This fine marble figure is an important addition to the catalogue of Stefano Maderno, not only the celebrated creator of Saint Cecilia (Rome, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere), but also a still little-known protagonist in the crucial, elusive period of change between late Mannerist sculpture and the advent of Gian Lorenzo Bernini – and with him, of the Baroque.
The style and singular composition of this work can be explained through a brief analysis of its origins. Maderno’s biographer, Giovanni Baglione, writes that Stefano "diedesi a restaurare le statue antiche, e faceva bene li modelli levati dalle più belle statue antiche e moderne che in Roma si trovassono. E molti dei suoi modelli sono stati gettati in metallo per servigio di vari personaggi che di questa professione si dilettano, sì per Roma come per fuori, et a publico beneficio" ("…at first devoted himself to reproducing antique statues, executing fine models taken from the most beautiful antique and modern statues found in Rome. Many of his models were cast in metal for various figures who delighted in this practice, within and outside Rome, and for the benefit of the public.") (Giovanni Baglione, Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti, Rome, 1642, p. 345).
The prototype of this sculpture is also levato ("drawn") from an antique statue: a colossal group (287 cm high), executed at the beginning of the 3rd century AD, but copied from a Greek original that can be dated to between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC, showing a classical hero in the act of throwing a child down (Athamas and Learcus, Achilles and Troilus, or perhaps more probably Neoptolemus and Astyanax).
Today, the sculpture is in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, but in Stefano Maderno’s time it stood in the courtyard of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome: a place the sculptor knew well, and where he copied the celebrated Farnese Hercules several times. After its discovery in the frigidarium of the Caracalla Baths, the group was restored: the head is probably the work of Guglielmo Della Porta’s studio, and is intended to be the Emperor Commodus. Scholars in the second half of the 16th century agreed that the group represented a gladiator, and when the Farnese family had it restored, they decided to use it to represent the cruel Emperor’s celebrated participations in the Circus Maximus games. 16th century inventories of the Palazzo Farnese thus described the group as "Commodo in fogia di gladiator" in the act of throwing down a child (on this subject, see Federico Rausa, in Le Sculture Farnese, edited by Carlo Gasparri, Naples, 2010, III, p. 29-32).
Stefano Maderno left a highly sensitive modern version of this colossal group: a small (H. 20.1 cm) and marvellous terracotta by his own hand, now in the Ca’ d’Oro in Venice (see Claude Douglas Dickerson, Bernini and Before: Modeled Sculpture in Rome, ca. 1600-1625, Institute of Fine Arts, New York, 2006, p. 411). When the terracotta was listed in 1778 among the works of the Museo della Casa Ecellentissima Farsetti, its real iconography was still evoked, as it was described as "Comodo imperatore che porta un ragazzo ucciso sulle spalle" (see Alle origine di Canova. Le terrecotte della collezione Farsetti, Venice, 1991, p. 135). At that very time, Maderno’s terracotta played a key role in European Neoclassicism’s revival and development of the Antique sculpted group: Antonio Canova (a visitor, critic, and in some ways, student of the Farsetti collection) took its idea for his monumental Hercules and Lichas, as John Flaxman did later for The Fury of Athamas (now in Ickworth House, Suffolk) and Clodion for Le Déluge (The Flood), never produced in marble.
So it is highly likely that that one of the "vari personaggi che di questa professione si dilettano, si per Roma come per fuori" (to cite Baglione again) asked Maderno to produce not a bronze but a marble version of his terracotta. The intermediary size shows that it is still seen in terms of a gallery sculpture, closer to small bronzes than the monumental groups that Gian Lorenzo Bernini had begun to sculpt for the great cardinals’ villas of Rome in the late 1610s.
At least four factors suggest that this is not a later version in marble, but an original by Maderno. The first, decisive point is that the style is exactly like that of the Saint Cecilia and other marbles known to be by him, particularly in the treatment of the drapery, anatomy and hair. The second is that the only detail where this marble does not reflect the Antique model in the Naples museum or Maderno’s terracotta (the grotesque mask on the shield) appears clearly in pre-Berninian Roman sculpture, as evidenced by comparisons with an analogous decorative approach in Nicolas Cordier, and with the similarly distorted face of a figure also by Maderno. The third point is that iconographically, this figure is literally intended to be Commodus as a gladiator, with its archaeological fidelity to the emperor’s likeness, and etymological attention to the sword. The fourth and final point paradoxically arises from the limitations of the work. The sculptor does not show the sword scabbard, and he does not give himself the trouble of producing in marble the complicated figure of the child, which he abandons. The result is the gladiator’s odd gesture, which functions well from the principal viewpoint, but becomes incongruous when the sculpture is viewed from other positions, because it seems as though this ferocious warrior is touching his lips in a sign of perplexity, or is assailed by sudden doubt. But there is no iconographical purpose, only the technical necessity for the sculptor of linking the face statically to the arm with a bridge. All this would have been unthinkable for any of the brilliant marble sculptors in post-Berninian Europe, and yet the quality of the sculpture shows that we are not dealing with a second-rate master. The explanation is thus to be found in Stefano Maderno’s limitations as a marble sculptor. Claude Douglas Dickerson writes: "In effect, Maderno let the marble dictate his sculpture, indicating that he possessed neither the imagination, nor the technical means to make the marble submit to his artistic will. He was no Bernini." (op. cit., p. 298, 299). Of course Maderno was no Bernini, but we wonder whether the extraordinary success of the latter’s David (1623-1624) , in turn derived from another antique gladiator (Borghese Gladiator), did not encourage Maderno to venture to isolate the figure of Commodus in marble.
