Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)

Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)

Raymond Lafage (Lisle-sur-Tarn 1656-1684 Lyon)

The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and St John the Baptist

Pen and brown ink, over sketch in graphite, framing lines in black ink, 180 x 127 mm (7.1 x 5 inch); laid down onto a collector’s mount with further framing lines in black ink

Inscribed in an early hand ‘Lafage fecit.’ (brown ink, lower left, on the mount)

Private collection, Belgium


Raymond Lafage was something of an anomaly in his day, because his oeuvre consists for the most part of drawings, plus some thirty prints.1 He never learned to paint, although it seems probable that he intended to do so. In 1678, at the age of twenty-two, Lafage went from Toulouse, near his birthplace, to Paris, and in 1679 to Rome, where he shared a first prize for drawing at the Academy of Saint Luke. In Rome, besides being exposed to the grandiloquent forms of the Roman Baroque, he was evidently impressed by the forms and compositions of Michelangelo. He also is said to have learned to draw by copying prints after subjects by Francesco Primaticcio, an influence that is clearly evident in his work. In 1680 Lafage returned to France, first to Aix-en-Provence and then to Paris. In 1682 he went to Antwerp with the engraver and publisher Jean van der Bruggen. Lafage’s early death at age twenty-eight followed a fall from a donkey when he was in Lyon; reportedly he was on his way back to Italy because he wanted to see the work of Correggio.

Lafage’s known oeuvre today consists of well over three hundred drawings in pen and ink, some with added blue-gray wash, most in the same loose, energetic style. Although his oeuvre has received considerable scholarly attention in the second half of the twentieth century, mostly during the 1960s, it still awaits a thorough study. The enormous appeal of Lafage’s work after his death is attested to by the existence of some 125 prints reproducing his drawings published in the seventeenth century, and more than 100 further prints in the eighteenth century. His drawings were owned by most of the eminent eighteenth-century collectors, including the greatest of these, Pierre Crozat.

The distinctive inscription ‘Lafage fecit’ on our newly discovered drawing occurs on more of the artist’s drawings, apparently in the same hand, for instance on the Figure Kneeling Before an Altar in the Fogg Museum (see fig.),2 and on the Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law in the Yale University Art Gallery.3 The inscription may have been applied by an early collector of Lafage’s drawings, or possibly by someone with access to his studio holdings.

Our drawing illustrates a scene from a popular thirteenth-century text that emphasized the humanity of Christ and the Virgin Mary. With the Christ child on her lap, Mary is approached by young St John the Baptist and his mother, the Virgin's cousin St Elizabeth. The highly energetic penmanship is typical for the artist.

A drawing of comparable composition by Lafage of the Virgin and Child with St Joseph was engraved by Jacobus Coelemans (1654–1732) (see last fig.).4


1. For the artist, see: Les dessins de Raymond La Fage, Toulouse 1962; Nathan T. Whitman, The drawings of Raymond Lafage, The Hague 1963, and Jeanne Arvengas, Raymond Lafage: dessinateur, Paris 1965. 

2. Pen and black ink, 240 x 212 mm; Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Gift of Belinda L. Randall from the collection of John Witt Randall, 1898.142; Agnes Mongan and Paul J. Sachs, Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1940), no. 585. The inscription also occurs on the Sheet of Studies in the same collection, op. cit. no. 584, fig. 297.

3. Pen and brown ink over black chalk, 235 x 358 mm; Suzanne Boorsch and John Marciari (eds.), Master Drawings from the Yale University Art Gallery, Yale University Press 2006, no. 56, repr.

4. An impression is preserved in the Harvard Art Museums / Fogg Museum, Gift of Belinda L. Randall from the collection of John Witt Randall, R3955.

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Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
Raymond Lafage (1656-1684)
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