The artist Jean Duvet in the guise of St. John the Evangelist, sitting at a desk

Jean Duvet French

Not on view

Jean Duvet was a French goldsmith, engraver, and festival designer who worked in the provincial cities of Langres and Dijon. He began his career as a printmaker by copying the prints of the Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi. He assimilated these influences and also the work of other artists such as the prints of Albrecht Dürer and the etchings of Fontainebleau. In doing so Duvet developed a highly personal manner of engraving, seen to best advantage in his famous 'Unicorn' and 'Apocalypse' series to which this print belongs. The abstract and visionary qualities of Duvet's style are evident here in the rhythmic repetition of forms such as the verticals of the buildings and tree trunks; in the fine, short lines that cover the surfaces of every object to create a shimmering effect; and in the discrepancies of scale, evident in the juxtaposition between the massive Saint John, the tiny fishermen, the floating Fates, and the disproportionately large swimmer who emerges from beneath the bridge.
The weary Evangelist closes his eyes and rests his head on his hand. He points to his completed labors, the Book of the Apocalypse. On the table beside the book rests an engraver's burin and a tablet inscribed with the words: 'Jean Duvet Goldsmith of Langres aged 70 made these histories 1555.' It is clear that the aged man—Saint John is usually depicted much younger—doubles as a representation of the artist himself, and that the harbingers of death that appear in the image allude to the artist and the Evangelist. One of the most poignant of these symbols is the swan who, having broken the golden chain of life, approaches with an arrow in his beak. The swan, an allusion to Duvet's name (which means 'down'), was said to sing most sweetly before death. Clearly Duvet regarded this series as his swansong. The inscription above the swan reads: 'The Fates are pressing, already sight fails, the mind remains victorious, and the great work is completed.'

The artist Jean Duvet in the guise of St. John the Evangelist, sitting at a desk, Jean Duvet (French, ca. 1485–after 1561), Engraving

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