Spanish Old Master Drawings

Portrait of Honore Charlotte Peret de Marie Laboulay, wife of the musician François Courcelle also known as Francesco Corselli

Domenico Maria Servidori

(Rome, c. 1724 - Madrid, 1790)

  • Date: 1772
  • Black chalk and ink on parchment
  • 352 x 293 mm
  • Inscribed: CAROLINA LABOULAI CELEBRIS FRANCISCI COURCELLE DIGNISSIMA UXOR”, in the octagonal border surrounding the image; “L’Abate Domenico de Servidori Romano Pittore di S.M.C. invento, e fece a Penna in Madrid l’Anno 1772”, lower edge

The early decades of Bourbon rule in Spain saw the arrival of a significant number of French artists at the court in a reflection of the taste for French art and culture which had started to become apparent with the end of the Habsburg period in the late 17th century. From the moment of the arrival in Madrid of Isabella Farnese in 1715 as second wife of Philip V there was a constant presence of Italian artists, who exceeded the French in both number and importance. Notable architects included Filippo Juvarra and Giovanni Battista Sacchetti; among musicians were singers such as Farinelli and the composer Francesco Corselli; while painting saw the arrival of figures such as Corrado Giaquinto and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, in addition to a number of draughtsman and engravers including Domenico Maria Servidori. The presence of these Italian creators, many of whom spent the most important part of their careers in the Iberian Peninsula, introduced Spanish art and artists to the newest trends emerging elsewhere in Europe.

read more

One of the most illustrious Italians who lived and worked at the Spanish court for more than forty years was the composer François Courcelle, who later Italianised his name to Francesco Corselli (1705-1778), considered to be among the most important composers of the late Baroque and the figure who introduced musical classicism to Spain. Corselli trained in Parma where his father was Isabella Farnese’s dancing master. He arrived in Madrid in 1733 and after a few years was appointed master of the Royal Chapel. Following the fire in the Alcázar in 1734 and the consequent loss of its music archive, Corselli was made responsible for supplying the Chapel with religious works, written both by him and by other Spanish and foreign composers. The result was a large number of cantatas, psalms, antiphons, hymns, masses, carols, and other works.[1] In addition, from 1735 onwards he also wrote opera to be performed at both the court theatres and the “Colosseum” of the Buen Retiro. One of the most successful of these was the drama Farnace, composed in 1739 to mark the marriage of the Infante Philip, second son of Isabella Farnese and Philip V, to Princess Louise Elizabeth of France. The previous year in Madrid, Corselli had married the French widow Honore Charlotte Peret de Marie Laboulay, with whom he had four daughters during their long marriage.


There is only one known portrait of Corselli, dating from the end of his life. It was executed by Domenico Maria Servidori in Indian ink on parchment using fine, precise strokes that are technically closer to an engraving than a drawing (fig. 1). The bust-length figure is enclosed in an octagonal border on which an inscription in capital letters identifies the sitter: “Franciscus Courcelle in superiore sacello regis hispaniarum magister musicalium.” In addition, the lower part of the drawing has a small manuscript annotation that leaves no doubt as to its attribution and date: “L’abate Domenico de Servitori Romano pittore del Re inventó e fece colla Penna in Madrid l’anno 1772.” Corcelli is depicted bust-length, sitting in an armchair at a table which has an inkwell and a piece of music on it. He holds a pen in his right hand and seems to be writing on the music, thus clearly presenting himself as a composer. He looks directly out at the viewer, his no longer youthful face framed by a short white wig typical of the period of Charles III.


Domenico Servidori trained as a calligrapher and draughtsman with his father Antonio Piaggio and with Abbot Pucci from Urbino. As a young man he entered the Roman congregation of the Fate Bene Fratelli of the Hospital of San Giovanni Calabita but in 1754 he came to Spain. He may have arrived with Charles III or accompanied Corrado Giaquinto with whom he had worked in Rome on his Order’s hospital. Once in Madrid, Servidori primarily made miniatures and pen drawings, copying the most important paintings at El Escorial (these drawings are now lost) as well as producing various religious and historical works. [2] He was, however, principally known for his precisely drawn, detailed portrait drawings,[3] of which fine examples include The Architect Marcelo Fontón (BNE, sign. DIB/15/29/34) and the Self-portrait (fig. 2) of 1775, the latter executed in a technique more characteristic of miniature, with small brushstrokes of greyish wash. The image was used for the frontispiece of Servidori’s book Reflexiones sobre la verdadera arte de escribir, published by the Imprenta Real in 1789 (BNE, R/17042 and R/17043).


The present portrait depicts Charlotte Laboulay, wife of the musician Francesco Corselli, as the inscription running round the octagonal border states. It forms a pair with the portrait of her husband; [4] not only are they of the same size, with the two figures looking at each other and both executed in the same detailed pen and ink technique, but they also have the same octagonal border which encloses the sitters and presents them to the viewer. Charlotte Laboulay is shown half-length, seated on an elegant chair decorated with carved rocaille motifs by a table on which she is resting a book and which has a small piece of paper with the phrase: “A Madame/ Madame de/ Courcelle/ A Madrid.” The subject, with her open, amiable face, looks directly at the viewer in an image that transmits both her physical appearance and personality in a display of artistic ability in the genre of portraiture which allows this artist to be seen as more than the “minor” figure he has been considered until now.[5]

[1] Torrente (2003).

[2] The Biblioteca Nacional de España has various drawings on these subjects, such as Louis IX adoring the Christ Child in the Virgin’s Arms (sign. DIB/18/1/1282) and The Death of Lucretia (sign. DIB/13/13/29). Comparable to the latter are two drawings on tragic deaths from history in the Museo del Prado: The Death of Egisthus and Clytemnestra (cat. D003331) and The Death of Agrippina (cat. D003332).

[3] Mena (1990), p. 133.

[4] The portrait of Francesco Corselli entered the Biblioteca Nacional in 1867 having been acquired from the Carderera collection. The two works may have been separated at this point, thus losing trace of the fact that they formed a pair by Servidori which depicted Corselli and his wife. Barcia (1906), no. 8322.

[5] Mena (1990), p. 133.