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Adrien de Montigny,
for the Album de Croy
Watercolors on vellum
26” x 21” framed
In 1580, Charles de Croy married Marie de Brimeu, the widow of another nobleman who had domains in Artois and Picardy, as well as Orchimont and Agimont. In the same year his parents, Phillipe the third Duke of Croy, and Jeanne, dame des Comines and de Hallium, gave him the principality of Chimay and the princely title that went with it. Upon their deaths in 1595 and 1581 respectively, he inherited more titles and land, most of it in Flanders in present-day Belgium. By 1595, it had become clearer that the management of his vast holdings required a high degree of administrative organization, and towards this end Charles engaged his court painter, Adrien de Montigny, of Valenciennes, to paint careful studies of the many castles, towns and estates he ruled. These splendid watercolors were the fruit of this enormous undertaking, executed between 1596 and 1598. Charles separated from Marie in 1584 and she regained her lands in 1599. These works were executed at the pinnacle of Charles power in terms of wealth and land ownership.
Despite the impetus for their creation having come from administrative needs, they are sumptuously rendered, pristine watercolors of outstanding esthetic quality, clearly intended from their inception to be works of art above and beyond their documentary function. The borders are of different types, the simplest being black with gold or silver ornament, others having architectural details embellished with flowers and fruit and yet others with a neutral background against which are placed birds, insects, flora and such all depicted with striking naturalism. Each forms an unusual and engaging frame to the evocative view it frames. The views themselves are delicately rendered and show the artist’s mastery of the difficult medium, as distance is portrayed with skilled use of atmospheric perspective, the far hills fading towards blue tones, and the sky and fields are carefully modulated to evoke a particular season and time of day. Many of the foregrounds have images of local people engaged in daily activities, fishing, farming and riding, and sometimes playing a musical instrument, creating a picture of overall social harmony in compositions that recalls Pieter Bruegell.