Birding About at the Louvre




The fact that this painting of a Crowned Crane, also known as the Royal Bird, was painted from life was revolutionary in the 17th Century. Before Pieter Boel (1622 – 1674) animals had mostly been painted from stuffed animals and for their emblems and allegories (Durer being an exception, he regularly painted from the real deal, too).

Boel apparently set up shop in the ménagerie at Versailles, where a small octagonal pavilion was surrounded by enclosures in which exotic and domestic animals were kept in semi-liberty. His paintings, which were nearly scientific, were then used by the tapestry manufacturer Gobelins; this crane, for instance appears in the foreground of the month of August in “The Months” tapestry (aka The Royal Houses). I, for one, prefer Boel’s fine plumage to that of the wall carpets (don’t you think of Persia for carpets?). But one
mustn’t quibble, tapestries are quintessential to France’s history, and as a Charles Le Brun painter (as the animal-expert), Boel played an important role in France. 



Gobelins, found in the 13th Arrt (at the metro station named after it), was Louis XIV’s royal tapestry factory. It was Henri IV (my favourite king, as he fought for his inherited crown for 20 odd years before he just pooped out and converted to Catholicism in order to rule France. As he said, “Paris is worth a mass”) who rented space in Gobelins for his Flemish tapestry makers — more than 200 of them, I believe.

Boel was born in Antwerp, though I’ve had trouble discerning whether the Louvre considers him Flemish or French — he died in Paris, and was a member of Charles le Brun’s team of painters for Gobelins; Although since Flanders was a part of Burgundy, I guess I history blurs the lines of distinguishing whether Boel was Flemish or French. His naturalist studies are all over the Richelieu wing of the Louvre (the most pleasant of the three wings, because it’s 80% less crowded than the Denon wing!) from 17th C France to 17th C Flanders, to adjoining stairwells where these fine parakeets can be found (“room 20” is actually at the top of a rather grand stairwell).



Ooops! Did I say that out loud? What if you go on one of the THATLous? This fine plumage could very well be in an Angels + Wings THATLou, or of course the Animals in Art. Not to mention the fact that Boel’s Versailles role & Gobelins contributions make him a fine candidate for All Things Gaul!  Anyway, to put THATLou and the Louvre aside for just a minute (they does seem to nose its way in everywhere!) both our Indian bull from yesterday’s post and these Flemish French flocks are fine renditions of naturalists paintings. From the Met to the Louvre, India to Versailles, these creatures seemed to prevail in the 17th Century.