Corneille de Lyon

Corneille de Lyon

We do not know Corneille’s real name, designated only by the town of his birth – ‘The Hague’ –  which eventually became his family name, and since the nineteenth century, by the city of Lyon, where he lived. He seems to have come to France quite young and was already established in Lyon by May 1533, when the Flemish poet Jean Second, his friend, met him there by chance. The influence of Jean Perréal, who died in 1530, is so evident in his work that it is tempting to imagine Corneille having worked with the most famous painter in Lyon before setting himself up alone, which could also explain his rapid rise to fame. In fact, courtiers solicited his services before 1535, and Pierre Aymeric, a citizen of Lyon that he painted in 1534, calls him ‘painctre de la Royne Helienor Royne de France’[2]. However, no document confirms this title nor seems especially to accredit importance to the artist. When, during the Court’s stay in Lyon in 1536, a true passion developed for Corneille’s work, to the point of breaking Jean Clouet’s monopoly on Court portraits, such an honorary appointment would have allowed him easier access to the Royal Family. But it was not until 1544 that he presented the authorities with a ‘certiffication’ dated 7th January 1541, for them to take into account his exemptions and privileges as ‘painctre de la maison de Monseigneur le Daulphin’[3].

At his accession, Henry II appointed Corneille Painter in Ordinary and he was naturalized as a Frenchman in letters of December 1547, ‘en faveur des bons et agréables services qu’il lui a faict et faict chaque jour en son art et mestier“*** and “sans que pour ce il soit tenu […] payer aulcune finance ou indempnité’[4]. In 1551, the nephew of the Venetian ambassador Giovanni Vapelli saw in Corneille’s studio ‘the entire court of France, as many gentlemen as ladies, represented in many small paintings, with all the naturalness imaginable’. Corneille held the honorary title of painter and valet under François II and Charles IX, without being expected to fulfil the feudal duties of service de quartier, but enjoying all the privileges granted to royal officers. He was highly esteemed by Catherine de’ Medici, who visited his studio in 1564 and had Charles IX grant him the goods of a Savoyard weaver Pierre Breyssard, who died in Lyon the same year, which were due to the king by right of escheat[5].

Artist of repute, proprietor of several houses and land in Vénissieux, married since 1547 to Marguerite Fradin, daughter of a Lyon typographer, Corneille led the life of a prominent citizen. He had four daughters and two sons, Jacques and Christophe, who became painters. Membership of the Protestant religion does not seem to have hurt his credit, but the whole family was forced to convert to Catholicism in 1569. Corneille died three months after his wife and was buried in Lyon on 8th November 1575.

We attribute to Corneille de La Haye and his workshop a large number of small portraits painted on wood in blue, green or brown backgrounds – apparently without any preparatory drawing. A pencil drawing in the Albertina (inv. 82802) is perhaps the only one that can be attributed to him, if it is not a later copy after his self-portrait, since the seventeenth century inscription identifies the model as Corneille himself: ‘Corneille de Lhaie Flament qui excelloit a fai[re] / des petits portraits au naturel, quon nomment Cornilla’[6].

Information translated from a report by Dr Alexandra Zvereva, Centre Roland Mousnier (CNRS), Université Paris-Sorbonne.

[1] Anne Dubois de Groër, Corneille de La Haye dit Corneille de Lyon. 1500/1510-1575, Arthéna, Paris 1996.

[2] ‘Painter to Queen Eleanor, Queen of France’; note on the back of Aymeric’s portrait in the Musée du Louvre, RF 1976-1915.

[3] Painter to the house of Monseigneur the Dauphin.

[4] In favour of his good and agreeable services which he has done and does every day in his art and work without which he should not be held […] to pay neither finance nor indemnity.

[5] Reversion to the Crown of the estate of a non-naturalized alien.

[6] ‘Corneille of The Hague, a Fleming who excelled in making / small natural portraits, whom we name Cornilla’.