Jacques Courtois, le Bourguignon (French, 1621-1676)
Battle Scene, n.d.
Ink and wash on paper 5 3/8 in. x 8 1/8 in. (13.65 cm x 20.64 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection
Born near Besançon in eastern France, Jacques Courtois was later known as le Bourguignon or il Borgognone from his native province. He first studied with his father, who was also a painter. The artist traveled to Milan in his late teens and entered Hapsburg military service, where he remained for at least three years. He sketched constantly, recording both the terrain and the battles that took place within it. When he returned to civilian life, Courtois used these figural and compositional drawings in paintings for the rest of his career.
The experience of battle honed his skills, so that his military paintings captured both events and drama accurately. These and his landscapes found an especially ready market in Italy. In 1655, after a period of creating easel paintings and palace frescoes for powerful patrons in the peninsula’s major cities, Courtois became a Jesuit in Rome. He spent the remainder of his life in the city and decorated many of the Society’s buildings as he continued to paint his preferred subjects.
This drawing focuses on a skirmish rather than a grand battle in a sweeping setting. While horsemen attack over the bodies of fallen comrades, the heavy smoke of artillery obscures the landscape. A visual rhythm is created in the succession of four horses from left to right.