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View of Rouen from Saint-Sever

Pierre-Denis Martin

(1663 - 1742) | 820.1.2

Date : Around 1715 | Medium : Oil on canvas

This southerly view of the Rouen quays, from the left bank, dates from around 1715-1720. It resembles the one depicted by Hubert Robert and housed in the Bishop’s Palace – a convincing argument for its topographical accuracy. The painting shows the famous pontoon bridge, renowned throughout the kingdom of France at the time for its ingenious system of boats supporting a bridge that rose and fell with the tides, its decks sliding on rollers to allow boats to pass through at each end. The keep, which governed access to the bridge, is also visible, as are the remains of the famous stone Pont Mathilde, dating back to the 13th century.

Contrary to the Hubert Robert painting, however, we have here a diverse and multifarious crowd of Rouen citizens going about their daily lives, wonderfully illustrating the account given by historian René Herval of life in Rouen under Louis XIV: ‘A whole world of small folk, raucous and gleefully mischievous, frequented the main crossroads, the narrow backstreets and flocked gaily around the bridge and in the city square. Here, street performers, sometimes from Paris, would entertain punters Tabarin-style, while peddling their medicines. There, some grotesquerie would draw a crowd.’ At the same time, belying this ‘good humour’, ‘Rouen life under Louis XIV was experiencing, more forcibly each day, the direct effects of the dominance of the State’ as can been seen in this painting, where an important personage is entering the town, possibly the governor of Normandy.