Pick of the week
Alexandre Lenoir (1761–1839) cast a long shadow, and reverberations from his controversial career still rumble. As the preserver of French historical monuments from Revolutionary vandalism, he was the father of modern-day conservation, but he was also (according to Francis Haskell) ‘Reckless und unscholarly, boastful and infinitely energetic’. He saved Michelangelo’s Slaves and he recovered the French royal tombs from St Denis to be displayed in his Musée des monuments français. As some curators today, he favoured the display of art in isolation, rather than in context.
At the Bourbon Restoration, the contents of his museum were mostly returned to previous owners, but Lenoir was put in charge of the reconstituted St Denis.
One of the greatest royal tombs had been that of Charles V (reigned 1364–80), with its marble effigy by André Beauneveu, who was said by Froissart to ‘have had no equal in any land’. It is also said to be the first portrait of a king ad vivum.
Sculpted kings had lions at their feet symbolising courage and power (queens had dogs for fidelity) but Charles’s addorsed, or paired back to back, lions disappeared from Lenoir’s museum, probably during the 1802 Peace of Amiens, when he was very short of funds. They were bought from him by an English collector, the future Sir Thomas Neave, Bt, and remained in that family until their appearance in Christie’s Exceptional sale on July 6, when they sold to an American for £9,349,000.
Heaven knows what Charles V’s effigy might be worth.