Portrait of the Comtesse de Montsoreau and Her Sister as Diana and an Attendant
Nicolas de Largillière ( French, 1656 - 1746 )
The women’s poses, gestures, and slight smiles in Nicolas de Largillière’s “Portrait of the Comtesse de Monsoreau and Her Sister as Diana and an Attendant” breathe new life into an allegorical tradition and bring the scene a sense of vibrancy. Largillière, perhaps with input from his patron, embellished or adjusted the traditional imagery in this canvas to better personalize the theme for her. The comtesse sits comfortably on the ground in casual, contemporary dress. She is either taking down the prominent bow and quiver, or hanging them up after a successful foray as the huntress of hearts. There are three dogs in the painting. Furthest back, on the left, in the area behind the comtesse’s head and almost obscured by the dark colors, is a sleek greyhound-like hunting dog with short ears and a long snout. In the middle ground, on the left, at the level of the comtesse’s shoulder, is the head of the second dog, facing forward. The third canine, a King Charles–like spaniel in the immediate foreground, clearly belongs to the comtesse and her pointing gesture suggests it holds special significance. The setting also reveals the artist’s attention to detail. The sea can be glimpsed in the far distance on the right, but the immediate scene evokes a woodland glade appropriate to the goddess. Largillière took the time to depict oak leaves, both above and between the two women, the latter group in lovely autumnal colors. While an allegorical portrait of a woman as Diana might allude to the larger narratives of the goddess, it can only just flirt with such themes because its proper task remains that of presenting or preserving the individual’s image for posterity. In choosing to be portrayed allegorically, women such as the comtesse demonstrated one way that the presumed immutability of identity—and traditional gender roles—might be challenged, suspended, or at least put into question. The Rosenberg portrait offers us an exceptional opportunity to enjoy the ingenuity of both artist and sitter in making such claims through the visual imagery of allegorical portraiture. Adapted from Kathleen Nicholson, "Beguiling Deception: Allegorical Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century France," in “French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art,” ed. Heather MacDonald (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art and the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 2016), 25–38.