• Ill. 1. Philothée-François Duflos, Ruins of the Temple of Concord on Campino Vaccino in Rome, etching, 14.2 x 21.5 cm. London, The British Museum.

Philothée-François Duflos’s early death and the very small number of paintings by him known today explain his fall into oblivion. Our ignorance of his life has been underscored by documentary material contradicting a biographical tradition going back to the early twentieth century, which made him the son of Claude Duflos (1665–1727), engraver to the king and founder of a dynasty of engravers and print dealers active in Paris and Lyon in the eighteenth century.1 Nonetheless this pupil of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture and winner of the Rome Prize in 1729, had first met with success in Rome in 1733, when he became a royal pensioner at the Palazzo Mancini, in the company of L. G. Blanchet, Subleyras, Slodtz and Soufflot.

 We owe our knowledge of his art largely to Roman sources. The letters of Nicolas Wleughels and Jean-François de Troy, successive directors of the French Academy in Rome, spoke highly of his abilities as a painter, in particular in producing copies of the old masters, a practice imposed on residents in return for royal protection. Summing up the talent of his new resident, Wleughels observed, “[he] does not lack genius; he draws carefully and his brushwork is quite impressive.” The reception given in Paris to his copies of Raphael’s The School of Athens and Pietro da Cortona’s Battle of Arbela2 bore out this judgment.

In 1742 de Troy praising him as a pupil who had “spent most of his youth making copies for the king, receiving nothing in return but his pension”,3 was hoping to gain official support for an artist who, at the end of his residency, was perhaps thinking of returning to Paris in search of commissions and admission to the Academy. However another activity, which he had probably been practising profitably since his beginnings, was to keep Duflos in Rome. His talent as an etcher, in a French vedutist tradition going back to Stefano della Bella and Israel Silvestre, had earned him a considerable reputation among Roman collectors and patrons, as evidenced by his appearance in prestigious collections of vedute and antiquities published in Rome and Florence in the mid-eighteenth century.4 Shortly after his arrival in Rome he made fifteen plates for the sumptuous volumes of Ridolfini Venuti’s Antiqua numismata maximi moduli aurea, published in 1739 by the Calcografia Camerale, just established by Pope Clement XII. He was also the creator of four engravings – three of them after his own drawings – for the Secondo libro del nuovo teatro delle fabbriche e edifici fatte fare in Roma e fuori di Roma dalla Santità di Nostro Signore Papa Clemente XII, published in the same year. But what mainly ensured his survival for posterity was his association with Piranesi, with whom he engraved the Vedute delle ville di Firenze (1744) from compositions by Giuseppe Zocchi, and the famed Varie vedute di Roma antica e moderna disegnati e intagliati da celebri autori, published by Fausto Amidei in 1748. Among the various testimonies to the respect he thus earned were a biographical piece by Gabburri describing him, in 1739, as a “young man of wit and talent… for whom we have great hopes”;5 and a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi, dated 1744, whose caption reads, “young, an admirable painter of both figures and landscapes, and everything from his hand is quite perfect… he is a very skilled etcher.”6

From de Troy’s correspondence we learn that Duflos would probably never have left the Eternal City if the state of his health had not obliged him to: “The air of Rome became noxious to him, and the frequent illnesses he fell victim to have not allowed him – following his doctors’ advice – to remain in the region any longer.”7 Leaving in March 1745, he made a halt in Lyon, where a recommendation from de Troy – who had just completed a sizeable commission for the Sainte-Croix church – provided him with work. Dated the same year, River View with Roman Ruins, the only work of his Lyon period to have come down to us, shows that at first he needed to paint landscapes as a source of income.

Bearing the clear stamp of the vedutist’s art, this capriccio takes its inspiration from the repertoire of motifs to be found in Duflos’s prior engravings: thus the Temple of Concord (ill. 1) and rustic buildings typical of the Italian countryside are added to a Rhône river topography suffused with a light more French than meridional. While small, the highly natural fi gures demonstrate Duflos’s excellence in a domain he would expand on in two altar paintings for the Sainte-Croix church, now lost.



1. This assertion by P. Pellot (“Les Duflos graveurs; leur oeuvre et leur famille”, Réunion des Sociétés des Beaux-Arts des Départements, 29th session, 1905, pp. 383–395) was taken up by Michael McCarthy (“Philothée-François Duflos [c. 1710–1746]: Three Unpublished Drawings”, The Burlington Magazine, April 1985, pp. 218–225), before being refuted by Sylvie Martin-de Vesvrotte and Henriette Pommier on the evidence of the artist’s will. See the Dictionnaire des graveurs-éditeurs et marchands d’estampes à Lyon aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. Catalogues des pièces retrouvées (Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon, 2002), p. 62, note 245.
2. The first of these pictures (oil on canvas, 5.75 x 7.97 meters) is in the Palais des beaux-arts in Lille. The whereabouts of the second are unknown.
3. De Troy to Orry, 27 October 1741, A. de Montaiglon and J. Guiffrey (eds.), Correspondance des directeurs de l’Académie de France à Rome, IX: 1733–1741 (Paris: Charavay frères, 1899), p. 492.
4. All the information here regarding Duflos’s activity as an etcher is taken from McCarthy, 1985.
5. “… bravo giovane dotato di spirito, e di talento dando grandi speranze di sè”, quoted by McCarthy, op. cit., p. 222 and note 18.
6. “… bravissimo giovane nella Pittura, tanto in figure come anche ne’ Paesi e tutto quello che esce dalle sue mani e perfettissimo Intaglia ad acquaforte molto bene”, ibid., p. 222, caricature reprinted p. 223, ill. 47.
7. De Troy to Orry, 31 March 1745, op. cit., X: 1742-1753, pp. 81–82.


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