To conclude, the reappearance of this rare autograph work by the marble sculptor Stefano Maderno is extremely significant, because it adds a hitherto unknown fact to our knowledge of early 17th century sculpture in Rome, fluctuating as it did between the imitation of Antiquity and the emerging new world of the Baroque.
“Per lo marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, [François Duquesnoy] fece un Mercurio alto circa tre palmi, il quale si volge e si piega indietro a riguardare un Amoretto che gli allaccia i talari al piede, in accompagnamento d’un Ercole antico di metallo. Dopo fece un Apolline compagno al Mercurio, e fiancheggiato nell’atto dell’Antinoo di Belvedere.” (“For the Marquis Vincenzo Giustiniani, [François Duquesnoy] made a Mercury about the height of three hand-spans, turning and looking down to observe a Cupid fastening wings to his heels, to go with an antique bronze Hercules. Afterwards he made an Apollo to match the Mercury, in the attitude of the Belvedere Antinous.”)
There are, of course, many splendid bronze versions of the Mercury and the Apollo, cast during Duquesnoy’s lifetime, and probably under his supervision. The best of these have been in the collections of the Princes of Liechtenstein for almost 400 years, but Duquesnoy’s involvement has never been demonstrated until now.
Now we can finally see what Duquesnoy made (“fece”) – at least where the Apollo is concerned, because the original terracotta has come to light again. 65 cm high, this is in excellent condition (apart from the genitals, which have been restored). A trace on the statue base makes it reasonable to assume that the other terracotta figure of the group also stood there, completing the group: the Cupid handing the arrow to the god, which must have been cast separately. As with most bronze casts, the bow in the god’s left hand and the quiver full of arrows hanging behind the tree trunk are also missing. Given the fragility of these accessories, however, we can assume that Duquesnoy intended to include them directly in the plaster model.
There are two possibilities with a work such as this: either it is the original model by the artist, or it is a later derivative (from the model itself or from one of the bronze casts). A precise assessment of the size ratio and variations that exist between this terracotta and the various bronze versions is an essential step in ascertaining the truth. However, an assessment of the quality of the work provides the real answer.
The vibration and movement of the body, the silky crown of hair and the ineffable union of elegance and sensuality immediately tell us that this work is not only a great creation, but also an extraordinary work by an outstanding modeller; a unique, indescribable masterpiece by a highly sensitive artist.
The god’s body absorbs the light and reflects it back to the gaze with all the softness, variants and indeterminate colour of living flesh. The precarious pose suggests a movement and instability to the eye that seem to be confirmed by the tender roundedness of the modelling. As a counterpoint to the supple, vacillating limbs, the hair bursts into a highly naturalistic shock with full curls falling rapidly down the neck, as though the controlled surface of the modello were giving way to the impetuous, uncontrolled speed of the bozzetto. The monumentality and autography of the modello incite us to compare the figure with those known for certain to be the Flemish artist’s work. Apart from the reliefs (which are decidedly problematic in any case), works definitely by Duquesnoy can be counted on the fingers of two hands: the marble Saint Susanna and colossal Saint Andrew in the Vatican, the Vryburch and Van Eynden cenotaphs in Santa Maria dell’Anima, the Doria Pamphilj Bacchus, the Berlin Cupid and four portrait busts in marble, together with some restoration work on Antique sculptures. There are far fewer terracottas known to be by the artist: three bozzetti of putti, the modello for the bust of the Cardinal of Savoy and – at least in my view – a magnificent small portrait bust of Poussin.
Even within such small body of work, we can make some extremely speaking comparisons with this Apollo. The most striking are undoubtedly the analogies between his face and that of Saint Susanna (the oval of the face, the mouth with the plumper, less distinct lower lip, the seemingly-blind yet sweetly vivid eyes and the silky hair) and the entire figure of the Bacchus, which, together with the identical height, almost seems to be a marble version of the modello here.
