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Claude Mellan
Nationality: 
french
Gender: 
Male
Birth Date: 
1598
Birth Place: 
Abbeville, France
Death Date: 
1688
Death Place: 
Paris
One of the leading French artists of the 17th century, engraver and draftsman Claude Mellan was one of the most popular artists of his time, sought out for his portraits expressed in drawings and prints. He created about 400 engravings over his career that lasted nearly seventy years, and about 100 of his drawings survive. While he was also a painter, no paintings have survived that can be securely attributed to him. The son of a coppersmith, he was born in Abbeville in Picardy, and was baptized on May 23, 1588. His father may have prepared copper plates for Parisian engravers, and Mellan’s first print indicates that he was in Paris in 1619. Little information is known about Mellan’s career over the next few years, although a few engravings date dated to the early 1620s. He went to Rome in 1624, where he worked briefly in the studio of Francesco Villamena (ca. 1566-1624) and then spent a dozen years with Simon Vouet (15590-1649), a French painter and draftsman who schooled him in draftsmanship. Mellan soon began to engrave works after designs by Vouet, including drawings created for the purpose of being engraved by Mellan. Encouraged by Vouet to pursue portraiture, Mellan created many excellent engraved portraits during the 1630s, such as the portrait of Pope Urban VIII (Montaiglon 238) in 1631. He also made engravings on other subjects to his own designs and those of others. Mellan had engraved the portrait of Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani (1564-1637, M. 197) in 1631. Probably this led to Mellan’s work in the early 1630s for German artist Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1699) in documenting Giustiniani’s collection of ancient sculptures. Mellan and others made engravings after drawings of the statuary by Sandrart and others (Cf. M. 123-146). The first volume of Galleria Giustiniana was published in 1637, the year Mellan returned to Paris. There he developed a thriving practice in portraiture. He also created works on other subjects, including religious works and frontispieces for books. Mellan developed a technique of engraving with parallel lines, achieving light and dark areas by the depth his burin cut into the copper plate (rather than using cross-hatching, as was done by most other engravers). Hs skill at this allowed him to create his crowning achievement, The Sudarium of Saint Veronica, also known as Sante Face (The Face of Christ, 1649, M. 25). In this print he started his burin at the center of the copper plate and with a single spiral line in concentric circles Mellan engraved the entire face of Christ, as well as the Crown of Thorns and Mellan’s own signature and the print’s Latin inscription. He produced works until the end of his long life; an engraving dated in 1687, Saint Peter Repentant (M. 89), was perhaps his last. He died in Paris on September 9, 1688, and was buried in the Church of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois the following day. (TNB 5/2013) Selected bibliography: de Lavergnée, Barbara Brejon. Claude Mellan 1598-1688. Exhibition catalog. Cahiers du Dessin Français – No. 3. Paris: Galarie de Bayser, 1987. Laveissière, Sylvain. “Review: Maxime Préaud, “Claude Mellan,” in Inventaire du fonds français, graveurs du XVIIe siècle, vol. 17, and Maxime Préaud and Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, L’oeil d’or. Claude Mellan. Exhibition catalog. Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale, 1988, in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 131, no. 1038 (Sept., 1989), pp 654-655. de Montaiglon, Anatole. "Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre de Claude Mellan d'Abbeville." Mémoires de la Société d'emulation d'Abbéville 8 (1852-1857): 291-559. Abbéville, France: P. Briez, 1856.