CORNEILLE, Michel I
(b. ca. 1601, Orléans, d. 1664, Paris)
Painter, part of a French family of artists. Originally from Orléans, Michel Corneille I established himself in Paris as a painter of religious pictures, although he also carried out some interior decorations as well as cartoons for tapestries. He was a founder-member of the Académie Royale in 1648. His elder son, Michel Corneille II (1642-1708), who became the family's most successful member, was a prolific artist; like his younger brother Jean-Baptiste Corneille (1649-1695), he concentrated on religious pictures for both private and ecclesiastical patrons. Both these sons also practised as engravers.
Michel Corneille I studied in the studio of Simon Vouet in Paris and became friends with Eustache Le Sueur, François Perrier and other leading artists in the capital; with his marriage in 1636 he became son-in-law to the sculptor Jacques Sarazin. Michel's first signed painting, however, Esau Yielding his Birthright to Jacob (1630; Orléans, Musée des Beaux-Arts), shows no signs of Vouet's influence. On the contrary, the realism of what is in effect a genre scene with an entirely imaginative basis relates it to the Flemish followers of Caravaggio, for example Pieter Lastman or the Pynas family, although as a whole the work recalls that of the Le Nain brothers. By turns attributed to Jacques Blanchard, Joachim Wtewael and an anonymous Flemish artist, this odd and disconcerting work is an unusual example of an artist in search of a personal style.
The other paintings attributed to Michel show, however, unmistakable signs of Vouet's influence. This can be seen in the two Mays (the altarpieces commissioned annually by the goldsmiths' corporation of Paris) he painted for Notre-Dame, Paris: SS Paul and Barnabas at Lystra (1644; Arras, Musée des Beaux-Arts) and St Peter Baptizing the Centurion (1658; Toulouse, St Pierre). Together with a Visitation (Blois, Musée Municipal), all these works are well-balanced compositions in which architecture plays a large part, with full forms and light tonality-features that testify to Michel's admiration for Raphael. Attribution of his other pictures is often contested: the father's work is frequently confused with that of his sons, Michel Corneille II and Jean-Baptiste Corneille.