A few thoughts on Valentin de Boulogne

A few thoughts on Valentin de Boulogne.

Still digesting the magnificent Valentin exhibition at the Louvre. Going over sketchbook notes in an attempt to identify the ingredients that gave his work such immediacy. Seeing so many of his paintings together is a revelation.

A kind of melancholy pervades many of Valentin’s figures and his unusual portrayal of Samson, caught in a moment of introspection, is a reminder of the intellect behind his expressive naturalism.

Wonderfully subtle passages of painting pepper the exhibition. He was a master of creating depth and depicting figures in half light or semi-darkness. Particular figures push up against the picture plane yet remarkably do so without any obvious pictorial devices.

His compositions are both purposeful and often highly inventive. An example of such brilliance is his powerful work ‘Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple’. The imminent strike of Christ’s arm thrusts a violent downward diagonal which then snaps back through the directional gaze of three startled figures. This orchestrated return of the strike through their gaze not only directs the eye back to Christ but emulates the crack of the whip.

The animated hands of his figures are given equal attention, their gestures humanise the drama whilst encouraging the viewer to navigate further into the painting.

One of the most astonishing works in the exhibition is the Vactican’s tremendous ‘Martyrdom of Saints Processus and Martinian’. The scale, composition and the highly considered use of light is evidence of an energised and hugely ambitious painter.

Nicholas Williams, 2017

Image 1. Martyrdom of Saints Processus and Martinian, oil on canvas, 302 x 192cm, 1629-30

Image 2. Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple, oil on canvas, 195 x 260cm, circa 1618