La Tour, George de


La Tour, George de
(1593-1652)
   French Caravaggist painter from Vic-sur-Seille, but active in Lunéville in the Lorraine region. Little is known about the details of La Tour's life or how he became acquainted with the Caravaggist style. The available documentation on him reveals that in 1623-1624 he received two commissions from the Duke of Lorraine and that in 1639 he was painter to King Louis XIII, who is known to have owned a St. Sebastian by La Tour. A gap in the documentation from 1610-1611 and 1639-1642 has led some scholars to suggest that La Tour may have traveled on those occasions to Italy, where he would have seen Caravaggio's works, or perhaps to the Netherlands, where he would have become acquainted with the Italian master's style through the works of the Utrecht Caravaggists. His Fortune Teller (1636-1639; New York, Metropolitan Museum) is, in fact, more closely related to the art of the Dutch masters. It shows five half-length figures in elaborate costumes set against a dark background. The story is told through glances and ges-tures, the colors as brilliant as those utilized by the Utrecht Caravaggists. La Tour's Christ and St. Joseph (1645; Paris, Louvre), where the Savior holds a candle so the saint may engage in carpentry, relates to Gerrit van Honthorst's nocturnal scenes. The candle gave La Tour the opportunity to study the flickering effects of the flame on the various surfaces. The tools used by Joseph prefigure the instruments of the Passion and the wood refers to the cross on which Christ was crucified.
   La Tour was living at a time when the Franciscans were experiencing a religious revival in the Lorraine region and their influence is clearly felt in the religious works created by the artist as they evoke piety from viewers and contemplation advocated by the members of the order. La Tour's Nativity (1650; Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts), exemplifies this. It again presents a nocturnal scene, yet the figures have become simplified and geometric while retaining their visual impact. The Virgin, with St. Anne at her side, holds a tightly swaddled Christ Child, a reference to the future covering of his dead body with the holy shroud. The painting stresses the humble life of Christ and his family, a reflection of Franciscan humility and vow of poverty. La Tour had more in common with Caravaggio than just his style. Like the Italian master, he was an arrogant and violent individual, as attested by the several court cases in which he was embroiled—a huge contrast to his humble, serene, pious scenes.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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