Recognizing a Musketeer
Entry 38 September 3, 2016
I’ve written before about occasions when I thought I recognized a painting from some previous acquaintance, only to find after trying to verify the connection that I’d made a mistake.
In entries 14 and 15, I wrote about jumping to the conclusion that St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata by Taddeo Gaddi (ca. 1290-1366), included in a 2013 traveling show at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario, was a painting on the same subject by Giotto (1265-1337) that I had recently looked at in my Louvre book. If I had thought about it a bit longer, I might have noticed that Gaddi’s painting didn’t include the three much smaller images Giotto placed along the bottom of his painting. in which other scenes from the life of St. Francis were depicted (see entry 4 for more on Giotto’s painting). Moreover, despite the imposing size of Taddeo Gaddi’s work (measuring 212 cm by 149.5 cm), Giotto’s work was even larger, 313 cm by 163 cm.
In entry 28, I told the same sort of story, only in reverse. When I saw the Louvre book’s reproduction of Canaletto’s The Molo Seen from the Bacino di San Marco, I carried the book upstairs to compare the reproduction with a Canaletto print I’d had for many years. I was sure my print must have been based on the Louvre painting; however, despite many similarities, the two paintings clearly differed, particularly in the foreground arrangements of small boats and human figures.
The Leaders of the Brotherhood of St. Sebastian of Amsterdam, by Bartholomeus van der Helst (1613-1670) looked familiar to me. It wasn’t the image as a whole that I thought I’d seen before but, rather, the human figures in it. They reminded me of the principal characters in Richard Lester’s 1973 film, The Three Musketeers. It wasn’t just that, like Athos, Aramis and Porthos, the brotherhood leaders were dressed in black doublets over white linen shirts; after all, many of the portraits in the Northern Schools section of the Louvre are of men dressed in similar clothing. But none of the other male subjects include the same broad-brimmed black hats the brotherhood leaders wear. Moreover, Helst’s subjects, particularly the man sitting at the end of the table and the man seated in front of the table and looking squarely at the viewer, also share with Lester’s musketeers a swaggering self-confidence. They look comfortable in their clothes.
Another image, from an 1893 edition of Dumas’s second sequel to The Three Musketeers, The Vicomte of Bragelonne, may help to show how important the hat style is in linking Helst’s brotherhood with Lester’s musketeers. The tall figure on the left of the image, addressing the crowd, is D’Artagnan; notice how small his hat is relative to the size of his head. It gives a very different impression from the black hats affected by Lester’s musketeers. Their hats’ size and arrangement—especially the turned-up brims—add volume and drama to the men’s faces.
It seemed strange to find such a match between a Northern Schools painting and Lester’s depiction of the special soldiers of the king of France. I wondered if perhaps all men at arms dressed this way in the early 17th century, the time period in which Alexander Dumas’s story is set. But a quick look back through the Italian section, followed by a quick look ahead in the French section, did not produce any similar images.
I decided to test the connection from a different angle: I looked on the Internet for information about the film’s clothing designer, Yvonne Blake, who was nominated for an Oscar for the costumes in The Four Musketeers, the sequel Lester released a year after the success of the first film. Blake says in an interview with Deborah Nadoolman Landis, published in Landis’s book, Film Craft: Costume Design (2012), that she was inspired by “the paintings of Van Dyck and Rubens.” Her comment goes a long way toward establishing a link between her work and the Northern Schools, although the extensive Louvre collection for both painters she names does not include any clothing that resembles the sort of costume I saw in Helst’s painting. Still, I see a kind of family resemblance between some of the costumes worn by the Duke of Buckingham in the film and Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I (ca. 1635) that is part of the Louvre’s collection.
Blake’s career, which includes extensive costume design work for Spanish films, suggests another possible source of inspiration for the musketeers’ dress. Just six years before the release of Lester’s Three Musketeers, More Than a Miracle, a fairy tale love story shot in Spain, includes many scenes depicting soldiers in the service of reluctant royal bridegroom Omar Sharif. They are dressed in black doublets and white linen shirts; their black hats are large, with brims turned up. Perhaps the most striking visual similarity between the soldiers of the two films is that on horseback they sit very tall and straight in the saddle; they look much larger in proportion to the size of their horses than cowboys in American Westerns do.
Although she did not design the costumes for More Than a Miracle, it seems likely Blake would have been familiar with them.