Stamped l.r. EB [not in Lugt, see Provenance]

Pen & ink with brush & wash over black chalk

21 x 28 cm



[Possibly] Evaristo Baschenis (1617-1677), Bergamo;

Private Collection, U.K.



It has been suggested that the distinctive EB stamp to the lower right of this work might indicate Courtois' friend Evaristo Baschenis' previous ownership: Baschenis came from a wealthy Bergamese family and, presumably as a younger son, eventually joined the priesthood. Several of his relatives were artists and Evaristo developed a reputation as a fine painter of still lives (often featuring musical instruments) and portraits. In the 1650's he met Jacques Courtois, known in Italy as Il Borgognone, who was working in Bergamo at the time [1]. The two artists became friends and Baschenis copied several of Courtois’s works for local patrons. It is possible therefore that this drawing was a gift from Courtois to his peer as a token of his appreciation. The two artists certainly continued their friendship after Courtois moved from Bergamo, exchanging letters between at least 1662 to 1667. [2]



Jacques Courtois is among the most prolific painters of battle scenes in the Western Canon, and his drawn output rivals that in oils. The Louvre alone holds almost fifty drawings of military subjects, with many further examples to be found in the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NY). Despite such a plethora of works, only a handful of securely attributed drawings by his hand have appeared at auction in the past thirty years or so. The present work, discovered unattributed at auction in the U.K., is among the strongest and most immediately identifiable of those. Courtois had a spectacularly spontaneous hand, with elegantly curvilinear shapes across the sheet, interspersed with faintly washed areas of paper to imply the omnipresent smoke of the late 17th century battlefield.


The main figure in the centre of the page, on the rearing horse and firing off a musket round, acts as a focal point for a realistically chaotic composition. To the right foreground lies an injured soldier pleading for mercy; to the left, two dogs, employed here for military purposes as was still common in the period, leap up at the horseman; while in the background we see the receding cavalry formation behind the main rider and a lone horse panickedly galloping off without its rider. 




Courtois was born in St Hippolyte, Franche-Comté, and was the older brother of Guglielmo Cortese (also an artist). Giacomo was taught by his father, Jean-Pierre Courtois. Like his brother, he spent his career in Italy, mostly in Rome, and his work is best understood in the context of other Roman art of the period. He arrived in Italy by 1636 and remained there, with the exception of a short period in the mid-1650s, when he returned to his birthplace on family business. His first three years in Italy were spent on military campaigns, throughout which he drew battles and landscapes from nature (as pioneered by artists like Stefano della Bella in Florence at the turn of the 17th century). By 1638, Courtois was in Rome, where he met Pietro da Cortona and the battle painter Michelangelo Cerquozzi. From 1651 to 1655 he was employed in Florence by Prince Mattia de' Medici, and in 1657 he was once more in Rome, where he joined the Jesuit Order, becoming a priest in 1668. After taking orders, he painted a number of religious works, though he also continued to paint battles. In 1658-61 he collaborated with his younger brother Guglielmo on the decoration of the chapel of the Congregation of the Prima Primaria at the Collegio Romano.



[1] Luigi Angelini. 'Baschenis, Evaristo', in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Enciclopedia Treccani 

[2] Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon : die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Saur (1993), vol. 7 , pp.344-346 (as: Baschenis, Evaristo (1617))