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Work St. Charles Praying for Victims of the Plague

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Saint Charles Borromée visitant les pestiférés

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Grollemund Hélène

The inventory carried out after Claude Deruet's death lists over 2,500 drawings, two volumes of graphic works, and a number of sketches; however, only a single drawing, in two parts, can be attributed to him with certainty (Louvre and Drottningholm). Few other works on paper are attributed to him: this St. Charles Borromeo can be linked to no known painting by Deruet, even though the artist illustrated the life of the saint several times, notably in a chapel in the Carmelite church in Nancy.

Intercession or help?

Wearing the robes of a church dignitary and with the penitent's rope around his neck, this saint is leading a group of clerics or members of a brotherhood bearing the customary cross and procession lantern. As he intercedes for a group of the sick or dying, the dove of the Holy Spirit descends in answer to his prayer. These details allow us to identify St. Charles Borromeo, canonized in 1610 and the saint most often called on during plague epidemics, ultimately supplanting St.Sebastian and St. Roch. The nature of the subject matter, however, has been challenged: the presence on the left of a servant leading a donkey laden with two baskets would seem to suggest a distribution of food to the victims. Charity was one of the prelate's great virtues.

Features of the Lorraine School

Devoted to a subject still new in terms of its iconography, this piece was classified with the anonymous sixteenth-century Italians in the Saint-Morys Collection. However its style is more the highly personal one of the Lorraine school of the early seventeenth century: a fine, sharp pen that gives a most distinctive look to the faces and emphasizes the expressiveness of the gestures, especially in the long, outstretched fingers; the regular, almost parallel pen lines; and their contrast with the fairly arbitrarily placed wash that draws the eye with the artificial lighting effect it creates. The heads nearest to the central figure unequivocally reflect the influence of Jacques Bellange, but the overall draftsmanship and the figure of St. Charles are too far removed from his style for this to be his work; hence it is attributed to Claude Deruet, the only one of Bellange's apprentices whose career is known to us. The initial 'D' or the paraph using that letter - added not by the artist but perhaps by his sons and heirs - could confirm this attribution. The seated St. Bonaventure and the two standing Franciscan monks in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dijon share the same characteristics.

Italian beginnings

St. Charles wears a halo, a sign that he has already been canonized: thus Deruet's drawing dates from after 1610, when he left Nancy for Rome. Fresh influences awaited Deruet there and the traces of Bellange's style gradually disappeared, as can be seen in the plates of the Missale Monasticum (Rome, 1615). What we have here is a youthful work dating from his arrival in Rome and before 1614-15, which helps explain its classification among the anonymous sixteenth-century italians in the Saint-Morys collection. Most importantly, however, the structuring of the scene abandons the Bellange approach in favour of the simplicity and clarity of the Missale. This makes this drawing a valuable milestone in the way Deruet's work evolved during the early part of his stay in Rome.


J.-F. Méjanès, exhibition catalogue, Dessins français du XVIIe siècle, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1984-1985, pp. 26-27, no. 21
J.-C. Boyer, in exhibition catalogue L'art en Lorraine au temps de Jacques Callot, Nancy, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 1992, pp. 210-213, no. 56
J.-F. Méjanès, in exhibition catalogue Dessins français du XVIIe dans les collections publiques françaises, exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1993, pp. 68-70

Technical description

  • Claude Deruet (Nancy, circa 1588-1660)

    St. Charles Praying for Victims of the Plague

    Between 1610 and 1614-15

  • Pen and brown ink, white highlights, over red chalk sketch

    H. 26.2 cm; W. 23.2 cm

  • Saint-Morys Collection; confiscation of Émigré property, 1793; deposited in the Louvre 1796-97

    INV 11594

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

Practical information

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Additional information about the work

Bottom left, initial 'D' in pen and brown ink