The most speaking comparisons are those that distinguish the terracotta from the bronze, and thus emphasise its independence and autography, beginning with the hair, which evinces a softness immediately evoking the highly naturalistic hair of Saint Susanna. However, in terms of the head of hair’s tectonic construction, so to speak, the most striking similarity is with the head of the Rondanini Faun (British Museum, London), one of the restorations that can be attributed with certainty to Duquesnoy – because the "dome" structure is identical, with an initial, higher ring of hair set out like a halo, followed by a very broad band of curls that are less geometrically laid out but are still isolated and in relief. While in the marble, the material itself expresses this distinction more clearly, in the clay version there is a band separating the two zones of the god’s head.
As regards the actual execution of the work, the most significant comparisons are first to be sought in the few terracotta figures confirmed as Duquesnoy’s work. Once again, the head of the Apollo provides the most significant clues, in this case with reference to the modello for the bust of Maurice of Savoy. The two sculptures display very similar signs of the same quick, precise working technique, including clear traces of specific tools and even the weave of the damp cloth that kept the clay workable.
But now we come to the issue of the relationship with the bronze versions. The compatibility of the dimensions and the exact superimposition of each part of the model imply that this terracotta was indeed the original template used to produce the best of the known bronzes, beginning with the one in Liechtenstein. The only substantial variations seem to be the position of the right arm in relation to the body (in the terracotta version, the forearm is lower and further away from the body) and the open fingers of the right hand. It is likely that Duquesnoy changed these compositional details – perhaps to intensify the spatial concentration – when retouching the plaster model he used to obtain the various wax models for casting.
From a stylistic point of view, the differences between the terracotta and the bronze are yet again most obvious with the head and hair. The carving in the Liechtenstein bronze, brilliant though it is, simply cannot equal the marvellous impression of naturalness that Duquesnoy gave to the clay with his fingers and scraper. The movement of the masses that create a chiaroscuro in the clay version give way, in the bronze, to curls that are refined, but linear and superficial. This consideration puts paid to the theory – excluded in any case by the overall quality of the piece – that it was derived from a bronze (not mechanically, at any rate).
But exactly when and for whom did Duquesnoy produce this Apollo? Twenty years ago, Olga Raggio suggested that the first owner of the pair of bronzes, Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein, had also commissioned the Apollo. Raggio thought that the prince must have ordered the Apollo directly from Duquesnoy during his trip to Italy in 1636, a date that sits well with the style of the work. In my view, the fact that the Mercury acquired by Karl Eusebius was still of the first type (Giustiniani), rather than the second Duquesnoy created later, seeking greater formal harmony in the pair, confirms the theory that Liechtenstein was involved right from the start in this pair of statues, which would later become so famous.
Everything thus indicates that this is the terracotta version seen and approved by Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein, but which then remained in Rome, in Duquesnoy’s possession, before disappearing for almost four hundred years.
The scene shows an episode in the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha. This comes from Greek mythology, and notably features in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Deucalion, the son of Prometheus, married Pandora’s daughter Pyrrha. At that time, Zeus was angry at the behaviour of mankind, and decided to destroy it through a flood, which completely submerged the Earth, leaving only the peak of Parnassus showing. Deucalion and Pyrrha’s virtue enabled them to survive the flood. They built a large wooden chest and filled it with provisions. After nine days, the waters subsided, and the couple were able to land. They went to give thanks in a temple, and heard a voice telling them to throw the bones of their mother behind them. They understood that this mother was the Earth, so gathered up some stones – the bones of Mother Earth – and threw these over their shoulders. Human beings arose from the stones: men from the ones thrown by Deucalion; women from those thrown by Pyrrha. This marked the Stone Age and the beginning of a new world: "the restoration of humankind", to cite the title of 16th century engravings. In the bas-relief, we see Pyrrha in the centre, her arm raised, throwing a stone, and on the right, Deucalion bending to pick up a rock. On the left, we see a temple and two naked children, who have arisen from the stones. On either side of the composition is a tree, probably signifying the resumption of natural life.
In 1678, Gaspard Marsy, who had lost his brother Balthazard in 1674, was working on the tomb of Turenne, the sculpted decoration of the Porte Saint-Martin in Paris and a large group, the Rape of Orithyia, for the gardens at Versailles. No documents make any mention of this bas-relief during his career, so we can suppose it was either a private commission or a work designed for his personal use. The Marsy brothers, two of the greatest sculptors under Louis XIV, were known to be cultivated artists steeped in Greek and Roman mythology, from which they drew subjects for their works. It is thus not surprising that Gaspard made use of this episode, even if it was not the best known or illustrated. A number of major painters like Giorgione, Schiavone, Castiglione and Rubens depicted this mythological scene with the same details. Rubens’ painting is now in the Prado in Madrid.
