Portrait of a Young Man

Oil on canvas
Image size: 13 x 16 1/2 inches (33 x 42 cm)
Contemporary style frame (Image below)

Private American Collection

This boldly brushed work of a dynamic head study depicts the young man gazing confidently straight out at us. Courtois sets the figure against a light background and uses the play of light across the young man’s form to enhance his physical and psychological character.

Courtois applied paint thinly in the shadows, but accented the face with bold impastos, particularly on the forehead, and merely indicated the man’s hair and clothing with rapid brushstrokes.

The young man is wearing a black doublet, a fitted jacket made popular between the middle ages and the 17th century, worn by everyone from royalty to soldiers.

The work highlights his youthful complexion, as if framed by the white collar while also subtly depicting the young man with a cap on the crown of his head. Headwear was a very important part of male dress in the period, focusing ideas of social and political power, and acting as extensions of the body, connoting authority, rationality, and emphasising the sitters masculinity.

We are grateful to Anna Orlando for confirming the attribution.

portrait of a young man by Guillaume Courtois


Guillaume Courtois, Il Borgognone (Saint-Hippolyte 1628-1679 Rome)

At about age seven, Courtois  left France for Italy with his teenage brother. They followed the military campaigns that his brother drew, then studied in Bologna, Florence, and Siena, arriving in Rome by 1638.

He was the brother of the painters Jacques Courtois (Giacomo Cortese) and Jean-François Courtois and was mainly active in Rome as a history painter of Christian religious and mythological scenes as well as a staffage painter, enjoying high-level patronage.

Courtois trained himself by copying Giovanni Lanfranco’s and Andrea Sacchi’s works and by drawing from nude models. He first studied under Pietro da Cortona, his most important teacher, while painting a fresco in an elegant Roman palazzo in 1656. In the following year he completed his first major public project, two frescoes for a Roman church. They display a strong sense of drama and a more naturalistic approach to the figure than did his later work, which followed the popular classicising manner of Roman late Baroque painting. Courtois made many red chalk studies that demonstrate his great care in preparing the figures for his paintings. He also made composition drawings in pen, ink, and wash.

Courtois is also refereed to as a battle painter due to his involvement in the decorative project in the chapel of the Congregation of the Jesuits in Rome. His work in battle scenes is also evident in his early drawings where he was influenced by his brother Jacques who specialised in battle scenes.

In addition to Courtois’ collaborations with his brothers he is also recorded to have worked with the Flemish still life painter Abraham Brueghel who was working in Rome on works such as Still life of fruits and flowers with a figure.

National Trust, Hinton Ampner
National trust for Scotland, Brodie Castle
Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica
Palazzo Pamphilj
National Museum, Stockholm
Museum Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf
Palace of Nettuno, Florence
Church of San Marco, Venice
Milan, Koelliker Collection
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Besançon
Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome
Art Institute of Chicago
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Getty Museum, Los Angeles

The Getty Museum
Treccani Encyclopedia Institute
Simonetta Prosperi Valenti Rodinò ; published by Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe Disegni de Gugliemo Cortese detto il Borgognone. Rome, 1979.