Born in Paris, but raised in Antwerp, Largillierre was enrolled in 1668 in that city’s Guild of Saint Luke as an apprentice to a local painter. In 1675 he was in London, where he was influenced principally by Sir Peter Lely (1618–1680), and his earliest known works are still lifes painted in 1677 and 1678 in the course of the visit. The next year he settled in Paris; he was soon taken up by Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He was made a candidate member of the Académie in 1783 and, after a delay of three years, he was admitted after submitting his reception piece, a Portrait of Charles Le Brun
(Musée du Louvre, Paris). Largillierre’s Anglo-Flemish bias, which resulted in continuing certain prototypes and a consistent interest in still-life and landscape elements, was mediated by exposure to the high-style French portraiture. Along with Hyacinthe Rigaud (1659–1743), Largillierre became the preeminent French portrait painter in the first decades of the eighteenth century.The Painting:
This portrait in three-quarter length, dating from the middle years of Largillierre’s long career, came to light in a 1902 exhibition at the Guildhall, London, and was purchased by The Met shortly thereafter. Our understanding of this work is evolving and research is ongoing. For the present, barring the discovery of an earlier provenance, the two figures’ identities remain speculative.A Portrait Type in Its Historical Context:
This painting is exemplary of a small but important number of late-seventeenth-century French portraits that include enslaved children or adolescents of African descent. Iconographic precedents connect these works via influential portraits by Sir Peter Lely and Anthony van Dyck to Titian’s Portrait of Laura Dianti and Enslaved Servant
(ca. 1520–25; Kisters Collection, Kreuzlingen), which is often seen as inaugurating this portrait type. Long naturalized as simply an artistic convention, documentary evidence points to the reality of such enslaved individuals who served as personal servants to the prominent individual who was the principal sitter and usually paid for the portrait. Such portraits are likely to include trappings of conspicuous wealth, especially diamonds, pearls, exotic animals, and fabrics. In the present painting, the African boy, who holds a dog, is presented with unusual simplicity in a uniform cap and coat trimmed with piping. He wears a hinged silver collar around his neck that reveals with remarkable transparency the power dynamic visualized through this image. Juxtaposed with the dog, this kind of representation not only made the racist association of African descended people with animals but, moreover, enslavers’ fantasy of a natural fidelity to Europeans within an imagined hierarchy of races. A dehumanizing attitude toward Africans rose alongside the slave trade, which spiked in the seventeenth century. The displacement of West Africans to the French islands of the Caribbean dates to the third quarter of the seventeenth century when sugar became the principal crop and the demand for the commodity began to increase. France became a major player in the slave trade only after the acquisition of Saint-Domingue (Haiti) in 1664. Although the French trade in enslaved Africans during this period was poorly documented and has long been ignored, the number of persons involved seems to have been in the tens of thousands. Slavery was technically outlawed in France itself, but legal loopholes abounded and a few hundred individuals must have been admitted as the servants of French owners of property in the Caribbean. This practice was typically carried out on the pretext of their learning a trade or conversion to Catholicism while on the French mainland. Situating The Met’s Portrait:
While Largillierre depicted Black figures in such subservient roles in at least five portraits, the most closely comparable composition to The Met’s painting is Largillierre’s Portrait of the comtesse de Rupelmonde with an Enslaved Man
(ca. 1707; private collection; see fig. 1 above). This portrait, which has only recently been published, includes an enslaved African boy of similar age, with similarly individuating—and decidedly different—facial features rather than following set stereotyped physiognomy as many contemporary works from the 1680s and 1690s would do; he also wears a similar silver collar and comparatively non-exoticized clothing.
The presence of parrot, more specifically a Martinique macaw, has been read as a conventional sign of luxury and this elite woman’s access to luxury goods from around the world. Recently, however, it has been pointed out that partially extinct species of macaw once inhabited many Caribbean islands, including present-day Cuba and Martinique.. In this sense, the woman is quite literally surrounded by the realities of the Triangular Trade whereby the circulation of the world economy that directly depended on the enslavement of African men and women.
The elaborate architectural background includes a fountain, a conventional means of animating the canvas that Largillierre could have taken from Lely or other portraitists of the previous generation. This device typically referred to purity and nature’s vitality, coded in the feminine (see, for example, its literalization in portraits and allegories by Jean-Marc Nattier, 56.100.2
). Recent scholarship on enslaved people in France, however, suggests that in works such as The Met’s, fountains may have the added valiance of alluding to the baptism of non-Christians recently arrived from Turkey and Africa. The financial sponsorship of such compulsory spiritual conversions (sometimes accompanied by lessons on Catholicism that indoctrinated notions of fidelity and natural orders of power) became a particular feature of elite court women in France in the second half of the seventeenth century. This potentially adds a more nuanced layer to the longstanding and probably entirely accurate assumption that the such portraits also played on the contrast of black and white skin in which an emerging racist ideology based on skin color elevated Europeans to the denigration of African subjects.Identities:
Evidence for the woman’s traditional identification as Madame Lambert de Thorigny, posited by Wildenstein when this portrait surfaced in 1902, is not conclusive. A document which seems to have been supplied to The Met by Gimpel & Wildenstein in 1903, when the painting was acquired, further identifies the sitter as Hélène Lambert de Thorigny, probably because of the existence of a print by Pierre Drevet (1663–1738) after Largillierre of a portrait of that lady, the sister of Claude Lambert. However, the print is not after our painting, nor, apparently, of our sitter. The sale of the collection of Jacques André, comte de Ganay (1863–1912) on June 4, 1903, moreover, included a portrait listed as “Madame de Lambert de Thorigny,” too late to be the present work and suggestive of misidentification of either The Met’s painting, the Thorigny painting, or both. A typescript in the archive files which dates before 1905 calls her instead Marie Marguerite Bontemps (died 1701), who was married in 1682 to Claude Jean-Baptiste Lambert de Thorigny (died 1702). The alternate identification was apparently based on a biography from a standard source of reference published in 1872 (see Notes). Largillierre painted at least three other portraits of members of this wealthy family, the owners of a great house on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris which houses the celebrated Galerie d’Hercule decorated by Charles Le Brun. While possible, the identification with the Lambert family is entirely speculative.