Nothing leads us to believe that Marsy was inspired by a painting he knew through an engraving. In 1679, the painter François Bonnemer (1638-1689) executed four pictures at the Manufacture des Gobelins showing the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha after the flood, probably in view of tapestry versions – and thus at exactly the same period as this bas-relief. Was this a coincidence? Were they working together? We will never know. But then, though this Greek legend of the flood was not unfamiliar, why did Marsy choose it? Bas-relief was not a technique unknown in his work, though he preferred sculpture in the round, with a penchant for figures caught in violent action with vehemently gesturing limbs – as in the contrasting play between the two protagonists here. There is no reason to mistrust or doubt the line of the signature and date. But the problem is still complex, because there is another larger bas-relief (100 x 138 cm) of the same composition, with a number of minor variations, sunk into the wall of the Horta labyrinth park in Barcelona1. This work on the other side of the Pyrenees has no signature, date or documentation. It once belonged to the Marquis Desvalls, who at the end of the 18th century asked his architect Bagutti to create a new Neoclassical garden for him, where this bas-relief found a home. His descendants donated the estate to the city of Barcelona, which opened it to the public.
What link is there between these two examples of the same composition? The sales and destinies of art works are often shrouded in mystery. Could this bas-relief, sculpted in marble, be considered as a sketch for the Catalan relief – when a bozzetto was generally in terracotta, not marble? The Barcelona relief seems more accentuated, more deeply hollowed out than the Paris relief, which is not so finely carved. As things stand, it is legitimate to add this hitherto unknown piece to the catalogue of works by Marsy. We know that he was a highly active and prolific artist, and we should not forget that he was backed up by an equally active workshop full of fellow artists and followers.
1. This information was provided by Jean-Christophe Baudequin, to whom we express our sincere thanks.
This splendid, recently discovered sculpture is particularly important for three reasons: its extraordinary quality, its interesting iconographical aspects and the fact that it can be attributed to one of the principal masters of Baroque Rome.
The entire work is constructed around a single element: the spectacular wig. Here the sculptor achieves a remarkable feat in terms of technical skill and inventiveness. The hair is not merely decorative but has a life of its own, like the snakes on Medusa’s head. Through adroit use of the chisel, the artist has framed the face of his figure with what looks like a rose garden in flower: the curls bloom like roses, some more open than others. An ordinarily uninspiring theme becomes an opportunity for a dazzling symphony of light and shade, solid and empty, concave and convex. And yet the sculptor does not fall into the trap of turning his model into a sculpted abstract still life. Although the pupils are left blank, the face seems focused and alive, and the profile combines individuality with majesty, as we find only in true masterpieces of the Baroque portrait.
Majesty indeed, because the model of this portrait was Baroque Europe’s most celebrated and powerful monarch: the Sun King. The unequivocally recognisable face indicates its identity through the oval of the face, the slightly curved large nose, the fleshy, protuberant lower lip and the beginnings of a double chin, which would increase with the years. Above all, the imperious expression is typical of Louis XIV. Both the King’s apparent age and the similarity to known portraits suggest a very early date: the second half of the 1660s, when Louis was about 30. This is the same Louis who appears in the painting by Claude Lefèvre, now in New Orleans (c. 1669), and in the famous bust by Jean Varin (1665-1666). We are still a long way from the formalised image of the King seen in the first busts of Antoine Coyzevox (c. 1678), and then in those of François Girardon (1691): an ultimate stage that nonetheless came about through intermediary phases closer to the marble here, like the fine bust by Marc Arcis, now in the Musée des Augustins in Toulouse (1674-1675), or the one at Versailles so rightly attributed to Puget by François Souchal (c. 1670).
