Exploring and learning from royal accounts in an early graduate career project

This was a project jointly created by Sarah Reiff Conell and Clarisse Fava-Piz in the context of a seminar with Christopher Drew Armstrong at the University of Pittsburgh.

Any and all research shown in this slideshow is preliminary and speculative, and the authors welcome your insights or feedback. We have attempted to provide the most transparent yet brief overview of the early stages of this project and the things that provided productive moments of struggle. 

Our project began with the desire to explore an accounting book, which recorded the expenses of the royal properties (Les Batiments du Roi). The properties include the Chateau de Versailles along with other domains: Fontainebleau, Tuileries, St Germain, Vincennes, Trianon, Clagny, and Marly. The records of payments provide information about all the expenses of the royal properties, from plumbing, to transportation of marble pieces to the artists, to the remuneration of their travel, and more.

We decided to restrict the scope of our period to the range of years found in the first account book, from 1664 to 1680. During that period, the index lists 132 names of sculptors working for the king. Due to time constraints for this first iteration of our project, we decided to select five well-known sculptors: 

  • François Girardon (1628-1715) 
  • Gaspard Marsy (1624-1681) & Balthazar Marsy (1628-1674) 
  • Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
  • Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680)

François Girardon (1628-1715) was born in Troyes (North-East of France). He travelled to Rome in 1648 as the protégé of Chancellor Séguier, and in 1651 went to Paris, where he worked in the studio of the Anguiers. Girardon worked closely with Le Brun, and soon became one of the ‘Sculpteurs du Roi”. In 1657, he was received in the Academy, together with Regnaudin and Gaspard Marsy. He was a professor at the Academy from 1659 and lived in the Louvre from 1667. In the following years, he made a second journey to Italy, becoming rector of the Academy in 1674. Very early on, he played an important role in the planning and development of sculptural work commissioned by the King. For nearly 15 years, he acted as a kind of superintendent for sculpture. In 1690, he was made Chevalier and received the coat-of-arms. In1695, he became Chancellor of the Academy. 

Both Gaspard Marsy (1624-1681) & Balthazar Marsy (1628-1674) were born in Cambrai (North of France) and apprenticed under the same first master, their father. In 1648, Gaspard and Balthazar settled in Paris. They were employed in the workshops of Sarazin, Anguier, Van Opstal and Buyster. Gaspard was received at the Academy in 1657. The brothers are documented working on the royal building sites starting in 1658, principally at Versailles after 1666. 

According to art historian, Francois Souchal: “Throughout their careers, they worked in partnership and shared equally not only all payments they receive for their work, but also their moveable and immoveable possession.” What our analysis will demonstrate is that it is true that the brothers, like the other artists, divided the amount of money between them for a given commission. However, we can distinguish two distinct personalities. Gaspard received more commissions, and sold paintings to the King, actions distinct from his brother.

Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720) was born in Lyon. He moved to Paris in 1657, where he worked under Lerambert and other sculptors while training at the Academy. In November 1666, he received the title of Sculpteur du roi. In 1667 to 1671, he participated in the decoration of the Louvre. Additionally, Coysevox worked in Alsace at the palace of Saverne commissioned by the cardinal de Furstemberg. There, he began to produce sculptures under his own name. Active in Paris and in Lyon throughout his career, Coysevox was admitted to the Academy in 1676, became a professor in 1677, and a director in 1702. Coysevox was best known for his portraits, including numerous monuments and busts at the chateaux of Versailles, Marly, Chantilly, and Sceaux.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was born in Naples, but spent most of his adult life in Rome. Bernini had a long career, and gained a European recognition within a few years. His first important patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, commissioned four sculptural groups from the twenty-something year old artist. Bernini was appointed later by Pope Urban VIII to supervise the work at St Peter’s. Bernini was not only a sculptor, but also an architect and a draftsman: he designed an urban plan of Rome, which considerably altered some sections of the city. He likewise worked for the successor of Urban VIII, Pope Innocent X. In 1665, Bernini was invited to France by Louis XIV. 

We selected a diverse group of artists, ranging from widely recognized names, such as Bernini, to artists that were recently the subject of research, such as Girardon (recent monograph, 2015), to lesser known artists that rivaled the success of Girardon, such as the Marsy brothers and Coysevox. One of the ways our project could be extended in the future would be to add other sculptors to our analysis.


  • Situate this project within the scope of social art history: hierarchy of artists, system of promotion and remuneration at Versailles, and more generally for the Batiments du Roi. (inspired by Chandra Mukerji and her work on the artisans at the Louvre)
  • Push the boundaries of the discipline of art history: History of prices in art history: a new field in development, not only history of collecting but broader
  • Inspire new insight into the history of sculpture, not only through the history of styles and the aesthetic quality of pieces, but History of Sculpture as industry: who are the multiple agents? Coming from where? Paid how much? How do they contribute to the formation of the royal sites? What kind of sculptural expenses were at play?


