Sébastien Leclerc , Ambassador of Siam before Louis XIV, late 17th century
Artist Sculpture

Sébastien Leclerc is a brilliant self-taught engraver

Sébastien Leclerc , Ambassador of Siam before Louis XIV, late 17th century
Ambassador of Siam before Louis XIV, late 17th century

Brilliant self-taught engraver, a brilliant military engineer and a respected author of scientific treatises

Sébastien Leclerc (September 26, 1637 – October 25, 1714) – an outstanding French graphic artist of the second half of the 17th – early 18th centuries, a brilliant master of drawing and woodcutting. Sébastien Leclerc was also a respected theorist of arts and military engineering. His work had a huge impact on the development of European graphics, and his biography is a gorgeous example of a career as an artist who achieved success despite his low origin and lack of academic education.

Sebastien Leclerc was distinguished by his enormous capacity for work. During his long life, he created over 3,400 original engravings, most of which were in the religious genre. In addition, the artist became famous all over the world for his original illustrations for the novels of French writers and scientific treatises on art theory, architecture and geometry.

Sébastien Leclerc , Arc de Triomphe Louis XIV
Arc de Triomphe Louis XIV

Biography of Sébastien Leclerc

Sebastien Leclerc was born on September 26, 1637 in Metz in the family of a jeweler. His first mentor was his father, who taught his son the basics of drawing and woodcutting. Already at the age of seven, Sebastien carved the first form for intaglio printing from wood, and at the age of 13 he personally created an engraving with a view of his hometown. In addition, the boy showed a talent for mathematics, he especially liked geometry and the theory of perspective.

Leclerc’s outstanding talent helped him start a full-fledged professional career very early on. When the young man was not yet 20 years old, he became an engineer-geographer surrounded by Marshal de La Ferté. His main responsibility was to develop plans for new military fortresses and Sebestyen did an excellent job with his work for ten years. However, then he found out that a completely different person had appropriated the authorship of his plans, immediately quit his service with the marshal and decided to leave for Paris.

Design for garden architecture, 1680s
Design for garden architecture, 1680s

Sebastien Leclerc arrived in the capital of France in 1665 with a letter of introduction to Charles Le Brun. The famous painter in those days had tremendous power in the field of visual arts. He was the court painter of Louis XIV, directed the Academy of Arts and the National Tapestry Manufactory. After familiarizing himself with Leclerc’s prints, Lebrun recommended that he immediately give up his studies in science and devote his life to drawing and woodcuts under his personal tutelage.

Thanks to an influential patron, from that moment on, the young artist never had any problems with orders. Distinguished by a unique capacity for work, he created engravings with amazing speed, and also illustrated books for almost all major Parisian publishers.


Through Lebrun, Sebastien soon met Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the head of the French government. This prominent politician offered the master a substantial salary of 600 gold coins on the condition that he would work exclusively for Louis XIV. Leclerc agreed and worked for the French monarch for the next 10 years, but then refused to cooperate and became a freelance artist again.

In 1672 Sébastien Leclerc became a member of the Academy and was appointed tenured professor of a prestigious institution. A year later, the artist married Charlotte den Kerch, the daughter of the royal draftsman. In this marriage, the couple had 18 children, of whom six sons and four daughters survived their father.

Engraving Landscape with a city in the distance, 1673
Engraving Landscape with a city in the distance, 1673

By the early 1680s, Sébastien Leclerc had become the most respected master of engraving in all of France and retained this unofficial title until his death. In addition, he published a number of scientific papers on various branches of knowledge: from practical geometry to design theory. In 1693, after the death of Claude Mellan, Sebastien was appointed royal engraver, and in 1706 the Pope conferred on him the title of Roman knight.

The last years of his life, the artist experienced serious vision problems and was even forced to completely retire for several years. Returning to active work, he continued to work on his last treatise on architecture, but did not manage to finish it. And on October 25, 1714, Sebastien Leclerc passed into eternity at the age of 77, leaving his wife and children a decent fortune.

Engraving Landscape with a monastery, 1673
Engraving Landscape with a monastery, 1673
The most famous works of Sebastien Leclerc

The ingenious French master of engraving has created a huge number of unique graphic masterpieces. And yet, the most famous works of Sebastien Leclerc can be called:

  1. Pratique de la Géométrie (1669) – a book containing advice for professionals of different professions on how to use the principles of theoretical geometry on paper and in the field.
  2. Principes de dessein (1700) – a treatise, the first part of which is devoted to the theory of drawing, and the second contains many pages with images of the original costumes of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
  3. Nouveau système du monde conforme à l’écriture sainte (1706) is a work in which the author describes and clearly demonstrates to the readers the system of the universe in accordance with the scientific knowledge of the early 18th century.
  4. Traité d’architecture (1714) is a book on architectural theory that details the artist’s varied recommendations and personal observations on the subject.

Sébastien Leclerc is widely regarded as the finest engraving artist in the history of French fine art. Despite the lack of professional education, he managed to achieve tremendous success in his career and become an outstanding European artist of the 17th – early 18th centuries.