Nantueil, Robert

, a celebrated engraver, was born in 1630, at Rheims, where his father kept a petty shop, suitable to his fortune, which was small, but sufficient to enable him to give his son a liberal education. Accordingly, Robert was put to the grammar-school at a proper age; and, as soon as he had made the necessary progress in classical learning, went through a course of philosophy. He had, from his childhood, a strong inclination to drawing; and he applied to it with such success, that being to maintain, according to custom, his philosophical thesis at the end of two years, he drew and engraved it himself. As he continued to cultivate his genius, his productions became the delight of the town. But finding more fame than profit at Rheims, and having married while young, he was under the necessity of seeking a situation where his talents might be more amply rewarded. With this view he left his wife and repaired to Paris, probably without introduction to any friends, as we are told he had no better way to make himself known, than the following device Seeing several young abbes standing at the door of a victualling-house, near the Sorbonne, he asked the mistress if there was not an ecclesiastic of Rheims there? telling her that he had unfortunately forgot his name, but that she might easily know him by the picture that he had of him, shewing her at the same time a portrait, well drawn, and which had the air of being an exact likeness. This drew the attention of some of the abbes, who were profuse in their praises of the portrait. “If you please, messieurs,” said Nantueil, “I will draw all your pictures for a trifle, as highly finished as this is.” The price which he asked was so moderate, that all the abbes sat to him one after another; and then bringing their friends, customers came in so fast, that he took courage to raise his price: and having in a short time acquired a considerable sum, he returned to Rheims, disposed of his little property there, and brought his wife to Paris, where his character soon became established. | He applied himself particularly to drawing portraits in crayons, which he afterwards engraved for the use of the academical theses; and succeeded beyond all his predecessors in that branch. He never failed to catch the likeness; and even pretended that he had certain rules which ascertained it. His portrait of the king, as large as life, which he afterwards engraved, so pleased his majesty that he rewarded him with a present of a hundred louis d’ors, and made him designer and engraver to his cabinet, with a salary of 1000 livres per annum. Nantueil afterwards did the portrait of the queen-mother in the same manner, as also that of cardinal Mazarine, the duke of Orleans, marshal Turenne, and others. The grand duke of Tuscany hearing of his fame, requested to have Nantueil’s own portrait by himself, in crayons, in order to place it in his gallery. His works consist of 240 prints, including the portraits of almost all the persons of the first rank in France. Of his filial affection we have the following anecdote. As soon as he had made an easy fortune, his first object was to invite his father to share it; and the manner in which he received him, which happened to be before many witnesses, drew tears of joy from all. From this time the son’s greatest happiness was to comfort the declining years, and supply the wants, of his father. Nantueil died at Paris, Dec. 18, 1678, aged forty-eight.

Carlo Dati, in the life of Zeuxis, speaking of our engraver’s works, says, “These words of Apollonius remind us to contemplate the astonishing art of the prints of the modern gravers in France, where every thing is represented so naturally, the quality of the drapery, the colour of the flesh, the beard, the hair with the powder upon it, and, what is most important, the age, the air, and the lively resemblance of a person, though nothing is made use of besides the black of the ink and the white of the paper; which not only make the light and the shade, but do the office of all the colours. Ail this is seen and admired above all others, in the excellent portraits of the illustrious Nantueil.” This artist was a man of pleasing manners and address, had some share of learning and wit, and his conversation recommended him much to people of fashion. He was well respected at court; and Mazarine, then prime minister, retained him as his designer and engraver, and honoured him with the title of Monsieur. But he never was an œconomist; and of upwards of 500,000 | crowns which he had gained, he left only 20,000 to his heirs. The portraits by this excellent artist are well known, and although Strutt has given a short list of the bejt,he allows that it is not easy to say with any degree of precision, among so many beautiful ones, which are the best. 1


Perrault Les Hommes Illustres.—Strutt’s Dict.—Basan.—Dict. Hist.