17th century French Old Master Portrait - Henri de tour Vicomte de Turenne
Exquisite French 17th century old master portrait of Henri de Tour d'Auvergne Vicomte de Turenne, who according to Napoleon Bonaparte was history’s greatest military leader.
Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne, (born Sept. 11, 1611, Sedan, Fr.—died July 27, 1675, Sasbach, Baden-Baden) was one of the greatest military commanders during the reign of Louis XIV and was from 1643 even a marshal of France. He began his military career, which would ultimately span more than 5 decades, in the Thirty Years’ War (from 1625), subsequently commanded the royal armies in the civil war of the Fronde (1648–53), in the French invasion of the Spanish Netherlands (1667), and in the third Dutch War (begun in 1672).
Henri was the son of Henri, duc de Bouillon, and his second wife, Elizabeth of Nassau, daughter of William the Silent, the stadholder of the Netherlands. When his father died in 1623, Turenne was sent to learn soldiering with his mother’s brothers, Maurice and Frederick Henry, the princes of Orange who were leading the Dutch against the Spaniards in the Netherlands.
The vicomte de Turenne, with his powerful personality, courageous and clear-sighted actions and brilliant mind, achieved numerous remarkable victories for France and even when all odds seemed against him, in the end he always managed to be victorious. Two of his greatest achievements were his role in securing the Peace of Westphalia and thus ending the Thirty Years’ War and the Franco-Spanish Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659, which ended the Franco-Spanish wars. He also saved the young king Louis XIV (the later “Sun king”) from capture and through his campaign of 1652-1653 he secured the future of the monarchy, which was threatened by rebels.
On April 5, 1660, Turenne was appointed “marshal-general of the camps and armies of the King,” an extraordinary honour that implied that he might have been constable (ex officio commander in chief in war) of France if he abjured his Protestant faith.
Especially the campaigns of 1672–75 brought him enduring fame. Turenne had long been a master of “strategic chess moves,” but he was bolder now; he offered battle more often and looked for opportunities when his more powerful adversaries were weakened by detachments. By January 1673 he had broken the German coalition for a time and by invading the county of Mark had forced the elector Frederick William of Brandenburg to negotiate; he had also prevented the enemy from crossing the Rhine. Later in the year his wider maneuvering against the emperor Leopold I’s army had such success that he could have reached Bohemia; but Louis refused him reinforcement for a decisive operation, and when Turenne was called back to cover Alsace, the emperor’s forces struck at Bonn and so broke the French control of the lower Rhine. Greatly superior German forces moved toward the Rhine in 1674. Turenne defeated a detached corps at Sinzheim, near Heidelberg, on June 16 and ravaged the Palatinate. But by September he was again west of the Rhine, with little hope of barring the advance of the main enemy forces. At Enzheim, near Strassburg, he attacked them on October 4, but he drew back before a decisive point was reached; and as the Brandenburgers also joined the emperor’s forces, their 57,000 men seemed in secure possession of Alsace. Turenne replied in December with the most famous of his marches. He turned south on the French side of the Vosges, reappeared at Belfort, and, at Turckheim on Jan. 5, 1675, delivered so heavy a blow on the flank of the main army that the Germans decided to recross the Rhine. Alsace was saved.
In June 1675 Turenne was on the east bank of the Rhine maneuvering against the Italian field marshal in imperial service, Raimondo Montecuccoli, for the control of the crossing near Strassburg. The armies were in contact at Sasbach, and Turenne was examining a position when he was killed by a cannon shot on July 27, 1675. As a sign of immense respect and honor, he was buried in the Abbey of Saint Denis, the burial place of the French kings at the behest of King Louis XIV. Napoleon Bonaparte later had the remains removed to Les Invalides in Paris, where they remain to this day.
Napoleon rated de Turenne as one of history’s greatest commanders and instructed all of his officers to study Turenne’s campaigns. Later, William O’connor Morris included de Turenne is his famous book “Great commanders of modern times” and according to him, the “powerful genius” of Turenne greatly contributed to shaping modern warfare.
The present portrait was likely created around 1675-1680. It's a truly arresting portrait, its intensity and style are very reminiscent of the works by Philippe de Champaigne and Pierre Mignard. The rendering of the face, with the character of Turenne magnificently depicted, as well as the exquisite portrayal of the richly decorated and shining armour are striking and a testament to the artist's skill. It is a magnificent example of French portraiture of the late 17th century.
Bartelot Collection, United Kingdom
The canvas measures ca. 71 by 55cm.
Biographical information about the Vicomte was obtained from: Elliott, I. D'Oyly. "Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne." Encyclopedia Britannica, September 7, 2021