11.5.11

Bernard Picart ..French Engraver and Artist

"Syrinx Metamorphosed into a Reed" by Bernard Picart, Temple of the Muses
One of my all time favorite, and little known, artists is Bernard Picart.  While traveling in Greece a few years ago, I stumbled upon an antiquariat book shop which also sold lithographs and illustrations from rare antique books.  I love old things, and especially old prints of Greek and Roman mythology so I asked the proprietor if he had any old prints with the story of Pan and Syrinx, which happens to be one of my favorite mythological stories (Narcissus being my second favorite).  

If you aren't familiar with it, it goes like this: The God Pan was in love with the lovely maiden Syrinx. This love however, was not returned. Syrinx evaded Pan by turning herself into a river reed and hiding in the reeds by the river. Pan was so upset that he cut down the reeds and made his Pan Pipes from them. Of course this meant Syrinx had died and his love was lost forever. Her voice cried to him from his set of pipes.  

At any rate, the proprietor did in fact have a few prints of Pan.  In fact, he had a gorgeous lithograph taken from a book called the "Temple of the Muses" and it was a scene depicting Pan amongst the river reeds looking for the lost Syrinx.  The print was from the late 1600's so it is close to 300 years old.  I had to have it.  It now hangs in my dining room framed under museum quality glass!  Its the one at the top of this page.

The lithograph was stunning in detail and I noticed the signature was B. Picart.  After some research I learned that it was a very well known (during his time) French artist named Bernard Picart. The illustrator Bernard Picart (1673-1733) was a French Calvinist forced to relocate to the Netherlands following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Between 1723 and 1737 he collaborated with the publisher Jean-Frédéric Bernard to produce Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde. It was soon translated into English and appeared in a number of editions over the next century.   Bernard Picart specialized in book illustration, either for his own publications or for others. While Picart trained initially in Paris, establishing a studio on Rue St Jacques, au Buste de Monseigneur, in the late 1690s he found more work in the Netherlands. Picart turned Huguenot and settled in Amsterdam around 1711.


"An exceptional French eighteenth century engraver, Bernard Picart received his artistic education from his father, Etienne (1632-1721), and from Le Brun and Jouvenet at the Royal Academy. To say that Bernard Picart's considerable talents developed rapidly would be an understatement: at the age of sixteen he gained honors at the Academy of Paris. He moved permanently to Amsterdam in 1710. At this time this city was a major center for both publishing and printmaking and for the following two decades Bernard Picart's fine work placed him as the successor to Romeyn de Hooghe. Picart excelled chiefly in the fields of portraiture, ornamental designs and mythological and religious subjects, both after the old masters and upon his own creation. In the former category he was commissioned for portraits of Philip, Duke of Orleans, Eugene Francois, Prince of Savoy, Don Luis, Prince of the Asturias, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, and Kings Charles I, Charles II, James II, William III and George I. As an ornamental engraver, Bernard Picart designed and engraved plates for numerous books. He also contributed large plates to such famous sets as Les Impostures Innocentes (seventy-eight large engravings in imitation of old master engravers), the historically important Ceremonies Religieuses (1723-1743), and The Temple of the Muses (Neu-Erofneer Musen-Tempel)." - Art of the Print, 2011





The book, "Temple of The Muses" was a collection of lithograph prints which depicted most of the ancient Myths from Greece.  Good luck finding an intact copy of this book!  I have searched high and low and there are about two in existance which sell for around $5,000 a piece! The best I could do was find a scanned copy from an online archive source via the University of Pittsburgh.


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