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HOME > Short Stories > The Gentle Art of Faking > CHAPTER XI MAZARIN AS A COLLECTOR
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   Collectors of the seventeenth century in France—Louis XIII—Richelieu—Mazarin and his advisers—Louis XIV as an art lover—Vaillant’s strange case—Sanson, the hangman, collecting pictures—The second collection of Cardinal Mazarin—Its partial destruction through the Cardinal’s nephew—The medailles insolentes under Louis XIV—Epigrams on collectors—Duke of Orleans’ ill-fated collection.

We must now give our attention to France as the most prominent country in all that concerns collections of art, because the same conditions appear here that are vanishing from Italy. In the seventeenth century Paris had a well-established market of antiquities, authentic and spurious masterpieces, articles of virtu, etc.; there were also collectors of all types, dealers and the whole assemblage of wise and foolish, honest and dishonest, peculiar to the commerce when it finds its proper market.

Broadly speaking, in the seventeenth century every Parisian seems to have been a collector of something or other. Painting as a rule is given the preference.

It is about this time that Italy, however rich through the daily excavation of antique works of sculpture, no longer seemed to suffice to the greedy demand of France. Peiresse sent his emissaries to Mount Athos, Syria and Africa in search of finds, Tavernier, Thévenet, Lucas, Chardin and Gallant scoured the world in quest of antiquities and rarities both for themselves and for the King of France. Vaillant, one of the most efficient of these hunters, went to the East, sent by Louis XIV, who too has joined the ring of collectors and in a kingly way played the rôle of art amateur. On his return journey Vaillant was caught by pirates, but managing115 to escape embarked for Europe. On the way to France the vessel for the second time met the corsairs. They were seen in the distance and were expected to attack at any moment. The ship was able to escape, but fearing to be caught again and of losing the valuable collection of coins and medals he was bringing to Europe, Vaillant swallowed twenty of the best pieces in order to save them from any possible danger of being taken. This odd story, with its consequences, is related in detail by M. Weiss in his Biographie Universelle, with such French frankness as to forbid any attempt at translation.

Besides monarchs, the princes, noblemen and simple middle class of all conditions seemed to be collectors at this period. The passion for collecting numbers names such as Richelieu and Mazarin, among antiquaries, amateurs and dealers were Jabach and others. The number and importance of art collections, as well as of intelligent art lovers in France during the seventeenth century, can be gathered from the many publications on this century. They are many, and most of the contemporary ones are quite documentary and important for the number of collectors they mention. We may quote among them the Itinerarium Galliæ, 1612, by Just Zinzerling, a German signing himself Jodocus Sincerus, Abraham Golnitz’s Ulysses Belgico-Gallico, a work written in 1631 dealing with the collections of medals and painting that the author found in France during his journey. There is also the Voyage pour l’instruction et la commodité tant des François que des Étrangers, printed in 1639 and reprinted by Verdier, with interesting additions, in the year 1687. John Evelyn, the English diarist, visited France in the year 1643 and gave an account of many collections of art and their cabinets, which was partially republished in the Voyage de Lister, in an edition of the year 1878. We can enumerate further the Traité des plus belles bibliothèques, published for the first time in 1644 by Père Louis-Jacob, the librarian of Cardinal de Retz and of President Du Harlay; the Liste anonyme des curieux des diverses villes, etc.

116 In these works thousands of names of collectors of art, whether specialists or not, are mentioned, not only those residing in Paris but in all towns of the provinces.

Collectomania was becoming epidemic!

The list of seventeenth-century collectors of art has the odd honour of including the name of Charles Sanson, the hangman of Paris, and great-grandfather of the celebrated Sanson, the executioner of the hautes œuvres at the time of the French Revolution. According to information given by Grammont, who related to the French king his adventure with Sanson, the man who had been nominated public executioner in Paris by a decision of Parliament dated August 11th, 1688, possibly the first Sanson to enter the undesirable profession, this man was not only a collector of paintings but also a specialist; and logically so. Grammont relates how he was one day hunting for paintings at the fair of Saint Germain, when he came across Sanson with Forest, a painter and art dealer. The hangman was haggling over the price of a few works he wished to add to his collection. One of the canvasses represented a wife mercilessly scourging her husband, another was the portrait of M. Tardieu, the deceased “Lieutenant Criminel,” a man Sanson had known very well and to whom he owed a certain gratitude, because, as he remarked to Grammont, when living he had made him hang and torture so many people that his skill and efficiency were gained through the work done in M. Tardieu’s time. A third painting he finally decided to buy represented Japanese torturing several missionaries to death. He candidly declared that “spectacles of this kind appeared charming to him” and that he intended to hang the painting in his bedroom.