  • What are the different profiles of artists that we can distinguish through our case studies?
  • What did a site like Versailles represent for the artists? How did related commissions affect the construction of artistic identity? What can payments tell us about the status of the artist/sculptor in the 17th century, during the reign of Louis XIV?

Collecting, organizing, and analyzing our data: The first step of our project was to gather our data in a Excel Spreadsheet. We chose to organize the given information from the accounting books into the categories below.

  • Sculptor name
  • Title of Artwork
  • Subject
  • Type
  • Material
  • Location (referring to the real site)
  • Placement (geographical location)
  • Start date
  • End date (of the payment)
  • Collaboration (did the artist worked with another sculptor or not?)
  • Price: 3 categories: H, S, D (way the currency is listed in the books)
  • Page number (in the book)
  • Category subheading (such as: ‘sculpture and ornament’, or ‘wages’, etc.)
  • Found in book: transcription of the text in the book.

This first step of collecting the data took us a long time, but it was a crucial step in understanding our material.

Early on in the process of data entry, we realized the specificity of our primary source, which is an accounting book. There is almost no aesthetic interest present in these entries,  it is all about payment. We found few titles, or even descriptions of the works. This of course, makes sense: these books were not written for future art historians; they were created to keep a record of the payments made to individuals for services rendered. 

The advantage of this unique perspective is that it allowed us to explore the creation of sculptural works from the date of their commission to the different steps of their realization. We identified multiple agents who collaborated on the same sculptural project, and were sometimes able to locate the exact part of a particular sculptural group to which a given artist contributed.

There was a notable diversity of works from those whom we refer to as ‘sculptors.’ These men were paid for the restoration of antiques, architectural decoration, and travel expenses, in addition to their annual wages.  They are also mentioned in the entries that show payment for the transportation of marbles, the materials with which they would work, to their house or studio. The perspective that the accounting books afford inscribes Versailles in the broader context of the Batiments du Roi: artists working at a range of sites from across a kingdom.

This source also shows that some artists worked on particular sites more than others. Understanding the location of the commissioned work, and the amount which was paid for it, offers an insight into the mechanisms of artistic patronage in late seventeenth century France. 

Girardon (90 records): From 1664 to 1680, Girardon worked regularly, and completed numerous commissions for the King. From 1664 to 1666, he worked at the Chateau du Louvre, mainly in the galerie des peintures (painting gallery), in collaboration with the Marsy Brothers and Regnaudin. They were all paid equally (no evident hierarchy between artists). Starting in 1666, another important commission in which Girardon worked collaboratively is the sculptural group for the Grotto of Versailles. In this collaboration, he worked on the group of Apollo with his colleague Thomas Regnaudin.

View of the exterior of the Grotto of Versailles,
Engraving by Jean Le Pautre, 1672
The Sun, After Finishing his Daily Path Across the Sky, Descends to Thetys. Engraving by Jean Edelinck, 1678.

In the accounting book, nine records correspond to payments to Girardon for his work on the Versailles Grotto. 

Looking at the dates of payments, we noticed that this major sculptural project took 10 years to be completed, from 1667 to 1677.

If we assume that in joint entries, the artist shared an equal salary with the other sculptors on collaborative projects, then from around 1667, Girardon was mostly paid on his own. It is possible that once the sculptor’s reputation was established, Girardon was able to get more commissions on his own. This is particularly likely, given the prolific number of works he created for Versailles.

Starting in 1671, Girardon received annual wages for his work for the Real Buildings. First paid 150 livres in 1671 and 1672, the amount paid was raised to 200 livres the subsequent year and remained stable until 1680. It is important to note that Girardon was paid by the King to travel to Rome in 1669. He also restored antiques, and played a major role in the Academy, sending prints and plaster sculptures to sculptors in other parts of France. 

Like Girardon, the Marsy brothers received their first paiements in the years 1664-1667 for their work at the galerie des peintures at the Louvre. Subsequently, they worked at Versailles and completed major commissions such as the group of horses with two tritons and the sun for the grotto. The brothers also created the sculpture of Latona and her children. 

While the two brothers worked together on numerous projects at Versailles, always appearing to share the payment of the commissions equally, Balthazar stopped working for the King in 1673. After the 1670s, Gaspard is the only one of the two brothers to complete commissions for the King. A record from December 8, 1668 sheds light on another facet of Gaspard’s artistic personality as an art collector.

A record from December 11 of the same year recounts the transportation of marble (64 blocks, 40 boxes) brought by a Mr. Rene Noiset to Gaspard Marsy. The accounting book not only gives us an understanding of the dates of the commissions and their creation, but the records also reveal some of the practical aspects of the sculptural endeavor. From 1667 to 1680, twenty-three records correspond to payments to Coysevox, which is considerably less than the other sculptors of our study. 

The payments made in the year 1667 were for Coysevox’s work at the Louvre. Then, the following records span from 1678 to 1681, all of which were for work done at Versailles. This gap of payments between 1668 and 1678 signals that the artist may not have only been working for the King in that decade. He may have been commissioned outside of the royal or academic system. This differentiates Coysevox from the Marsy brothers and Girardon, who were consistently commissioned to complete works by the King. Moreover, Coysevox is also distinguished for creating portrait busts of the King and his son (le Dauphin) in 1678 and 1679.

