Jean Daret, who was born in Brussels in 1614, began his apprenticeship with Antoine van Opstal (1592-1653) a painter at the court of the Archdukes, at the age of 11. By 1633, he was in Paris where he is documented at wedding of his first cousin Pierre Daret (1605-1678), a printmaker who engraved after paintings by the major artists of his time such as Simon Vouet (1590-1649) and Jacques Blanchard (1600-1638). Jean left the French capital in early 1634, probably to go to Italy.

He is next to be found in Aix-en-Provence about 1636, where he married the daughter of a member of the local bourgeoisie and remained for about thirty years. There he was involved in the decoration of churches and convents in the town (Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine, 1643, Aix-en-Provence, Church of the Magdalen) and surrounding region (Miracle of Soriano, 1649, Grasse, Musée d’Art et d’Histoire). He worked mostly for private clients, members of the local nobility who requested paintings for their private chapels (Crucifixion, 1640, Aix-en-Provence, Saint-Sauveur cathedral), mythological subjects (Asclepius Reviving Hippolytus, 1636, Marseille, Musée des Beaux-Arts), genre scenes (the Guitar Player, 1636, Aix-en-Provence, Musée Granet) and private devotional subjects (Education of the Virgin, 1655, private collection). The trompe-l’oeil decoration in the staircase of the hotel de Chateaurenard is the only evidence of his work as a painter of decorations to remain in situ. Louis XIV admired it while he was staying in Aix in 1660.1 This work has earned Daret a reputation as a painter of decorations.

In 1659, Daret decided to go to Paris where he was involved in the decoration work at the château de Vincennes (destroyed) and made a number of portraits (Nicolas Sanson, lost but known from the print by Jan Edelinck). He was admitted as a member of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture on 15 September 1663 and returned to Aix the following year. He continued to work for local patrons such as Pierre Maurel de Pontevès (1601-1672), who commissioned a number of decorations for his chateau at Pontevès (Var). He was painting the ceiling for the chapel of the Pénitents Blancs de l’Observance (destroyed, preparatory drawing, Rouen, Musée des Beaux-Arts) when he died in 1668.

Daret’s work as a painter of religious subjects is well known today thanks to the many documents that record them. The surviving paintings show a particular interest in the use of colour, the realistic treatment of details and skilful foreshortening. But it is in his profane works – now less common and less well documented – that Daret seems to have at his most creative. The compositions are innovative, the settings are carefully constructed and the colours subtle. The painting catalogued here shows all of these qualities.

The oval composition has been painted on a rectangular canvas, intended to be set into wainscoting. It is a battle scene with figures piled up in the foreground, a view towards a distant town in flames on the right. The poses of the soldiers follow the oval shape, echoing it within the painting. Daret’s skills with colour can be seen here. He has used a shimmering range: pink, blue, red, orange and violet that oppose the muter shades of olive green, brown and grey of the horses, the armour and some clothing. This way of building up the composition
using colour is typical of Daret and can be found in his Conversion of St. Paul (see ill. I), in which he has similarly arranged his composition around areas of strong colour using red, blue and violet.

The clothing and bodies of the warriors are painted freely and with confidence describing the muscles visible under the cloth. Their heavy-set shapes, their round, pale faces, the subtle shadows giving them volume are all typical of Daret and appear in the Conversion of St. Paul. This composition is made dynamic by the movements in opposite directions of St. Paul and his companions, a type of opposition also visible in our painting. These similarities in addition to the artist’s obvious confidence in creating this battle scene, the varied touches of paint and the different parts of the figures: broad and free on the drapery, more precise and delicate in the decoration of the arms, helmets and swords, indicate that our Battle Scene like the Conversion of St. Paul, should be dated to the mid-1640s. It would be risky to attempt further identification of this scene. It is set against a city in flames, which has no recognizable elements. In addition, the soldiers wearing antique armour do not have any recognizable attributes.

This absence is doubtless due to the fact that our painting was part of a series of compositions illustrating a pastoral tale such as Aethiopica by Heliodorus of Emesa or an ancient text such as Livy’s Histories. However, it is possible to exclude the Gerusalemme liberate by Tasso as a source, as painters usually identified the Muslim soldiers of the story with turbans, which are not visible in our composition.

This unpublished Battle Scene is an important example of Daret’s talents as a painter of decorative compositions. Although his Diana and Callisto (1642, Marseille Musée des Beaux-Arts), intended for a ceiling, is already known, its condition has suffered considerably. The excellent condition of our painting is exceptional and allows us to understand the richness of Daret’s manner as a painter of narrative scenes. Jane MacAvock



1. Jane MacAvock, “La fortune de la peinture religieuse en Provence au XVIIe siècle: copies et pastiches d’oeuvres de Nicolas Mignard et de Jean Daret” Regards sur les tableaux religieux: XVIIème – XIXème siècle, Arles, 2013, p. 60.
2. Pierre-Joseph d’Haitze, Les curiositez les plus remarquables de la ville d’Aix, A Aix, chez Charles David, 1679, p. 60.
3. Recueil des principaux évènemens de la confrérie des Frères Pénitens Blancs près l’Observance de la ville d’Aix, Aix-en-Provence, Bibliothèque Paul-Arbaud, about 1721, Ms. MF 197. Not paginated,
4. The story was illustrated by Nicolas Mignard in Avignon in the mid-1630s, see A. Schnapper, Nicolas Mignard d’Avignon, Avignon, 1979, no. 7.
5. We thank Mr M. Alexis Merle du Bourg for his lightings on this point.


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