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Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (1693-1750)
Jean-Victor, baron Besenval
circa 1726-1729
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Objects in this drawing declare the nature of the baron de Besenval’s achievement: a military helmet, shield, sword and a commander’s baton. The inscription around the portrait records this soldier’s high rank. The decorative frame creates the illusion of sculpted stone, making him seem even more grand as an elaborate tomb suggests the honour in which a man was held. The dramatic use of light and shade enlivens the face and gives shine to the armour. Despite the stony surround, the portrait itself seems to contain movement and expression. Besenval (1671-1736) looks to one side and there is pride in his features. The unkempt hair and crumpled collar give spontaneity to the image as though the sitter has just hurried back from battle or parade.

Look at other portraits. Can children suggest what the sitter might have been doing just prior to being painted?

Born in Turin, Juste-Aurčle Meissonnier (1695-1750) was apprenticed to his father, a sculptor and silversmith. Meissonnier arrived in Paris in 1714 where he became one of the most innovative and versatile designers of his period. From 1726 he was responsible for designing all court festivities, including fireworks displays and the complex pieces of temporary architecture and decoration that formed the setting for royal celebrations and entertainments. Although three-dimensional works are scarce, drawings by Meissonnier and engravings after his work reveal the breadth of his imagination. He made designs for buildings (including Saint Sulpice in Paris), for rooms for altars and candlesticks, cane handles and clocks, small boxes and furniture.

Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier, Jean-Victor, baron Besenval, circa 1726-1729
Materials and technique: Black and white chalk on paper
Dimensions: 23 x 17 cm
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection
(The National Trust): 1360
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