A characteristic of the latter part of the seventeenth century is not only the many sales of collections of art in France, England and elsewhere, but the appearance for the first time of printed catalogues, prepared either for the sale or as a simple illustrative document of certain collections. The first printed catalogue of France bears the title, Roole117 des medailles et autre antiquitez du cabinet de Monsieur Duperier, gentilhomme d’Aix, and after this many collectors follow the example. Even the learned Marolles is tempted to give to the public his Catalogue de livres d’estampes et de figures de taille douce.

To complete the characteristics of the revived market of antiques and articles of virtu in France, now exuberant in its various expressions, we may note the advent of the so-called amateur marchand. The “private dealer,” a gentleman with a collection who deals secretly in antiques and at the same time plays the grand seigneur scorning commerce, has been perfected since, and the modern one is perhaps more intelligent, shrewder, more the grand seigneur, but less frank and far more dangerous. It may be said, by the way, that the art critic has not yet put in an appearance as a disguised dealer, the wardrobe of the ambiguous trade not having yet supplied the mask. There was no representative at this time of the type of Pietro Aretino—why not call him one of this species—who in the sixteenth century extolled paintings for artists in exchange for paintings and sold his literary eulogies to princes and monarchs.

One of the most characteristic collectors of the epoch is, perhaps, Mazarin, a merchant and intriguer on the one side, and on the other a passionate collector and an epic type of the lover of art.

A brief sketch of his life and of the vicissitudes of his collections of art are worth giving. Mazarin, in a way, so thoroughly impersonates his time, that to portray him as a collector helps to throw light on the milieu in which he lived. History handed Mazarin down to us as a politician and capital intriguer, etc., but only few know of him as a lover of art.

As a collector Mazarin recalls the shrewdest kind of the old Roman type. The times are changed and the old ways of Sulla and Mark Antony no longer possible. Violence and proscription lists would not be tolerated, but without the extreme methods of a Roman proconsul, Mazarin possesses118 the cunning of a Verres. Like the latter he also finds things by instinct and has the unbounded passion of a true collector. We are uncertain at times whether Mazarin, who was without doubt one of the most appreciative collectors of his day, possessed that rare sixth sense that goes under the name of the collector’s touch, but he was nevertheless a man of taste and an art lover of unusual promptitude in the use of the ability of others. Like many a genuine and greedy collector of Roman times, Mazarin was persistent and obdurate in the carrying through of the most complex and discouraging plans in order to secure objects for his collection. In Rome once he saw a painting of Correggio, the Sposalizio. It belonged to Cardinal Barberini, who had made up his mind never to part with the masterpiece. To become possessed of it Mazarin made use of a ruse. He asked Anne of Austria to demand the painting from Cardinal Barberini, knowing that stubborn as the Cardinal might be he would not refuse a favour to the Queen of France. In fact, Barberini came to Paris himself to present the painting to Anne of Austria. The epilogue of this mazarinade is related by Brienne as follows: “To do proper honour to the gift, the Queen hung the picture in her bedroom in the presence of Cardinal Barberini, but hardly had he left (il n’eut pas le dos tourné) than she took the painting and gave it to Mazarin.” Brienne ends his account with the observation that Mazarin “had conducted this lengthy intrigue to get possession of a picture.” Considering that intriguing was second nature with Mazarin we must say that Correggio’s Sposalizio was worth the trouble of such a mazarinade.

As a collector of art, bric-à-brac and precious things generally, Cardinal Mazarin had an unusually lucky career. Contrary to the rule that exacts a very high price for experience in collecting, Mazarin seems to have been favoured by fortune from the very first; as for scruples, if they are known to a few connoisseurs he knew none.

He was scarcely known. His profession—if his occupation may be so called—was to move between Rome and Paris, to119 play to a certain extent the part of a courier between the two cities, the navette (weaver’s shuttle) between the Roman State and its intriguers in Paris. During this period of his life Mazarin used to land in the French capital at the house of the Chavignys, where he often arrived “covered all over with dirt” (tout crotté).

Passing Monferrato on one of his journeys he bought a rosary, the beads of which were supposed to be glass, but were in fact precious stones, emeralds, sapphires, rubies and diamonds. The rosary Mazarin bought for a mere song was sold in Paris for ten thousand ducats.