Compared with all these images of the Sun King, the bust here has a significant symbolic difference: it does not feature a breastplate or cloak, but displays a heroic nudity linking it directly with the Roman busts of the first imperial period. A characteristic of this kind is very rare in French busts, and a clear indication of an Italian origin. The style of this bust, whose most convincing antecedent is the celebrated bust of the Sun King sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Paris in 1665, thus points towards Italy, and in particular the Rome of the mature Baroque period. The tilt of the head on the viewer’s left, the movement of the hair and the distant gaze are all modelled on Bernini’s inventive approach. We know that Gian Lorenzo took the drawings and perhaps the modelli for the work back to Italy, and the creator of the bust here could well have had been familiar with this material. The decision not to incise the pupils and a distinctly abstract quality suggest that the work was executed in Rome by an Italian artist inspired by portraits of Louis XIV (perhaps painted ones), after Bernini produced his bust. A number of typically personal stylistic characteristics indicate that this artist was one of Bernini’s most brilliant and original pupils, the Lombard Antonio Raggi, who executed a Colossus (the Danube) in the Fountain of the Four Rivers (Piazza Navona in Rome) and modelled several angels of the Chair of Saint Peter in Saint Peter’s, Rome. (Concerning Raggi and the works mentioned here, see Andrea Bacchi, Scultura del Seicento a Roma, Milan, 1996, pl. 687-713 and pp. 865-837). Decisive comparisons come thick and fast as from the mid-1650s, when Raggi, now in his forties, was establishing his increasing independence.
The first comparison, and a major one at that, can be found in a medallion portrait of Agostino Chigi, which Antonio Raggi inserted – under Bernini’s supervision – into the pyramid of the great 16th century banker’s tomb originally designed by Raphael in Santa Maria del Popolo. In the same Roman church, the large angel bearing the coat of arms placed under the organ by Raggi provides a speaking antecedent for the style of the Sun King’s hair, including at the back.
Very similar characteristics (such as the treatment of the eyes and moustache) appear in another commission linked with the Chigi family: the face of the great Alexander VII (based on a model by Bernin) sculpted by Raggi for Siena Cathedral between 1661 and 1663. These characteristics were typical of later portraits by Raggi, from the bust of Cardinal Marco Bragadin in St Mark’s, Rome, to the praying figure of Cardinal Marzio Ginetti in Sant’Andrea della Valle.
But similar aspects are not found only in portraits. The smooth oval of the face, contrasting with the unruly hair with its chiaroscuro effects, has a strong antecedent in the young Saint Benedict Raggi produced for the Sacro Speco di Subiaco in 1657. The prominent hair, the eyes without pupils and the treatment of the lips all point to the Louis XIV here. The mass of hair is similar to that of the visionary Saint John the Baptist sculpted in the late 1660s for the Gavotti Chapel at Saint Nicolas of Tolentino in Rome, and the flaming hair of the Angel with Column, executed shortly afterwards (based on models by Bernini) for the Saint Angelo Bridge, also in Rome. Lastly, the striking characteristics of the Sun King’s face (the non-incised pupils; the accentuated contrast between the smooth face and the hair with its powerful chiaroscuro effects) are found in the magnificent faces of the Baptist and Jesus in the large marble group of the Baptism of Christ, produced between 1665 and 1669 for the high altar of San Giovanni dei Fiorentini, in Rome .
Now that it is established that this is a major work by Antonio Raggi, probably executed in the late 1660s, there is the matter of the circumstances of the commission and the patron’s identity. In the absence of any documents that may yet come to light, we can only put forward a hypothesis. The largest work by Raggi found outside Italy is the famous Virgin and Child of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes in Paris. This sculpture, a marble based on a model by Bernini, belongs to a slightly earlier phase in the sculptor’s career. Commissioned after 1646, it only reached Paris in the summer of 1663 (see Tomaso Montanari, "Bernini per Bernini: il secondo ‘Crocifisso’ monumentale. Con una digressione su Domenico Guidi", in Prospettiva, no. 136, 2009, pp. 2-25). It was commissioned by Pope Urban VIII’s nephew Cardinal Antonio Barberini, a man very close to Louis XIV, who appointed him Grand Aumônier de France and Archbishop of Reims. He gave it to the Couvent des Carmes in Paris. Although there is no documentary proof as yet, Antonio Barberini seems to be an ideal candidate for the person who commissioned this new Louis XIV: a Roman patron who had an established relationship with Antonio Raggi, and close ties with France and the Sun King himself. While awaiting documentary confirmation, we should remember that this work is highly significant because it adds to the very small number of extant sculpted portraits of Louis XIV produced in Baroque Rome. And while the later figure of Domenico Guidi introduced French models and tempered the Baroque points of style, the bust by Antonio Raggi here is the only known example (apart from Bernini’s masterpiece in Versailles) of a likeness of the Sun King in the most typical Italian artistic language of the 17th century at its height.
This magnificent Bust of the Virgin Mary has the stylistic characteristics of the best late 17th century Venetian sculpture, as it reflects lively and passionate style introduced into the Laguna by the Flemish artist Giusto Le Court, and rapidly propagated by a large number of his pupils, followers and imitators.
Even the invention of the bust came from Flemish culture. This Virgin develops – while stylistically transfiguring – an idea of François Duquesnoy, which has come down to us in numerous bronze versions and several replicas in marble.
