BERAIN, Jean the Elder
(b. 1640, Saint-Mihiel, d. 1711, Paris)


French designer, architect, and engraver. He was born into a family of artists, whose real name was Leclerc, but went under the name of Berain. The Berain family moved to Paris c. 1644. Berain's father, also called Jean Berain, and his uncle Claude Berain were master gunsmiths. From the age of four Jean lived in Paris, where his family all worked as harquebusiers. In 1655 he married the daughter of a shoemaker, who gave him nine children, and was herself a painter.

In 1659 he had already produced a collection of engravings entitled Various Pieces for Harquebuziers; he then worked in obscurity until 1670, when he came to prominence by making ornamental engravings for the Apollo Gallery in the Louvre. He was a pupil of Henri de Gissey, the official designer of the Royal Chamber and Cabinet of King Louis XIV, and succeeded him in 1675. He went on to design carnival costumes, and worked on the grand events of the reign of Louis XIV, such as masked balls and funeral processions.

From 1675 onward he was regularly involved in creating decorations and machinery for the Paris Opéra, and organised festivals, firework displays and carousels; he also designed decorations for the King's ships, as well as paneling and mirrored fireplaces. He developed his own decorative style around 1670, which remained in vogue until the 18th century. When creating decorations for ships he always followed the same procedure, never deviating from it: this involved placing a god, goddess or saint at the front, and constructing behind it a vast composition that was directly related to the name of the ship. The allegories he chose were, of course, all homages to Louis XIV. He gave his name to this ornamental style, which was a refined and delicate variation on the Italian 'grotesques'.

Although Berain was fully employed by the crown he had a number of other influential patrons. His designs for such clients as the Marquis de Seignelay, Louis de Mailly, Marquis de Nesles (1618-1708), and Karl XI of Sweden (reg 1660-97) represent the decoration usually associated with his name: grotesques, singeries, elements of the exotic, perfume burners, lambrequins, dais with draperies, masks, foliage and Strapwork.

Berain's work symbolized the later stages of the Louis XIV style and was a precursor of the more fanciful Rococo style. His important work undoubtedly had significant influence on such later designers as Claude Audran III and the Slodtz family. For many years after his death Berain's work continued to inspire such artists as the cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle, and decoration after Berain was frequently to be found on ceramics produced at Moustiers and Rouen. Berain's work was widely disseminated through series of prints, among which was the Oeuvre de Jean Berain, recueillies par les soins du sieur Thuret (Paris, 1711). Jean Berain II, also employed by the crown, succeeded his father as Dessinateur de la Chambre et du Cabinet du Roi in 1711. His work is similar to that of his father, but he did not possess 'la génie du père'.