Claude Mellan

Abbeville (Francia), 1598

Claude Mellan

Claude Mellan (23 May 1598 – Paris, 9 September 1688) was a French draughtsman, engraver, and painter.

His first known print made for a thesis in theology at the Collège des Mathurins, shows that he was in Paris by 1619. His first teachers have not been identified, but his early engravings are thought to show the influence of Léonard Gaultier.

In 1624 Mellan went to Rome, where he studied engraving for a brief time with Francesco Villamena, who died that year. He then studied under Simon Vouet, who had been in Rome since 1614. Vouet encouraged Mellan to draw, considering it essential for both engraving and painting. Mellan engraved some of Vouet’s works and also began drawing small portraits from life. Many of his portrait drawings were never engraved. He developed a style that was simple and natural, that would be characteristic throughout his later career. Many of his engravings in Rome were reproductive works, including, for example, designs by Pietro da Cortona and Gianlorenzo Bernini. The few after his own designs include Saint Francis de Paul and the Penitent Magdalene. The plates Mellan engraved in Rome were mostly executed in a conventional manner.

In 1637, after a period of time in Aix-en-Provence with Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, he returned to Paris, where he adopted an idiosyncratic technique, in which, instead of creating shade by cross-hatching, he used a system of parallel lines, regulating tone by varying their breadth and closeness.

Particularly notable is his engraving The Face of Christ, also called the Sudarium of Saint Veronica, created from a single spiraling line that starts at the tip of Jesus’ nose.

During this later period in Paris, Mellan mostly engraved his own work. He was much sought after as a portrait artist, drawing from life and engraving the portraits. Among his subjects were members of the royal family of Bourbon. His drawings “reveal more variety of style and execution than he showed in the engravings.” Two examples, for which both a drawing and an engraving exist, are portraits of Marie-Louise de Gonzague-Nevers and Henri de Savoie, Duc de Nemours.

He also created large religious works with geometric layouts and poses. According to Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée, writing in The Dictionary of Art, Mellan “as an engraver he proved sensitive to the classical ideal developed by Nicolas Poussin, Jacques Stella, and others in Paris in the middle of the 17th century.” Among Mellan’s reproductive engravings are two frontispieces for religious works after designs by Poussin and Stella.

Anatole de Montaiglon catalogued 400 engravings by Mellan, and about 100 drawings are known. Several of Mellan’s lost paintings are known from his engravings of them, including Samson and Delilah and Saint John the Baptist in the Desert.

Here you can see the artist's works that are part of the collection.