A number of more personal stylistic features enable us to give a precise attribution and put forward a name among Le Court’s followers, who included sculptors like Giovanni Bonazza and Orazio Marinali.
The two most personal traits of this bust concern the eyes (without pupils, opening in the marble like deep wounds) and the drapery, which is piled in a kind of supple tube, full of cuts, openings and bumps, evoking the morphology of a sponge or a succulent plant.
These two highly singular aspects are found in the work of one of Le Court’s best and most prolific followers, the German artist Heinrich Meyring, who spent almost all of his long life in Venice, and whose name was italianised as Enrico Merengo. His works were only identified after the death of Le Court (October 1679), suggesting that Merengo worked as the master’s anonymous collaborator before that date. From then on, however, a documented series of works began, naming him as the creator of numerous first-rate sculptures in Le Court’s projects, like the facade of Santa Maria del Giglio in Venice and the decoration of Santa Giustina in Padua.
But the works most similar to this bust are those he produced throughout the 1690s: firstly, the full-length figure of the Madonna on the altar of Santa Maria in Colle in Bassano del Grappa, dating from 1694, and secondly the figure of the Virgin in the magnificent large group of the Holy Family, begun in 1694 for the Church of the Scalzi in Venice. This has similar eyes, wiry hair drawn back in the same manner, and again a thick, bumpy, fluid veil covering the head.
Also very similar are the draperies of the Saint Theresa sculpted for the same church and those worn by the figures in the Pietà altar formerly in San Silvestro in Venice, and now in the church of Nimis, in Friuli. These were executed between 1692 and 1695. Here we find the same dense, rubber-like folds with the same continuous counterpoint of dark cuts. It is also significant that this stylistic group also includes the Charity of the baptismal fonts in Chioggia cathedral, sculpted by Alvise Tagliapietra, the epigone and only certain pupil of Merengo (for all the works cited, see Andrea Bacchi, La Scultura a Venezia da Sansovino a Canova, Milan, 2000, p. 760-762, with a previous bibliography). After these early works, however, Merengo developed a sharper, simpler language very different from that of Le Court.
The convergence of these comparisons enables us not only to attribute this splendid Virgin to Enrico Merengo with certainty, but also to date it to the mid-1690s. To conclude, it is likely that this bust was designed for a sacristy or private chapel as a pendant to a Christ (adult or child), or an Angel of the Annunciation.
Louis de France, known as the Grand Dauphin or Monseigneur, was born to Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Austria in 1661, and died in 1711 before he could succeed to the throne. The prince who never reigned suffered from the acid pen of Saint-Simon, which did considerable harm to his reputation in later times. And yet he was intelligent, cultivated, a lover of the arts, kind, popular, and always respectful towards his illustrious father, who often sought to highlight the talents of his heir. This was the case during the War of the League of Augsburg. Given the command of the French armies in 1688 in what came to be known as the Rhine campaign, the Grand Dauphin revealed military abilities that were universally acclaimed, capturing the well-fortified Philippsbourg and other cities in the Rhine.
Traditional iconography bedecked warrior heroes with laurel wreaths. This accessory can be seen in the bronze medallion of 1686 of the Grand Condé, where Coyzevox shows the King’s cousin, the celebrated victor at Rocroi, as a bust in profile. In the medallion here, we can easily recognise the likeness of the Grand Dauphin – who was not blessed by nature, with the hooked nose and fleshy chin of the Bourbons, and the sullen mouth inherited from his mother. While the Prince’s portrait was often a subject for painters (and engravers), it was tackled by few sculptors. We can cite another work by Coyzevox: an oval medallion, signed and dated 1683, showing a bust of the Grand Dauphin in right profile. His features are almost exactly identical in the medallion here, although it shows the left profile and introduces a laurel wreath. The Prince’s heroic deeds lead us to date the execution of this medallion later, in around 1688-1690, and to suppose that it was commissioned to celebrate or recall this glorious episode in his life and thus to venerate him, reflecting the King’s desire to highlight the greatness of the dynasty. But to date, no documents have been able to prove this theory and reveal the sculptor’s identity. Here again it is tempting to suggest Coyzevox, who at that time had firmly established his name and position as the official portrait sculptor to the King (and his court). The style of the medallion, its sensitive modelling and the treatment of the laurel leaves and curling wig do not seem incompatible with the art deployed by Coyzevox in his busts, but obviously we cannot rule out the possibility that this medallion was made by his workshop, and thus did not merit the master’s signature.
This half-life-size white marble statue shows a young bacchante crowned with vine branches, leaning on a vine-entwined tree trunk. The sheepskin protecting her from the rough pine bark partially covers her left thigh, but in no way conceals her adolescent nudity. Distracted from her libations, the bacchante has let fall the cup she was holding in her left hand; her right arm is bent, and she turns her head away, impassively, with half-open lips.
