In the original carved and gilded 18th Century Louis XVI frame: 137 x 109cm
This elegant portrait by Stefano Torelli is one of only a few dating from the artist’s time in Dresden; it is an important rediscovery both in the artist’s oeuvre as well as interesting in terms of Saxon Court portraiture. Torelli first trained with his father, Felice Torelli (1667-1748), and unusually, his mother, the painter Lucia Casalini. The young artist would master his art however in the Naples studio of the renowned Francesco Solimena and eventually conclude his long career as Director of the Academy in St. Petersburg and a favourite of Empress Catherine the Great. He was a nephew of the distinguished composer Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) considered to be the father of the concerto as the composer of the first such work for a solo instrument, the violin (in 1700).
In 1740, a commission from Wilhelmine of Prussia to redecorate the Hermitage Castle in Bayreuth brought the young Torelli north and led him to Saxony soon after; there Torelli decorated the palace chapel in Dresden of the state rooms of Nischwitz Castle and painted the principal figures in Bellotto’s twenty-nine views of the city of Dresden. The artist completed this elegant portrait of the Count of Saint Sernin while at the Dresden court.
Joseph de Borne de Saint Etienne (otherwise known as Saint Etienne Borne), styled Comte de Saint Etienne de Borne and Comte de Saint Sernin, was born in 1720 the second son of Guillaume de Borne de Saint Sernin and Marguerite de Burine-Tornay, into a distinguished military family that had provided numerous officers in the armies of Louis XIII and XIV. After his initial military training as a cadet he entered the service of Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony at the age of 18. There he enjoyed a stellar career, rising by the date of this portrait to the rank of colonel of the royal guard and adjutant-general of the Saxon Infantry. Joseph nonetheless decided to renounce his military career – along with his dashing uniform and the appurtenances of his noble rank visible in the painting - to enter the religious life. His royal master assented to this unusual request and in May 1755, even as this portrait was being completed, August III asked Cardinal de la Rochefoucauld to find an appropriate position amongst the French clergy. Joseph was given a suitable endowment by his older brother, François, in exchange for renouncing his portion of their father’s estate and entered the University of Paris where he received a bachelor’s degree in civil and canon law.
Here the thirty-five year old officer stands in the uniform of the royal guard looking reflectively over his shoulder where a battle rages behind him; his hand resting on the helmet which he can never have worn and he would soon renounce forever; this splendid object is engraved with the black bear rampant on a gold field (Or, a bear rampant sable) of the Borne de Saint Etienne arms.