The first records about Bernini in the accounting books date from 1665, when he was called by Louis the XIV to work at Versailles. Bernini was 67 years old when he arrived at Versailles. We noticed a short period of activity for the Italian artist from 1665 to 1673, after which time he returns to Rome, where he died in 1680. Most of the records of payments refer to wages that Bernini received and his travel expenses, as he was accompanied by both his son and his entourage. 

GianLorenzo Bernini, Bust of Louis XIV, 1665

Bernini’s bust of King is still in the collection of the chateau de Versailles. (left)

It is also implied in the accounts that other sculptors at Versailles used Bernini’s busts as a model from which to create other portraits of the King. 

After normalizing our data, to make sure that we had consistent labeling and no extra or blank fields, we began to visualize the information we had collected. 

We made three different types of graphs: the first round focused primarily on the payments made to each artist, the second centered around location of the work, and lastly we visualized the commissions based on the location and the amount paid for them. 

Some of our first questions were about the annual income of sculptors, and if there was any new insight that might be revealed from isolating this information.  The “earnings of the artists through time” was what our capta-set could answer easiest, since it was an accounting book that was meticulous about the fields: people, payment, and year. 

This early stage was surprising in a few ways. Firstly, we hypothesized that sculptors like Girardon would make more money later on in their career. However, the amounts they were paid, including their annual wages, seem to be affected by something else, commissions. Also, from our preliminary research on our sculptors, we had the idea that the Marsy brothers were more similar than our data may suggests. It was somewhat of a surprise to see that Balthazar did not have as many entries or continue to work as long as his brother. Not every finding was a shock. Bernini cost the royal house a great deal during his first two years, which makes sense since he was paid a large amount when first he came from Italy. 

These first groups of graphs were revealing, but did not allow for accurate comparisons between artists, because the scale is different for some artists, depending on their annual earnings. 

Above is a quick look at how each artist fared in comparison to the other artists from our sample group. This shows the total amount earned by each person from 1664-1681. Though our volume of the accounting books spans from 1664-1680, some payments are recorded for 1681 for commissions or services that began in 1680. Here, we could see that Bernini made more than Girardon and Gaspard Marsy, even though he worked far fewer years than either sculptor. This confirmed what we had expected of Bernini’s payments. 

Once we had extracted payment information each artist, a comparison of the payments between artists by year could be easily made. 

Here you can see the previous charts combined on one graph. Again, this illustrated that Bernini was making a remarkable amount more than the other artists during his first two years in France. It also shows that some years, commissions were spread out evenly, while other years one or two artists received the most from our sample group. 

We wondered how the amounts paid to our sample group of sculptors compared to the total amount spent on sculpture at Versailles during this limited time span. This is the percentage each artist was paid versus overall sculptural expense at Versailles between 1664-1681. Bernini was not included in this pie chart because he was never listed under sculpture, he was paid in other sections through travel reimbursements and wages, rather than by listed commission. Bernini is not included because he was not included in the Versailles expenses in the accounts; he is almost always outside of the typical categories. However, the book did not cover just Versailles, and sculptors seemed to differ on how involved they were in various royal projects. 

Our second visualization focused on this through sculptors and sites. We created dendrograms to chart the location of sculptures in royal projects. This worked better for some artists than others. For example, Bernini was “outside of the system” and was therefore paid in an unusual way. The only labeled commission in these records was that which Clarisse mentioned earlier, of the Louvre design. Coysevox almost exclusively worked at Versailles during this time, so his tree looks fairly simple. Girardon and Gaspard Marsy are two rewarding diagrams that display their varied involvement clearly. 

Here you can see that both sculptors worked on more than one project, and received wages as well as commissions at different royal sites. (point out a few) N/A is interesting because that references some payment from the “Diverse Dispenses” section, where payment is made for various expenses, such as travel. 

The process was often trial and error, to find visualizations that revealed something without becoming too dense. Categories that worked for artists with fewer entries or variety did not always work for everyone from our set, as this example of Coysevox and Girardon illustrates. The dendrograms were revealing, but we pushed to find a way to better understand the location in relation to commission size and artist. 

By turning to the fields of Sculptor, Sculpture, Location, and Money, we were able to view the amount of money (or size of commissions) relative to other commissions of the artist and location. Though this is an imprecise way of showing the data, it does lend a unique insight into the number and size of commissions and their location by artist. Versailles, here in green, was a large part of artistic creation during this time, and some artists worked almost exclusively at the site. Other sculptors had a variety of commissions. Once again, Bernini is the odd one out, with his unidentified commissions falling under the Louvre or other. Gaspard Marsy continued to amaze with the variety of his commissions. Our data did not answer any questions, but pointed us back to research and future areas of inquiry. This is precisely what I had hoped our work would do, to reveal something that we might have otherwise missed, and challenge our assumptions through a partnership with the computer.

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