Once upon a time, a very rich and powerful Duke lived in the Château de Sévérac, in the region named Rouergue.
His name was Louis d'Arpajon.
He had a very beautiful painting sitting in the castle's chapel when he was gone at war. The Duke had warred quite a lot indeed, serving his majesty the King of France Louis the 13th, thus was equally glorious.
Although he was famous, rumours were spreading around saying he had his wife, Gloriande de Thémines, murdered...
While Restoring The Painting, An unexpected discovery is made
Restoring a piece of art gives an opportunity to enter past life(s), to reveal quite a few unknown facets. It is always a very delicate operation, exciting and quite often full of surprises. In this story, the rehabilitation of two sides of a triptych—usually a painting, often an altarpiece like here, made of three side-by-side panels—originally belonging to the Duc d'Arpajon makes no exception to the rule.
After a thorough but delicate cleaning of the painting, scenes were revealed with bright colours and masterful touch. Furthermore the restoration work highlighted two signatures never been noticed before. The first one was quickly identified as the one of the painter Claude Deruet. The second one, quite hidden as a monogram on a character, remains unknown still as of today.
The two faces of the art piece are painted. Specialists identified Claude Deruet's style quite easily on one side. The other is bearing a monogram that got credited to a Flemish school of the first third of the 16th century. However, Deruet's painting had been made much later, since the artist lived during the first half of the 17th century.
How could two paintings, of so different origins and performed a century apart, still remain together on one single panel?
The Duc d'Arpajon's unusual life
He was the only noble in Rouergue having been given the title of Duke and Peer of France.
However Louis d'Arpajon had a troubled life, marked by military success and diplomatic missions but had lived through family tragedies too.
He attended the Court of Louis the 13th and Louis the 14th as well as some well-known "salons des précieuses"—during the 17th century. These "salons" where witty and educated intellectual ladies would gather and entertain lively conversations and playful word games. To note the one run by Mademoiselle de Scudéry where the Duke got accustomed to gentlemen, aristocrat women, and famous writers. Among them was Cyrano de Bergerac, Louis D'Arpajon became his protector sooner than later.
The painting, a few mysteries to decipher
Ancient inventories of the Château de Sévérac's belongings were clearly showing the painting. However, it was not identified the way we know it now.
In 1789 during the French Revolution, it was described as a triptych such as:
"Portable portrait comprising two wooden doors with key, representing a crucifix, the Virgin Mary and St. John by the side, and on one of the two doors, Jesus carrying the cross and on the other one the resurrection."
This altarpiece is the work of a Flemish painter of the early 16th century. Once opened, the triptych shows three scenes depicting the Passion of Christ Carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion—the central lost scene—and the Resurrection.
When the triptych is closed, one could see an Annunciation adorning the outside shutters. These paintings were executed a century after after the scenes figuring the other ones, the Passion of Christ on the inside of the altarpiece.
These were painted by Claude Deruet, a painter originally from the region of Lorraine— north east of France—who was then a famous active painter from 1615 to 1660. He painted in "grisaille", a special technique of painting using monochrome shades of gray.
The central piece, originally showing the Crucifixion of Jesus, disappeared and has never been located. The altarpiece has been dismembered between 1789 and 1846, the latter being the date when the Musée Fenaille in Rodez acquired the two left components.
Louis d'Arpajon, Lord of Sévérac (1590-1679),
an illustrious Warlord Rouergat
Louis d'Arpajon had a very busy military career. He served Louis the 13th, King of France, was involved in internal to France conflicts—such as crushing the south of France Protestants uprisings as well as the peasants' revolts in Guyenne.
Louis d'Arpajon took part in the wars against the Austrian and Spanish Habsburg. Then, when the Kingdom of France got engaged in the Thirty Years' War, he fought in Rhenish Prussia, in Picardie, in Bourgogne, Lorraine and Franche-Comté, all allies of the Holy Roman Empire.
Finally, he was sent to the southern border, in Roussillon.
His last major campaign took place in 1645, leading him to Malta.
He was following a call for help from the Grand Master of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. He raised an army and a fleet to aid the Malta island threatened by a Turkish incursion.
His military service got well awarded.
In 1633, he was was awarded the title of Knight of the Order of the Holy Spirit, the highest decoration of the ancient regime.
He was successively appointed colonel in 1624, brigadier in 1626, and lieutenant general of the King's armies in 1637.
Louis d'Arpajon, The Royal Court Lord
More rewards awaited his military successes.
He earned the title of Viscount of Arpajon, Marquis of Sévérac, and even Count of Rodez.
His highest turn came in 1650, as he received his patent of duke and peer of France, for his loyalty to the then young King Louis the 14th during the events called the Fronde.
As well, he was given some honorary missions such as ambassador in Poland, delivering the Grand Collar of the Holy Spirit to the King Ladislas the 7th. It is said this specific journey of Louis d'Arpajon begun in 1648 to last eighteen months and the Lord went on with a great crew following him.
He appeared before the Court of Louis the 13th and Louis the 14th alike, the latter holding him in esteem.
He attended literary "salons" and appears in Mademoiselle de Scudéry's novel Clélie in the guise of Prince of Agrigento. His third wife, Catherine-Henriette d'Harcourt, was accustomed to the literary "salons" as well and had a friendship with Madame de Sévigné.
Furthermore, he was the protector of some writers. The most famous being the writer and philosopher Cyrano de Bergerac.
Louis d'Arpajon, The Collector
Inventories of the Château de Sévérac 's belongings, written by the late 17th century and the early 18th century, provide some information on the assets held by the Duc d'Arpajon.
He then possessed a library of nearly one hundred an seventy titles, a collection of precious medals, and two "curiosities" such as a rhino horn and an elk foot.
Back in 1717, the Château de Sévérac was decorated with one hundred and thirty paintings.
About the sudden and sad death of Gloriande,
one of Louis D'Arpajon's three wives
From 1645 to 1648, the Duke went on long trips.
The first one was to rescue Malta threatened by the Turks.
The second lasted eighteen months as a French ambassador in Poland.
During this time, Gloriande remained alone at the Château de Sévérac.
One can imagine she was feeling lonely.
Hence, she got an affair with a nearby gentleman lover.
Upon the Duke's return, gossip informed him of his misfortune.
Furious, the Duke got the gallant thrown in the Château de Sévérac's dungeon and locked up his wife in her apartments.
A few days later, Gloriande got invited to join in her husband to undertake a repentance pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Ceignac.
When near the foothills of Palanges—near Rodez—the convoy left the main road and entered into the depths of the forest. (To note, Palanges is still nowadays a dense and large forest with no roads going through but limited hiking and biking trails.)
When in the wilderness, the Duchess got immediately torn from her seat by armed men and held riveted to the ground.
A man, barber by trade, was waiting for a sign of the Duke to do his bloody work.
A lancet in one hand, he cut the veins of the unfortunate whose desperate cries were in vain.
When the Duke got sure she had lost enough blood to not survive, Gloriande was put back in the coach and brought back to the castle where she died in 1635.
Her death got officially declared of natural causes as bloodletting could not be stopped. The Château de Sévérac got covered with black crape and Gloriande got buried in the Arpajon family's tomb.
However, nobody got fooled, and as noted Saint-Simon—a King of France's diplomat and writer: "The Duke did not have to defend himself vigorously".
Given his rank and service to the King, he did not get in any trouble at all.
Furthermore, several lords offered him to remarry, offering him their daughters as brides.