Jean Bérain (1640-1711)
Jean Bérain the Elder was the most important of a family of French decorators and engravers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. He began to mix with engravers and armourers in 1645 when his father, a harquebusier from Lorraine, moved to Paris. Thanks to the patronage of Israël Sylvestre, who was also from Lorraine, he was appointed in 1670 to the Cabinet des planches gravées du roi, which had been created by Colbert 6 years earlier, and where he worked for the king as an engraver. At that time, he was responsible for the ornamentation in the Louvre's Apollo Gallery under the guidance of Charles Perrault. He gave up engraving for drawing in 1674, becoming designer to the Chamber and Cabinet of the king (la Chambre et le Cabinet du roi). With his new office, he was responsible for the creation of decorations for Court celebrations and feasts in which the king took part as well as, for furniture, panelling or for funeral ornaments. Later, he was also appointed designer to the Royal Academy of Music in 1680. A unity of inspiration can be identified in all of the opera stage sets he designed for composers such as Jean-Baptiste de Lully, his carousels or his funeral ornaments justifying the concept of "the Bérain style". Because of his use of grotesques, so cherished in the 16th century and by the Fontainebleau School, which he treated with a singular fanciful extravagance, and his pronounced liking for grand Classical architecture, he created symmetrical compositions, with porticoes or lambrequins on either side, decorated with arabesques and peopled by little fantastic characters of oriental appearance, or by heads of women with acanthus leaves in their hair. His style permeated all the decorative arts.