there have been as handsome men, whose portraits were engraved, but not so well. I know not if Pompone was what would be called a handsome man, although his air is noble and his countenance bright. But among portraits more boldly, delicately, or elaborately engraved, there are very few to contest the palm of beauty.

Pompone de Bellièvre

(Painted by Charles Le Brun, and Engraved by Robert Nanteuil.)

And who is this handsome man to whom the engraver has given a lease of fame? Son, nephew, and grandson of eminent magistrates, high in the nobility of the robe, with two grandfathers chancellors of France, himself at the head of the magistry of France, first President of Parliament according to inscription on the engraving, Senatus Franciæ Princeps, ambassador to Italy, Holland, and England, charged in the latter country by Cardinal Mazarin with the impossible duty of making peace between the Long Parliament and Charles the First, and at his death, great benefactor of the General Hospital of Paris, bestowing upon it riches and the very bed on which he died. Such is the simple catalogue, and yet it is all forgotten.