The composition seeks the supple lines and grace of a natural attitude. The anatomy is well observed and respects the proportions of the live model. The modelling is rounded, and the flesh is rendered with great subtlety, particularly in the back view of the figure. Its aura of eroticism is tempered by references to Antiquity in the gestures and facial features.
The sculptor, who has signed "Varin" on the tree trunk, was familiar with the sculpture of Versailles and the relaxed style developed for the gardens of Marly, with subjects making free reference to mythology (a pretext for depicting beautiful bodies in the nude), and evoking the carefree happiness of a rustic golden age. These half-seated figures with their studied abandon and expressionless faces turned away, gazing into the distance, foreshadow the groups of pastoral subjects typical of Watteau’s settings, with graceful variants on the leg positions and arm gestures – like the marble groups for the Marly gardens, for which Nicolas Coustou was paid between 1708 and 1716, described in 1719 by Piganiol de La Force and now in the Musée du Louvre (Rosasco, 1986).
The moulds were made by Langlois in 1707. The erotic content of the Marly groups spread through marble, bronze, lead and terracotta reproductions in the early 18th century. The accounts of the Bâtiments du Roi (King’s Buildings) indicate that Varin worked at Marly from 1700 to 1711, when he was in charge of decorative works in plaster, cast-iron and stone, as one of a team of leading sculptors and founders (see Souchal, III).
This is a fine and appealing work. Its size and the meticulous refinement in the treatment of the marble suggest a private commission intended for the salon of an art lover in the first decade of the 18th century, around 1707-1710.
Who was this Varin? Various sculptors, painters, architects and craftsmen named Varin in the 17th and 18th centuries featured among the members of the Académie de Saint-Luc and in the accounts of the Bâtiments du Roi.
No biographical studies of sculptors with this name have come down to us. Lami is evasive when he lists the sculptors Pierre and Philippe Varin (p. 369). He only mentions one Pierre Varin and his son Pierre, sculptors and founders to the king, who were hired by the Paris authorities in 1749 to cast the statue of Louis XV by Bouchardon.
Between 1684 and 1711, the accounts of the Bâtiments during the reign of Louis XIV, published by Guiffrey (Comptes, vol. II-V, 1881-1901), mention one Pierre Varin the Elder and Pierre Varin the Younger, paid for their work on Versailles, the Trianon, the dome of the Invalides and Marly. They often appear in the accounts as specialists for casting models supplied by sculptors, including Legros, Masson and Mazeline, and their names are associated with those of Langlois and Monnier, also moulders and founders. They also produced decorative stone sculptures (Souchal, 1977-1987).
Genealogy of sculptors of the Varin family
Our research into the Archives Nationales has enabled us to draw up the genealogy of the sculptors in the Varin family with relative certainty.
Notarial deeds tell us that Pierre Varin the Elder, designated as "l’Ancien" in the accounts of the Bâtiments du Roi, and the so-called Pierre Varin the Younger, according to the same accounts, were brothers. Their father was Pierre Varin, a wine merchant, who died before 1685. They were probably born of two different marriages. They had another brother, Antoine: a marble worker and stone dresser.
Pierre Varin the Elder, known as "l’Ancien" (before 1654-1703), sculptor to the Bâtiments du Roi and his descendants
We know little about the life of Pierre Varin l’Ancien, as only two notarial deeds provide any information. The sculptor lived in Paris, in Rue Neuve-Saint-Martin in the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, until his death, which took place before 27 November 1703. He left a widow, Marie Descouy, by whom he had four children: Pierre (1681-1753), a sculptor and founder; Nicolas, a sculptor, who entered the service of the King of Sweden in 1732 (Rambaud, 1700-1750, published M.C.C.XVII, 373) and two daughters, Marie-Anne and Jeanne. The latter married Louis Amblard, a refuse disposal entrepreneur in the Marais district employed by the Surintendant des Bâtiments (Superintendent of Buildings) Jules Hardouin Mansart (AN.MC.XXXVIII, 51; relinquishment of furniture and transport by Pierre Varin’s widow, 27 November 1703).
On 10 July 1684, Pierre Varin the Elder signed a partnership contract with Nicolas Meusnier, his brother Henry Meusnier and Pierre Langlois, all sculptors to the King, to carry out "all works of sculpture and architecture that they could produce and undertake during the period concerned, both for His Majesty and in terms of public structures" (AN.MC.XIX, 532, C Béchu, 1998). The partners were to share the costs, and the purchase of goods. They drew up a mutual assistance clause providing for the payment of 600 livres to the widow or heirs, while the bronze, tin and lead was to be shared between the survivors. We find the sculptor-founders working together again in the accounts of the Bâtiments du Roi.
