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Etienne Parrocel (1696 - 1775)

Sketch for Saint Francis Regis invoking Christ for the cessation of the plague, Modello

Oil on paper

33 x 22 cm

This unpublished modello by Etienne Parrocel testifies to a new stage of reflection for his large altar painting Saint François Régis praying for the cessation of the Plague. Carried out in Rome in 1739, two years after the canonization of this saint, the final work was commissioned by the Jesuits of Marseille for their church of Quatre-Langues. Two painted sketches were known so far attached to this order. The first (Fig 2), still very far from the final work, was recently discovered and acquired by the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse. Conversely, the one presented at the Hahn Gallery in 1972 (Cf. Figure 3) is much closer to the final painting. The composition is no longer reversed and Saint François Régis is turned towards a Christ on clouds and no longer a crucifix. It should also be remembered that a preparatory drawing for Saint Régis is now kept in the British Museum (Fig. 4). Our modello is now proving to be Parrocel's second stage of reflection, produced after the Toulouse sketch and before that of the Hahn gallery. The composition, always reversed, is elaborated in its final version. The game of postures translates the positions of each in the confrontation with existence and the world. Saint Francis Régis begs for divine assistance on his knees, asking for mercy for the sick.

Christ with the face and benevolent hands is represented on a cloud surrounded by angels. Finally, the plague victims are grouped with talent, in the lower right register, in various attitudes of abandonment and relaxation. Note that the prayer companion of Saint François Régis is not yet present. Wishing subsequently to put forward the common action of the order, the sponsors will ask Etienne Parrocel to add a member of the Jesuits alongside the saint. Considered a model of dedication, François Régis shone for his charity during the plague of Toulouse in 1628. To the glory of the saint and of the order, this work invites us to remember difficult episodes and a tormented period. In 1739, Marseille was a battered city where the memory of the plague was still painful. With this softness of tone which is peculiar to it, Parrocel here shows the reality of the tragedy which occurred in Europe in the first third of the 18th century. The same year, he painted for the Basilica di Santa Prassede in Rome his Saint Charles Borromeo interceding with Christ to put an end to the plague in Milan

Work identified by Mr Olivier Michel has confirmed attribution of this work

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