One of the most important portraitists for the king and Court, Rigaud set the standard for official portraits in European Courts for three centuries.
Painter of the king 1659-1743 original name Hyacinthe François Honoré Mathias Pierre André Jean Rigau y Ros
Jacint Rigau-Ros i Serra known in French as Hyacinthe Rigaud, was a Catalan-French baroque painter most famous for his portraits of Louis XIV and other members of the French nobility. (18 July 1659 – 29 December 1743)
Hyacinthe Rigaud was born in Perpignan (Pyrénées-Orientales), the grandson of painter-gilders from Roussillon and the elder brother of another painter (Gaspard). He was trained in tailoring in his father’s workshop but perfected his skills as a painter under Antoine Ranc at Montpellier from 1671 onwards, before moving to Lyon four years later.
It was in these cities that he became familiar with Flemish, Dutch and Italian painting, particularly that of Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Titian, whose works he later collected. Arriving in Paris in 1681, he won the prestigious scholarship known as the prix de Rome in 1682, but on the advice of Charles Le Brun did not make the trip to Rome which was included in the scholarship.
Rigaud was received into the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture in 1710, and he rose to the top of this institution before retiring from it in 1735.
Since Rigaud’s paintings captured very exact likenesses along with the subject’s costumes and background details, his paintings are considered precise records of contemporary fashions.
Rigaud was born with the Catalan name Jyacintho Rigau or Jacint Rigau i Ros This is variously translated as Híacint Francesc Honrat Mathias Pere Martyr Andreu Joan Rigau – in Perpignan, which became part of France by the Treaty of the Pyrenees (7 November 1659) shortly after his birth.
Rigaud was baptised with his Catalan name in the old cathédrale Saint-Jean de Perpignan on 20 July 1659, two days after his birth at rue de la Porte-d’Assaut. He would not have become French had not Roussillon and the Cerdanya been annexed to France the following 7 November thanks to the Treaty of the Pyrenees. That Treaty also put an end to the wars that had taken place between France and Habsburg Spain since 1635 and married King Louis XIV of France to the infanta Maria Theresa of Spain.
Rigaud’s works today populate the world’s major museums. The exact number of paintings he produced remains in dispute, since he left a highly detailed catalogue but also more than a thousand different models which specialists agree he used. To these may be added the large number of copies in Rigaud’s book of accounts, without even mentioning the hundreds of other paintings rediscovered since the accounts’ publication in 1919. Rigaud painted many important figures in the world of art such as the sculptors Desjardins (to whom, as an old friend, he delivered three successive portraits), Girardon and Coysevox; the painters Joseph Parrocel, La Fosse and Mignard; the architects De Cotte, Hardouin-Mansart and Gabriel. He also painted portraits of poets such as La Fontaine or Boileau, as well as religious figures such as the cardinal de Fleury and Bossuet; many influential archbishops and bishops paid large sums of money for a portrait.
In 1820, the Musée des beaux-arts Hyacinthe Rigaud in Perpignan, France, was dedicated to him. It is still open to the public and shows some of his work.
Born in Perpignan, Rigaud arrived in Paris in 1681. Upon the advice of Le Brun he dedicated himself to portrait painting, which was a genre that he took to the highest level of expression. He caught the attention of the king and the Court with his depiction of Monsieur, the king’s brother, in 1688, followed by the one of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans the following year. Louis XIV commissioned his portrait in armour from him, which was delivered in 1694.
However, it was the portrait in coronation attire, dated 1701, which really established the painter’s reputation. His work definitively served as a model for all ceremonial portraits, which were veritable emblems of the French monarchy, with columns and landscape in the background, shimmering drapes, a solemn pose and intense colours. French and European sovereigns continued to commission portraits up until the 19th century. Rigaud painted Louis XV again in 1730.
The artist’s fame reached its peak at this time. He produced nearly 400 paintings and by the end of his career was Director of the Royal Academy of Painting. Besides the Court, he also painted the high society of the time, including the middle-classes, financiers and aristocrats. His fame spread across Europe and he created portraits of King Philip V of Spain (Versailles), King Augustus III of Poland (Dresden) and others.
Overwhelmed with requests, he was forced to entrust certain parts to his collaborators. For example, it was Joseph Parrocel who painted the battle in the background of his portrait of the Duke of Burgundy (Versailles). Certain works reached the height of pomposity, such as the portrait of the Marquess of Dangeau (Versailles).
The portraitist sometimes adopted a more intimate style, as seen in the remarkable double portrait of his mother Marie Serre (Louvre). His studies of hands and drapes are just as incredible, demonstrating the artist’s refined style and attention to detail. His liking for double portraits can also be seen in the almost provocative confrontation of Le Brun and Mignard, two great rivals, depicted in the same painting (Louvre).
Rigaud also demonstrated his talent in several religious paintings. Influenced by van Dyck and Champaigne, Rigaud played a key role in French and European portrait art.