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Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne, viscount of Turenne
© RMN-Grand Palais (Palace of Versailles) / image RMN-GP
Publication date: September 2019
Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director
A portrait of uncertain attribution
If the identification of the model is not in doubt - it is Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, viscount of Turenne (1611-1675) -, the date of completion of the work and its precise attribution remain uncertain to this day. We can infer from Turenne's features that he would be between thirty and forty years old, which could suggest that the painter made his canvas during the 1640s. Marshal of France since 1643, Turenne has contributed to the military greatness of the kingdom of the lilies during the campaigns led at the head of the so-called German army during the last phase of the Thirty Years' War.
The similarities in composition and style between this work and several contemporary portraits of the Grand Condé or Gaston d´Orléans by Juste d´Egmont make it possible to attribute the portrait of Turenne to the latter. Returned to the Netherlands in 1650, Juste d´Egmont therefore probably painted Turenne soon after his accession to the Marshalate, as the stick wielded by the model seems to attest.
A general worthy of Roman warlords
In the foreground, Turenne poses with a form of nonchalant grace, his left hand resting slightly above the hip, the right vigorously holding a staff of command pointed at a war scene in the background. Turenne stares at the viewer, seeming to invite him to participate in a military reality rewritten in connection with Antiquity. Portrait full-length, Turenne wears the outfit of a Roman general offbeat both with the dark forest environment in which he is painted and with that in which he really practiced the profession of arms under Louis XIV.
In the shadow of the forest canopy, to the right of the composition, stands a black servant wearing the general's plumed helmet. In the left background, a fight pits a few horsemen against each other, a discreet reminder of the weapons by which Turenne has won his prestige.
A form of allegory of military command built in echoes of the unbreakable victories of Roman imperial glory, Turenne embodies the strategy and direction of war. Large red enveloping cape, golden tunic, bare arms and legs, the general could appear in transvestite and thus yield to the fashion of the return to Antiquity, whereas he is here above all an heir, that of the great warlords of the Antiquity.
The glory of Turenne
The juxtaposition of the generally antique portrait and the decor creates an impression of shift, already perceptible in two portraits of the Prince of Condé by Juste d'Egmont, in which the painter uses the same process of apparent domination and grandeur of the prince over events. . One might think that Juste d´Egmont thus uses a sort of pictorial leitmotif to celebrate the greatness of the two most prestigious generals of his time. Thus compared to almost identical portraits of Condé and Gaston d 'Orléans, this painting gives Turenne immense glory, since he belongs by the brush to a line of generals who are members of the royal family.
Thanks to his status as a foreign prince - the La Tour d'Auvergne have the Duchy of Bouillon and the sovereign principality of Sedan -, his family relations of very high nobility, his ambition and despite his Calvinist confession, Turenne can quickly command and give proof of his military talent at the head of the German army. The campaigns of 1644, 1645, 1646 and 1648 impose Turenne as a great strategist of the war of movement.
The portrait of Turenne in general Roman, painted at the beginning of the recognition of the viscount as great captain, contributes to the manufacture of the military glory which remains attached to him for posterity. It is part of the ancient reference in vogue in Ancien Régime France, drawing its roots and models from the illustrious memory of the Greek and Roman conquerors. However, it was produced at a time when a "modern" artistic and literary consciousness is beginning to emerge by desecrating Antiquity as an absolute reference.
- Turenne (Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne)
- Thirty Years' War
- Grand Condé
- official portrait
- Orleans (Gaston d ')
- Old regime
- Louis XIV
- Acadamy of Arts
Thierry BAJOU, Painting in Versailles 17th century, Paris, Meeting of national museums, Buchet / Chastel, 1998.
Jean BÉRANGER, Turenne, Paris, Fayard, 1987.
Id., "Turenne", in François BLUCHE (dir.), Dictionary of the Grand Siècle, Fayard, revised and corrected edition, 2005.
To cite this article
Jean HUBAC, "Portrait of Turenne in general Roman"