JACOB, Louis
(b. 1712, Lisieux, d. 1802, Paris)

The Departure of the Italian Comedians in 1697

c. 1740
National Gallery of Art, Washington

Louis Jacob was a French engraver. This engraving was executed after a painting by Watteau, it was engraved for the compendium of prints after Watteau: L'oeuvre d'Antoine Watteau (volume II).

Eighteenth-century sources refer to The Departure of the Italian Comedians in 1697 as one of the paintings dating from Watteau's yearlong stay in London shortly before his death. Suffering from tuberculosis, he had come to the city in 1719 to consult Dr. Richard Mead, the celebrated physician, art collector, and Francophile. Watteau painted The Departure of the Italian Comedians in 1697 to Dr. Mead.

It was proposed by some critics that the painting which is attributed to Watteau on the engraving by Louis Jacob (the only record of the lost picture) is in reality by Claude Gillot. The event recorded in the picture is the expulsion of the Italian players from their theatre in Paris in 1697 at the order of Louis XIV, who interpreted one of their plays, La Fausse Prude, as an attack on Madame de Maintenon. The figures are unusually stiff for Watteau, but this may be the fault of the engraver. Even if Watteau be the author, it was probably Gillot who supplied him with drawings of the event, for the costume makes it unlikely that it could have been painted from the life after the return of the Italian comedians in 1716.