MEULEN, Adam Frans van der
(b. 1632, Bruxelles, d. 1690, Paris)
The Army of Louis XIV in front of Tournai in 16671684
Oil on canvas, 207 x 344,5 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
On the death of Philip IV of Spain, Louis XIV claimed the Low Countries and the Franche-Comté in the name of his wife Marie-Thérèse. This policy of conquest led the king to the gates of Tournai in 1667 during the so-called War of Devolution. The city, badly protected by the old 13th century town wall, could offer little resistance. It was besieged on 21 June 1667, capitulated on the 23rd, and the king made a triumphal entry on the 25th. The treaty of Aachen, on 2 May 1668, marked its attachment to France.
Here the artist has depicted, not the siege of the city, but the setting up of the camp with, in the middle ground, the deployment of the troops and, in the background, the city, recognisable by its superb cathedral. Camp life is described by a multitude of picturesque details, admirably painted and treated with vigour. The group of unsaddled horses to the left, a type of depiction in which Van der Meulen excelled, is particularly successful. A few touches of red, blue and yellow enliven the ensemble. Groups of trees carry the eye to the brightly-lit plain where the musketeers are parading in blue uniforms and the light cavalry of the guard in red. In the background Tournai, seen from the north-east, spreads out its monuments behind its medieval walls. To the left of the cathedral we make out the imposing St Martin's Abbey with its narrow spire and the massive tower of St Brice. On the other side of the five belfries and above the Romanesque nave, we glimpse the tower of the now demolished St Nicaise's Church. Preparatory drawings were done by the artist in situ during his journey in 1667, following the French troops.
After joining Charles Le Brun at the Manufacture des Gobelins in 1664, Van der Meulen was commissioned with drawing the views of the cities conquered by the king. The Brussels painting belongs to the first series of the King's Conquests, painted for the Royal Pavilion in Marly and placed in 1684, covering the various campaigns in Flanders, Franche-Comté and Holland. Designed as decoration, this series is remarkable for its variety and for its painting quality. Whilst the Brussels artist took French nationality in 1673, he never, in his art, denied his Flemish origins. Here he imparts a new dimension to the painting of battle scenes, achieving the right balance between military scenes, topographical descriptions and landscapes.