His reputation as an excellent bric-à-brac hunter, with a fine eye for works of art, reached Richelieu and this secured to Mazarin the protection of the omnipotent Cardinal; the rest is known.

Mazarin really remained a “private dealer” all his life, a fact that his opponents could not forget. More than one mazarinade alludes to the Cardinal’s dealings.

Even when writing to potentates or diplomats on the most important political schemes, Mazarin never lost sight of his hobby. In his letter to Cardinal Grimaldi on the importance of watching our “affairs in Italy” he reminds him, by the way, to be on the look out for good books and good paintings, etc.

Through a well-organized network of agents and political friends he received objects for his collection almost daily. Chiefly from Rome, Florence and other cities of Italy, statues, paintings, furniture arrived in a continual stream at the Cardinal’s palace. His library numbered twelve thousand volumes in a very short time.

The Fronde, however, is no longer satisfied with gibing the Cardinal with mazarinades on his buying of books without being able to read them. His opponents, antagonistic to the Cardinal’s policy, finally rose up boldly against him. Mazarin was obliged to fly from Paris. By a decree of Parliament his goods were seized and sold. Whatever criticism may be passed on the Cardinal’s shady policy, the120 destruction of his collection and library is an unpardonable sin and an artistic loss.

Mazarin does not seem to have been discouraged by this unexpected contretemps. Learning that Jabach was going to London to be present at the sale of the collection of Charles I, he asked him to buy paintings for him, and through this friend was able to secure for a new gallery the Venus by Titian, the Antiope and the Marsyas by Correggio, the Deluge by Carracci, as well as tapestries of inestimable value.

Two years later Mazarin triumphantly entered Paris again, was reinstated in his former power, and started a new library, while reconstituting his dispersed gallery; and when he died his collection contained, according to an inventory of the year 1661, 546 pictures, of which 283 were of the Italian school, 77 German or Dutch, 77 French and 109 of various schools. The Italian school included names such as Raphael, Titian, Correggio, Tintoretto, Solario, Guido Reni, the Carracci, Domenichino, Bassano, Albani, etc.

Many of these works are now in the Louvre Museum and nearly all his statues, 350 in number, have also passed to the Louvre and are now kept in the Galérie des Antiques.

The inventory also informs us that the Cardinal left twenty-one cabinets, some in ebony, others veneered with tortoise-shell and ivory, and a large quantity of marble tables and Venetian glass, chandeliers in rock crystal, and irons in silver or gilded.

The precious stones were valued at 387,014 francs, the silver of the chapel at 25,995, the plates in silver, gold or gilded (761 pieces) at 347,972, etc. The same inventory also notes 411 fine pieces of tapestry estimated at 632,000, perhaps what a single piece of the best would cost nowadays, but an enormous sum considering the time. There were also 46 Persian rugs of unusual length, 21 complete “ameublements” in velvet, satin, gold embroidered silk, etc.

The library included 50,000 volumes and 400 manuscripts.
The Spinario.

A cherished Roman subject of the imitators of the XVth and XVIth Centuries. Several museums have similar imitations. There is a fine original in Naples Museum.

Brienne, who was a collector himself on a smaller scale, and who filled at the time the position of secretary to the121 Cardinal, relates with a certain pathos the last moments of this frantic art collector, and how during his last illness he grieved to leave his cherished masterpieces.

“I was walking,” says Brienne, “in the small gallery in which is the woollen tapestry representing Scipio—the Cardinal did not possess a finer one. By the noise of his slippers I heard him coming, shuffling along like a suffering man or a convalescent. I hid myself behind the tapestry and heard him say, ‘I must leave all this!’ Being very weak he stopped at every step, leaning first to one side and then to the other; gazing at the various objects of his collection, and in a voice that came from his heart, he kept on repeating ‘I must leave all this!’ Then turning his head to another side—‘and also that! What trouble I had to buy all these things. How can I leave them without regret?—I shall not be able to see them where I am going.’ I gave a sigh, I could not help it, and he heard me. ‘Who is there?’ ‘It is I, Monseigneur——’ ‘Come here,’ he said to me in a doleful tone. He was nude, only covered with his robe de chambre de camelot lined with petit-gris. He said, ‘Give me your hand, I am so weak; I can hardly bear it——’ Then returning to his first idea, ‘Do you see, my friend, that fine painting by Correggio, that Venus by Titian and that incomparable Deluge by Carracci—I know that you too love and understand painting. Alas, my dear friend, I must leave all this. Good-bye............
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