Costume Design: A standing Man with a Cape and a Cane by Jean Berain


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The refined art of theatre costume at the court of Louis XIV
Costume Design: A standing Man with a Cape and a Cane by Jean Berain

Jean Berain

Saint Mihiel 1640 – Paris 1711

Costume Design: A standing Man with a Cape and a Cane

Watercolour with pen and brown ink, extensively heightened with gold, the drawing silhouetted and laid down onto another sheet. Later inscription Sketch for the stage lower right.

Drawing: 190 x 129 mm (7 1/2 x 5 1/8 in.); sheet: 259 x 206 mm (10 1/4 x 8 1/8 in.)

Provenance – England, private collection; London, Rafael Valls, 1978; London, Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd, 2003 ; Paris, Marty de Cambiaire, 2017.


Cut out and pasted on a sheet that was once mounted in a collector’s album, this beautiful costume design comes from an English collection, as indicated by the inscription made at the bottom of the sheet. The Houthakker collection has two designs closely related to ours and mounted on sheets that bear the same inscription. However, these are watercolours over engraved lines, a practice that Bérain adopted from time to time because it allowed him to focus solely on the realization of the costumes and thus save time. This is not the case of our design whose contours are drawn in pen.


Cutting out costume designs was a common practice; the Louvre has several of them carefully glued on backing sheets. According to Jérôme de la Gorce, this allowed collectors to keep only the silhouette and eliminate all inscriptions and recommendations generally made on the side for the craftsmen who were to fabricate the costumes (See Jérôme de la Gorce, « Le recueil des habits de masques du Kupferstich-Kabinett de Dresde, Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 2004, Beiträge, p. 63). It also happened that the collector had the artist’s annotations copied in an elegant and legible handwriting on the opposite page.In the present drawing, as in the two works from the Houthakker collection, the collector redrew the shade under the legs of the figure in a way that may have seemed more natural to him than the small pointed and stylized shadows drawn by Bérain.


These studies were designs for the costumes that were worn by actors and dancers during ballets or plays they performed at the court of Louis XIV. Here, we find the thoroughness and sophistication of the best Berain’s drawings. It is difficult to identify the character in this theatrical universe where shepherds and messengers, rivers and winds were dressed as richly as sovereigns. His headdress is decorated with jewels, and he wears a ceremonial sabre at the hip. His cape falls in soft folds on his legs elegantly positioned for declamation, and his pose is reminiscent of king Aegeus in the tragedy Thésée(1675), for which Bérain designed the costumes, but also that of Louis XIV in his ceremonial portraits. The costume is relatively plain and bears neither mascarons nor grotesque ornament, which means that it was intended for a human rather than allegorical character, who would be dressed in these garments in order to be easily identified by the audience. This character may be an oriental king.


This drawing, like the finest examples in the Louvre’s collection or in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, is coloured with care up to the inner lining of the cape, adorned with delicate blue and white stripes. The refined combination of pink and green is fairly typical of Berain, as well as gold and silver heightening, which he had applied by a miniaturist in order not to damage the colours. The treatment of the face is also rather characteristic of Berain; the lines in pen are animated by subtle touches of wash, grey for shaping and pink for colouring the cheeks.


Condition report – The figure silhouetted and pasted on a later paper. Very good condition.