A French Raphael: Alexandre Tardieu’s engraving after Raphael’s St. Michael Vanquishing Satan (1806)

Fig. 1. Pierre Alexandre Tardieu, after Raphael, Saint Michael Vanquishing Satan/ St. Michel terrassant Satan (1806), engraving and etching, 45.2 x 29.7 cm, published in Musée Français, vol.III. ©Trustees of the British Museum.

Pierre Alexandre Tardieu (1756–1844), one of the most celebrated French engravers of the early 19th century, presented his engraving after Raphael’s St. Michael Vanquishing Satan (1518) at the Salon of 1806, where it was highly praised (Fig. 1).1 The following year it was published in the third volume of Le Musée Français,2 the grand set of albums representing paintings and sculptures from the Louvre (1803–1824); it figured prominently in the Institut de France’s 1808 report to the emperor;3 and in 1809 was selected as a candidate for the prix décennal, an award instituted by Napoleon for artists, academics and scientists. Tardieu’s reputation was effectively established by the engraving and he was made a member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1822.4 Finally, in 1823, a critic for Das Kunstblatt argued that Tardieu’s engraving had set the standard by which subsequent engravings after Raphael were measured.5 Its success reflected both the artist’s exceptional technical skill and his brilliant translation of the idioms of a 400-year-old painting into a print embodying contemporary aesthetic and political concerns.6

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  1. By the critic Pierre-Jean-Baptiste Chaussard, for example, in Le Pausianas Français état des arts du dessin en France, à l’ouverture du XIXe siècle: Salon de 1806 . . .. publié par un observateur impartial (Paris: F. Buisson, 1806), 513, no. 692. []
  2. Le Musée Français, recueil complet des tableaux, statues et bas-reliefs qui composent la collection nationale (1807). []
  3. Rapports à l’Empereur sur le progrès des sciences, des lettres et des arts depuis 1789 (on the Development of the Sciences, Letters and the Arts since 1789). []
  4. Tardieu was elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts on 4 May 1822. Engraving was represented at the Academy by only two printmakers, Tardieu and Auguste-Gaspard-Louis Boucher-Desnoyers (1779–1857), and one medal engraver, André Galle (1761–1844). []
  5. “Kunstnachrichten aus Paris; Paris, den 15. April 1823,” in Das Kunstblatt 46 (9 June 1823): 183. []
  6. William McAllister Johnson, “Le Rapport sur la Gravure,” in Rapports à l’Empereur sur le progrès des sciences des lettres et des arts depuis 1789, ed. Udolpho van de Sandt (Paris: Editions Belin, 1989), 49. While ultimately the prix décennaux were never awarded, the print was one of nine engravings recommended in the report of the official jury (Rapport du jury chargé de proposer les ouvrages susceptibles d’obtenir les Prix décennaux, avec les Rapports faits par la Classe des Beaux-Arts de l’Institut de France, n.d.). []