SILVESTRE, Louis de
(b. 1675, Sceaux, d. 1760, Paris)
Christ on the Cross Formed by Clouds1734
Oil on canvas, 73 x 52 cm
This work is a sketch for a monumental work by Silvestre measuring 291 x 201 cm. The full-scale version is described at length in an inscription in French by the artist, which can equally well be applied to the present sketch:
"What one sees in this picture, a representation of Christ on the cross formed from clouds against a blue sky, was witnessed in the heavens next to the setting sun in the vineyards at Rotschberg at a quarter past six in the evening on 19 May 1734. The cross was perfectly formed for a quarter of an hour. Those present were: / M. L'Abbe Pirenne. C. [Catholic] / The younger M. Bildstein and his valet. L. [Lutheran] / M. Favrier. C. / Mme Embry. C. / The widow Richter. L. / The vine-tenders and the gardener. L. / Mme Sylvestre and her two daughters. C. / and myself, Louis Sylvestre, who painted what can be seen here. The persons here mentioned, of whom the majority saw me paint the work, confirm that this is as true a resemblance as art can render of something so admirable and extraordinary."
The picture differs fundamentally from all of Louis de Silvestre's other works. It strikes the viewer as disturbingly modern, and seems to be a mystery both in compositional terms and as regards the intensity of the colours. Only with an explanation of why the painting was done, as is related in the inscription on the large painting, and the knowledge that the artist was inspired to paint the picture by the actual sight of such a cloud formation, can the viewer understand why the work seems to flaunt all artistic convention.