A pair of reverse painting on glass views of the chateaux of Monceau and Chantilly

A pair of Louis XIV reverse painting on glass views of
the chateaux of Monceau and Chantilly – circa 1680-1700

After engravings by Israel Silvestre (1621-1691) In their original silver-mounted gilt poplar frames

Inscribed on each view in old-fashioned French

Height overall including frames: 17 cm. (6 ¾ in.)
Width overall including frames: 39 cm. (15 ¼ in.)


Provenance :

Sold Dominique Delavenne and Dider Lafarge, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 13 June 1990, lot 59 (ill. on the cover of the catalogue), for 780,000 FF.


Comparative Literature :

P.Guth, ‘Toute la vérité sur le verre églomisé’, Connaissance des Arts, v. 2, no. 66 (August 1957), pp. 28-33.

The art of verre églomisé, involving the reverse painting and gilding of glass, has been practised since antiquity. Rather anachronistically, given he was merely responsible for a revival in its popularity, the technique came to be named after the Parisian decorator Jean-Baptiste Glomy (circa 1711-1786). This pair, however, pre-date Glomy and have been identified with topographic views of royal châteaux first printed around the 1680s.

The source for Montceaux is an etching inscribed as excudit (i.e. published) by the engraver-turned-print-seller Nicolas de Poilly (1627-1696). A careful reading of the Montceaux accounts reveals a payment made in 1679-1680 for 2,000 livres to the engraver Israël Silvestre (1621-1691), for four plates representing the château and its gardens and grounds. Assuming some delay in making payment to the artist, this etching should thus be dated late 1670s.

The source for Chantilly is a rare view looking from the east to the château’s entrance, which reflects none of the early 18th century classicising renovations. Here the print is unsigned, but forms part of the collection of Veües des plus beaux lieux de France et d’Italie. This important series is ascribed to the family of artists headed by Gabrielle Perelle (1604-1677), with Silvestre also involved in engraving the plates, and was published in Paris around 1688.

Similar châteaux views in this medium, whilst rare, are known: one of Marly along with a different aspect of Chantilly, also following Perelle prints, fetched 850,000 FF (hammer) in the same 1990 sale cited in the provenance above. Two smaller oval-shaped views of St Cloud and the Berlin Zeughaus (Arsenal) were sold Sotheby’s Monaco, 22 and 23 June 1991, lot 627.

The estate of Montceaux-les-Meaux was purchased by Henri II in 1555 and gifted to his wife, Catherine de Médicis, who entrusted its embellishment to Philibert Delorme. The château was later acquired by Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of Henri IV, during which time Jacques II Androuet du Cerceau worked there, before the king offered it to his wife, Marie de Médicis on the occasion of the birth of the dauphin in 1601. A third great architect, Salomon de Brosse, du Cerceau’s nephew, then modified his uncle’s project, although work ceased in 1622 when Marie decided to build the Palais du Luxembourg. The mid-century Fronde saw soldiers lodged at Montceaux, and by 1665, it was in such a state of disrepair that Colbert ordered the architect-engineer Charles Chamois to begin renovations which lasted many years. Montceaux had by this time lost some of its prestige, although it was still used for lavish hunts. In the 18th century the château was given by Louis XV to the Prince de Conti, who transformed the entrance pavilion into a hunting lodge. Confiscated as a bien national in 1793, its demolition began in 1799. All that remains today are vestiges and ruins.

Chantilly’s origins also stretch back to the mid-16th century. Of the buildings standing today, the oldest is the Petit Château, built around 1560 by Jean Bullant for Anne de Montmorency. The estate became Bourbon property when it was returned from royal confiscation to Charlotte de Montmorency, wife of Henri II de Bourbon, prince de Condé. Their son, Louis II de Bourbon (the Grand Condé), organised a courtly life in Chantilly that was as vibrant as that of Versailles, inviting all the greatest artists of his time, including Le Nôtre who designed the sumptuous gardens. In 1719, the Grand Condé’s descendant, Louis-Henri, duc de Bourbon, had his architect Jean Aubert design a new classical building on the foundations of the old fortified Grand Château, as well as the celebrated (and extant) Great Stables. In 1793 the domaine was dismantled in the wake of the French Revolution and the Grand Château was demolished, only to be rebuilt 80 years later by the duc d’Aumale to house his collections, today’s musée Condé.