A Franco-Flemish double-manual harpsichord, originally a 'transposing' harpsichord made in Antwerp in 1617 by an unknown maker.  It was given a petit ravalement in Paris sometime between 1742 and 1750.  It then received a major alteration when it was lavishly decorated and given a bass ravalement in 1750 by François Étienne Blanchet.  Later is was given a treble ravalement in 1786 by Jacques Barberini and Nicolas Hoffmann. 

       

 

The painting of the recumbent nude on the outside of the lid.  Who did it represent when it was first painted and who does it represent now?

 

The above group shows, from left to right, Flora, Cupid, Juno and, at the far right, a reclining female nude.

The identification of the 3 figures at the left can be made from the attributes given to them by Boucher.  But the question is:  "Who is this seductive reclining figure at the right?"  She doesn't seem to belong to the 3 figures on the left, which all represent a very ethereal vision of love and beauty.  The right-hand figure, on the other hand, seems to represent a much more carnal vision of love and sex.  At the beginning of the restoration of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord it was thought that this figure had been added after the main lid painting was carried out in 1750.  However, the analysis of this part of the painting using chemical and physical analysis of the paint shows that it was painted by the same painter and at the same time as the other figures.  This makes it a much more interesting and revealing aspect of the painted figure decoration, which is discussed below.

     
 

  

1).  The Brown Odalisque (Odalisque Brune) by François Boucher, c.1740. 

Das Alte Pinakothek, Munich

 

2).  L'odalisque Brune, Francois Boucher, c.1749

Musée du Louvre, Paris 

        The above paintings, although both are by Francois Boucher, do not represent the (re-touched) image of Marie-Louise O'Murphy as has been correctly pointed out by Alastair Laing.  The posture and modelling of these figures, although similar at first sight, are different both from the Recumbent Female Nude below and from the figure painted on the outside of the lid of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord (see the discussion immediately below).

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          As Jessica Priebe has pointed out privately, the figure painted on the lid (see the image immediately left and below) is very similar to the Boucher chalk drawing on the left from the Horvitz Collection.  This is evident in the placing of both the arms and the legs, and in the muscle definition in the front arm, in the bare breast and back, in the modelling of the buttocks and the close proximity of the left hand to the neck, which are all similar to Boucher's figure of The Redumbent Nude. Other similarities can be seen in the placement of the drapery and the non-direct gaze of her face (compared to the fixed gaze of the figures of the Odalisque Brune paintings seen above) in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich and in the Louvre, Paris also attributed to Boucher. 

          On the other hand, as Alastair Laing has pointed out, both the pastel at the left and the two even earlier paintings of the Odalisque Brune seen above, are both works that are dated much earlier than the period when Marie-Louise O'Murphy entered the King's service in 1753.  It must therefore be argued that the above two have nothing whatsoever to do with her.  However, see the UV photography below.

 

3).  Recumbent Female Nude, François Boucher, 1742-43

Horvitz Collection, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

   
     
            This painting is on the outside of the lid of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.  This shows the remarkable similarity between the pastel image in Boston above left, and the image on the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.  It seems as though the painter of this image copied the Recumbent Nude above, except for the face of the figure.
Painting of the recumbent female nude on the lid of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord.  This, except for the faces as seen below, was painted about 1743 along with most of the rest of the external decorations.    
     

Painting of the recumbent nude photographed in UV light (365 nm.)

 

          This is exactly the same image as the one above left, but is here photographed in ultra-violet light (365 nm.), primarily to show the retouchings and alterations to the painting.  The UV light causes the pigments to fluoresce in different colours depending both on the pigments and media being used in the period(s) in which the alterations were carried out.  In this photograph the recent retouchings appear as dark or black marks which reflect almost no light at all, whereas the earliest retouchings show up as a much brighter, almost white, fluorescence.

          Comparison with the other figures painted on the outside of the lid also photographed in UV light, shows that the body of the figure of the reclining nude is painted with the same pigments and with the same brush-stroke technique as the figures of Venus, Cupid, Flora and Juno painted elsewhere on the lid.  This suggest that the majority of this figure was therefore also painted by François Boucher and was not, as a whole, a later addition. 

          However the UV analysis also shows that the face of the figure has an early alteration painted during historical times that fluoresces with a bright green/white colour, like much of the surrounding area.  On the other hand most of the hair has not been retouched since this did not affect the association of the figure with the King's mistress.  It seems highly likely therefore that this alteration was made in 1753, probably to make it resemble Marie-Louise O'Murphy, Louis XV's petite maîtresse.

 

          The close resemblance of the three lower figures seen above strongly suggests that the painting on the outside of the main lid is also by Boucher, although retouched shortly after the figures were first painted sometime between 1742 and 1750.  Clearly the middle two figures are of the same model with the same position, pose, modelling, etc in both pictures.  However, it is clear from the UV analysis seen in the photograph at the bottom, that the face of the figure on the Franco-Flemish harpsichord has been altered later.  The recent alterations (ie. those from the time around 1889 - 1927) show up here as black or dark patches.  However, the face has been altered in historical times and these alterations show up as whitish fluorescence - quite unlike the modern alterations.  The body of the figure is painted using the same technique and the same pigments as the other figures on the outside of the lid and the outside of the case (except for the spine).  The position, size, shape and hair of this figure seem to be the same as those seen in the Boston pastel drawing in the middle.  It therefore appears that the figure was originally painted on the harpsichord by Boucher with the same features as those in the Horvitz pastel.  However it was then altered in 1753? when Marie-Louise O'Murphy became the King's mistress. 

          The point is that:

 Who, other than Louis XV himself, would have dared to have had the King's mistress painted on their harpsichord? 

It seems impossible to think that anyone would risk the ire of the King by having an image of the King's mistress painted on their instrument!  This makes it likely, or at the very least possible, that the instrument belonged to Louis XV himself!  His mistress Marie-Louise O'Murphy (Omorfi as it was transcribed in French with a built-in Irish accent) did not become his mistress until about 1752/3 so that it is quite possible that Louis XV (or Madame de Pompadour) had the figure's face altered so as to resemble Ms O'Murphy at about this time, and several years after the initial vernis martin decoration was given to the rest of the instrument by Boucher and Huet shortly before 1750.

 

For a fuller discussion of the comparisons with the images photographed under UV light  click here.

 

  

 

Important Features of this harpsichord

 

A brief history of the musical and decorative states of the Franco-Flemish harpsichord

 

Details of the original state of the instrument

 

Details of the eighteenth-century states of this harpsichord

  

 Details of the modern history of this harpsichord

 

 Problems encountered in the ethical restoration of this harpsichord

 

 The attributions of the 1750 state to  François Étienne Blanchet, Christophe Huet and François Boucher

 

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This page was last revised on 19 November 2021.