Jean Berain Prints

Costumes and theater in the court of the Sun King

By Château de Chantilly

Costume du grand sacrificateur d’Apollon pour Bellérophon (1686) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Berain and Chantilly 

It was the duke of Aumale, the son of King Louis Philippe and founder of the Condé Museum in Chantilly, who acquired 34 prints by Jean Berain (1640–1711), currently preserved in the museum's collections.

These prints illustrate the art of entertainment in the French court under Louis XIV, nicknamed the  Sun King  (1638–1715), during the 17th century.

Costume du roi Égée pour la tragédie en musique Thésée, Berain (1675) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Who is Berain?  

Jean I Berain (1640–1711) was born in Lorraine, in Saint-Mihiel. In 1670, he entered King Louis XIV's Cabinet of engravings, where artists worked to promote the King of France through the medium of engraving. 

He became known for his engravings, particularly those representing theater costumes, which were copied and distributed in several European countries.

Costume de Nymphe de la suite de Diane pour Le Triomphe de l’Amour (1681) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Multidisciplinary artist, Berain wasn't only an engraver: he was also a designer of tapestries and ships for the King.



Notably, he became the official decorator for the French Royal Academy of Music in 1680 and created the  "à la Berain"  decor style, which was rich in motifs and ornamentation.

Costume de la sibylle de Cumes pour l’acte IV de Jason ou la Toison d’or, (1696) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Etchings

Berain used the technique of etching—a chemical form of engraving.

A metal plaque is covered in varnish, on the face to be engraved, then the drawing is traced onto it, using tools to remove the varnish from the areas that will hold the ink during printing.

Costume du Soleil pour l’acte IV de Phaéton (1683) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

The plaque is then plunged into a corrosive solution, like an acid, which hollows out the engraved areas.

Berain then enriched his artwork with gold and silver detailing.

Costume de la Constance pour la septième et dernière entrée du Ballet des arts (1663) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

The Ballets of arts 

The Ballet des arts is a ballet created in 1663 and set to music by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687). King Louis XIV himself held the role of a shepherd in it, on January 8, 1663.

In the ending of the ballet, seven Virtues make their entrance: Agriculture, Navigation, Goldsmithing, Painting, Hunting, Surgery, and War. 

Berain reproduced the costumes of these four virtues, according to Henri Gissey's drawings. (1621–1673). 

Costume de la Beauté pour la septième et dernière entrée du Ballet des arts (1663) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

This character is an allegory of Beauty, who holds a mirror in one hand and an arrow in the other, to symbolize those who have been pierced by Love.

Her seductive character is emphasized by a bodice that is very fitted at the waist, which highlights her body.

Costume de la Prudence pour la septième et dernière entrée du Ballet des arts (1663) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

The allegory of Prudence can be distinguished by the snake that she holds in her right hand, the mirror she carries in the other, and the helmet adorned with a garland of leaves.

This serpent is a reference to the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Be prudent like serpents and simple like doves." (Matthew 10:16)

Costume d’Hermione pour la tragédie en musique Cadmus et Hermione by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Cadmus and Hermione 

Cadmus and Hermione is the first musical tragedy, composed in 1673 by Jean-Baptiste Lully.

This work, which is dedicated to the romance between Cadmus and Hermione—the daughter of the god Mars—was very successful. The premiere was performed in the presence of Louis XIV, who welcomed it with enthusiasm.

In this engraving, we see the character of Hermione, arms outstretched and gaze turned skyward. These gestures evoke the tragic moment when Hermione says her goodbyes to her lover, Cadmus.

This engraving is distinguished by an architectural drawing in the background.

We see a symmetrical composition and an accentuated perspective. This décor may have been put forward by Berain himself.

Costume du roi Égée pour la tragédie en musique Thésée, Berain (1675) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Alcestis

Alcestis, or the Triumph of Alcides, is a lyrical tragedy, composed in 1674 by Jean-Baptiste Lully. 

The story, inspired by Greek mythology, tells the tale of Alcides (also known as Heracles) who falls in love with Alcestis, a young woman promised to a king named Admetus.

Costume de Pluton pour l’acte IV de la tragédie en musique d’Alceste (1674 ou 1678) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Pluto, one of the key characters in the tragedy and the god of the underworld, can be recognized by his pitchfork and the monster heads that adorn his costume. 

This tragedy was performed in the marble courtyard of the Palace of Versailles in 1674.

Costume d’une Ombre pour l’acte des enfers d’Alceste (1675 ou 1678) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

This is a representation of a Shade—one of the lost souls who roam the dark shores of Acheron, the river leading to the underworld.

Costume de Cyané pour Proserpine (1680) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Proserpina

The tragedy of Proserpina was created on February 3, 1680 by Lully. It tells the story of the kidnapping of Proserpina, daughter of the Roman deities Jupiter and Ceres, by Pluto, the king of the underworld.

Costume de la Paix pour le prologue de Proserpine (1680) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

The olive branch allows us to identify the character of Peace in this engraving. 

She is tasked with heralding the return of the "happy times of pleasures full of charms," following the woes caused by the kidnapping of Proserpina.

Costume de Pluton pour Proserpine (1680) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

Berain represents Pluto as a young, fashionable prince, covered in precious stones. This appearance thus creates a seductive figure of Proserpina's captor.

 We can also recognize him by his crown and trident.

The red and black tones evoke the underworld.

 We can also recognize him by his crown and trident.

Costume de la Chasteté pour la septième et dernière entrée du Ballet des arts (1675 ou 1678) by Jean BérainChâteau de Chantilly

The collection of Berain's engravings preserved in the Condé de Chantilly museum allow us to measure all the prestige of the shows played under the reign of Louis XIV.

Berain excelled in both reproducing and creating entertainment attire, as these meticulously embellished gold and silver prints show.

Later, his son, Jean II Berain, continued his work as an engraver and also provided costumes for the opera repertoire until the beginning of the 18th century.

Credits: Story

A virtual exhibition resulting from the exhibition "Court Splendor in the 17th century: the Costumes of Bellange and Berain", organized at Domaine de Chantilly, from May 13 to August 13, 2015. Curator: Nicole Garnier, general heritage curator, in charge of the Condé Museum.

The texts are inspired by those in the exhibition catalog Splendor of the "Court in the 17th" century, by Paulette Choné, professor emeritus at the University of Bourgogne, and Jérôme de La Gorce, director of research at CNRS. Collection co-published by Monelle Hayot editions and the Foundation for the Safeguarding and Development of the Domaine de Chantilly, in 2015.

Virtual exhibition designed by Clara Voiry.

Images ©RMN-Grand Palais Domaine de Chantilly

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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