Mar 132019
 

Today is the birthday (1593) of Georges de La Tour, a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight. His style is reminiscent of Caravaggio, whose chiaroscuro paintings I particularly like, and try to replicate the feeling sometimes in my photography.

Georges de La Tour was born in the town of Vic-sur-Seille in the diocese of Metz, which was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, but had been ruled by France since 1552. Baptismal records show that he was the son of Jean de La Tour, a baker, and Sybille de La Tour, née Molian. La Tour’s educational background is unclear, but it is assumed that he traveled either to Italy or the Netherlands early in his career. He may possibly have trained under Jacques Bellange in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, although their styles are very different. Although his paintings reflect the Baroque naturalism of Caravaggio, the ideas probably reached him through the Dutch Caravaggisti of the Utrecht School and other Northern (French and Dutch) contemporaries.

In 1617 he married Diane Le Nerf, from a minor noble family, and in 1620 he established his studio in her quiet provincial home-town of Lunéville, part of the independent Duchy of Lorraine which was occupied by France, during his lifetime, in the period 1641–1648. He painted mainly religious and some genre scenes. He was given the title “Painter to the King” (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the dukes of Lorraine in 1623–4, but the local bourgeoisie was his main market. He is not recorded in Lunéville between 1639 and 1642, and may have traveled again at this point. He was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine, and over the course of his career he moved to painting almost entirely religious subjects, but in treatments with influence from genre painting. The entire de La Tour family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.

La Tour is best known for the nocturnal light effects which he developed much further than his artistic predecessors had done, and transferred their use in the genre subjects in the paintings of the Dutch Caravaggisti to religious painting in his. Unlike Caravaggio his religious paintings lack dramatic effects. He painted these in a second phase of his style, perhaps beginning in the 1640s, using chiaroscuro, careful geometrical compositions, and very simplified painting of forms. His work moves during his career towards greater simplicity and stillness—taking from Caravaggio very different qualities than Jusepe de Ribera and his Tenebrist followers did.

He often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work is difficult. The version of the Education of the Virgin in the Frick Collection in New York is an example, as the Museum itself admits. Another group of paintings (example left), of great skill but claimed to be different in style to those of La Tour, have been attributed to an unknown “Hurdy-gurdy Master”. All show older male figures (one group in Malibu includes a female), mostly solitary, either beggars or saints.

After his death at Lunéville in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915; some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer, who underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century.

Here is your gallery:

The cooking of Lorraine is akin to neighboring Alsace, and, of course, is well known for quiche Lorraine which I have given a recipe for already. There are also posts with recipes for other Lorraine specialties. Here, instead, is a video focusing on the wine making region of the Moselle valley (with some hokey stuff about Roman times). At around 9:20 is a section on making various kinds of flammkuchen, a Moselle regional specialty.

 

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