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Saint Louis Washing the Feet of the Sick
Although he Le Sueur came to be known as the “French Raphael” because of his geometric compositions, clear treatment of light, and harmonious use of color, he never traveled to Italy and knew of the Italian renaissance master’s work primarily from prints.
The present drawing is a study for the main figure in Saint Louis Washing the Feet of the Sick (ca. 1654, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Tours), painted for the Benedictine Abbey of Marmoutiers near Tours. Figure studies working out the details of proportion, scale, volume, and modeling were an integral part of the creative process, addressed after the composition had been approved. Studies for two other figures in this painting are now in the Musée du Louvre and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Generally, such studies served as guides either for the artists themselves or for their assistants, as they worked on the final canvas.
It was the custom of French kings to wash the feet of the poor on Holy Thursday. In 1609 the Counter-Reformation bishop Francis de Sales (1567–1622) published a book entitled Introduction to the Devout Life, which described the tradition in detail.
from Snay, The Epic and the Intimate: French Drawings from the John D. Reilly Collection (Notre Dame, 2011)