Ornamenting the palace of Versailles and Marly with dramatic sculptures of Italianate baroque style, the French sculptor, Charles Antoine Coysevox, is celebrated for leading the French taste of relatively severe classicism towards a more expressive and fluid Italian baroque in 17th-century France.
Best-known for his portrait busts, the artist was born on September 29, 1640, in Lyons, and belonged to a family originally from Spain. Acquiring a traditional training, Coysevox studied sculpture at the Royal Academy in Paris between 1657 and 1663. He also studied under Louis Lerambert, an acclaimed sculptor, and in 1666, he married to Lerambert's niece.
Through Lerambert's connections, Coysevox was introduced to Versailles and with help of his raw talent, he became the sculptor of King Louis XIV in 1666 and by 1679 was engaged at Versailles, enriching the Galerie des Glazes (Hall of Mirrors) and the Ambassador’s staircase and carving the brilliant equestrian relief of the King (c. 1688) for the Salon de la Guerre (Hall of War).
Coysevox executed over 200 pieces of sculpture, including garden statues, religious works, portrait busts, reliefs and tombs. His important tomb for Cardinal Mazarin (1689-1693) is surrounded by three richly draped bronze female figures personifying virtues and depicts Mazarin, in marble, kneeling on top of the tomb; the cardinal's gesture is lively and vibrant and the long train of his vestment flows behind him in dramatic twists and folds and overlaps of edges of the tomb.
Coysevox's later works reveal marked tendencies toward the rococo, the light, delicate, intimate style which was to dominate the arts during the first half of the 18th century. These tendencies are especially to be seen in his late portrait busts and in works such as the “Duchesse de Bourgogne as Diana (1710) at Versailles. The duchess is shown as a lighthearted goddess of the hunt, her pose animated, her draperies gently agitated by her movement; the composition is pierced with space, and the surface presents a refined contrast of delicate textures.
Coysevox's principal students, including his nephews Nicolas and Guillaume Coustou, perpetuated his influence, especially on the development of French portrait sculpture in the 18th century. Coysevox worked tirelessly until the end of his days and capped his brilliant career with a final masterpiece: “Louis XIV praying” in the choir of Notre-Dame de Paris. Always at the service of the king.
Coysevox died in Paris, on October 10, 1720.