If the woman’s identity can be solidified, it may be possible to eventually identify at least the first name of the young man. In other instances, inventories and contracts have allowed historians to access the names and sometimes even the origins of enslaved individuals. In the case of the present portrait, the other possibility follows the iconographic program described above. It may be that Largillierre included the young man in much same the manner as the parrot and dog, in order to create an image of the woman’s comfort at the center of global trade, styling herself with the world bowing before her power and racial superiority. In other portraits, notably a work in which Largilliere collaborated with the flower painter Blin de Fontenay (1653–1715; Honolulu Academy of Arts, fig. 2), the Black figure is more clearly a stock figure than an individuated subject. Rather than the recognition of a longstanding relationship between a given white sitter and an individual in his or her household, this use of the Black figure encapsulates a more transparently racist ideology played out on canvas. That Largillierre inserted or removed such markers at will according to a code of meanings is apparent in a comparison of The Met’s painting to other portraits by the artist. The parrot, for example, surely did not belong to the sitter of The Met’s painting, for it was recycled identically from Largillierre’s earlier Portrait of the Sculptor Pierre LePautre
(1689; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; fig. 3). A drawing or oil sketch would have served as a model in his studio whereby Largillierre or a workshop assistant repeated the animal. Sitters could, in fact, choose among a host of preexisting options, including for their own hands and drapery, and would pay more for new inventions. Having established the pose of the white figure in The Met’s painting, in 1711 another sitter opted for exactly the same position—but for reasons of cost or taste he opted to omit the elaborate apparatus of parrot, fountain, and enslaved figure in favor of a simple landscape and orange blossoms (1711; Musée de Grenoble; fig. 4). Situating The Met’s portrait in this host of options in which the sitter chose one over another draws out its importance: on the one hand, it unveils some of the mechanisms behind wealth and power in early modern Europe with exceptional transparency; on the other, it underscores this particular sitter’s stark willingness to announce—with apparent comfort—an affiliation with racial inequality.
David Pullins 2020
 From the extensive literature, see Paul Kaplan, “Titian’s Laura Dianti and the Origins of the Motif of the Black Page in Portraiture,” Antichità viva
, no. 21 (1982), pp. 11–18; Adrienne L. Childs, The Black Exotic: Tradition and Ethnography in Nineteenth-Century Orientalist Art,
PhD diss., University of Maryland, 2005, pp. 51–81; Anne Lafont, “How Skin Color Became a Racial Marker: Art Historical Perspectives on Race,” Eighteenth-Century Studies,
no. 51 (Fall 2017), p. 106.
 This is in marked contrast to the often ornamentalized figures found in comparable seventeenth-century portraits such as Largillierre’s Portrait of the Princess Rákóczi with an Enslaved Servant
(ca. 1720; National Gallery, London).
 For this particular reading of the traditional iconography of the dog, I am especially grateful for discussions with Denise Murrell.
 For more information on this subject, see the "Now at The Met" blog post Finding Context for a 17th-Century Enslaved Servant in a Painting by Largillierre
. See also Emily Casey, “Visual Culture of the Atlantic World”
, Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. In-depth, English-language studies can be found in Sue Peabody, “There Are No Slaves in France.” The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Régime,
Oxford, 1996 and Madeleine Dobie, Trading Places. Colonialization and Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Culture,
Ithaca, New York, 2010.
 See Myra Rosenfeld, Largillierre and the Eighteenth-Century Portrait,
exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, 1981; Nicolas de Largillierre 1656–1746,
exh. cat. Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 2003, p. 34.
 Many thanks to Wolfram Koeppe for developing and sharing this idea.
 Meredith Martin and Gillian Weiss, “Enslaved Muslims at the Sun King’s Court” in The Versailles Effect. Objects, Lives, and the Afterlives of the Domaine,
eds. Mark Ledbury and Robert Wellinton, London, 2020, chapter 9.
 Further details found in Baetjer 2019, pp. 34–37 and Neil Jeffares, “Minutaie at The Met” (https://neiljeffares.wordpress.com/2019/03/29/minutiae-at-the-met/).
 Wildenstein & Gimpel’s relationship to that sale is unclear. Paris, Hôtel Drout, June 4, 1903, no. 27.
 See David Pullins, “Stubbs, Vernet & Boucher Share a Canvas: Workshops, Authorship & the Status of Painting,” Journal18
, issue 1, Spring 2016 (https://www.journal18.org/issue1/stubbs-vernet-boucher-share-a-canvas-workshops-authorship-the-status-of-painting/) and for how sitters chose “pieces” of their portraits—from attributes to hands, drapery and poses—see Le Livre de raison du peintre Hyacinthe Rigaud,
ed. Joseph Roman, Paris, 1919.
 Roussina Roussinova, The Art of Pleasing the Eye. Portraits by Nicolas de Largillierre and Spectorship with Taste for Color in the Early Eighteenth Century,
Stockholm, 2015, pp. 101, 164–65.