Pierre Langlois and the Meusniers (Monniers) were admitted as masters to the Académie de Saint-Luc on 29 May 1692, the very day on which Pierre Varin the Younger was admitted. Meanwhile, Pierre Varin l’Ancien had been a master since 10 January 1686 (Guiffrey, 1915, p. 471; the admission dates of the two Varins were reversed).
Pierre Varin l’Ancien clearly worked the most for the Bâtiments du Roi, without interruption, from 1668 to 1701, when he was paid 200 livres for his work on the ornamentation of the Eglise des Invalides (Comptes, vol. IV, p. 728). He would have had little time to fulfil private commissions.
Pierre Varin (1681-1753), sculptor and founder to the King
He was the son of Pierre Varin l’Ancien, and taught at the Académie de Saint-Luc (a school recognised by the King in 1705 and opened in 1706).
His post-mortem inventory (AN.MC.LX. 309, sealed documents Y1170) tells us that he died in 1753 at the age of 72, and that his financial situation was extremely modest. He lived in Grande-Rue du Faubourg-du-Roule with his second wife Geneviève Vangeois and his only son Pierre, also a sculptor and founder, born of his first marriage with Jeanne Grison, who came from a family of potters.
There is much information on the founder’s activity (Béchu, 1998, p. 78-94, and catalogue of the exhibition La Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris, 1994, p. 372). The Varins, father and son, had a long-standing reputation as the finest founders in Paris apart from the Kellers, and thus enjoyed acclaim and protection. The two Pierre Varins were chosen to cast the equestrian statue of Louis XIV (now destroyed) for the Place Royale in Bordeaux, whose model was executed between 1731 and 1735 by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. The King visited the Atelier du Roule workshop on 29 March 1735. The casting suffered a series of severe set-backs, which Lemoyne recounts in a long report of 1741. First there were financial problems; then Pierre Varin the founder had a furnace accident in September 1738. In February, the casting itself was a disaster, as the metal flowed out through the drains. In July 1741, the second casting was successful. In addition, Varin had not only taken care of this aspect, but had also devised a machine for raising the monument. Because of their sound reputation, the city of Paris signed a contract on 25 October 1749 with the Varins, father and son, to cast Bouchardon’s equestrian statue of Louis XV. As Varin the son was ill, the work fell to the father alone, and he was at that point elderly. But the Paris authorities did not want to do without his services, as he was "then the only artist in the kingdom with the ability to cast an equestrian statue in a single casting." On 14 May 1753, Varin gave Louis XV, together with the Dauphin and Mesdames, a description of the casting process (Mercure de France, June 1753).
The elderly founder’s death on 29 November 1753 brought the contract of 1749 to an end. The casting contract then went to Pierre Gor, and the statue was successfully completed in June 1758 (it was destroyed during the Revolution).
Pierre Varin, the son of the skilful founder, died on 20 December 1788, apparently without issue. We did not pursue our research further.
Pierre Varin the Younger (1654-1732), brother of Pierre the Elder or "l’Ancien", sculptor to the Bâtiments du Roi, and his descendants
Here, many more archive documents are available.
Pierre Varin the Younger was born in Paris and baptised on 17 May 1654 (AN.Y15015). He lived in Rue Neuve-Saint-Martin in the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, with his widowed mother Jeanne Poussin, his brother Pierre the Elder and his brother Antoine, a marble worker. On 9 October 1685, he married Marie-Anne Périchard, the daughter of a well-to-do family who belonged to a guild of masons (AN.MC.LXXXVIII, 270). On 29 May 1692, he was admitted to the Académie de Saint-Luc.
In 1716, Pierre Varin the younger inherited the posts of his deceased brother-in-law, Claude Périchard. He was admitted as "Garde-sel" (Keeper of the Salt) in the jurisdiction of the Maçonnerie du Palais. He had also succeeded him as a major in the city militia in 1709. In 1720, he was confirmed in these two posts, and as equerry. The couple lived in Rue Neuve-Saint-Laurent, in the parish of Notre-Dame-des-Champs. A number of deeds concern the management of their assets. They were property owners and rented out several of their houses, which provided them with a comfortable living.
Probably suspected of Janssenist sympathies, his wife, Marie-Anne Périchard was held for a short time in the prison of Sainte-Pélagie in 1722. She wrote a will there, in which she endowed some destitute paupers and created a foundation to open a school for young female paupers. The costs of this donation were covered by the donor’s estate. She died in her home on 8 January 1724 (AN.Y.14.936, see Béchu, 1998, p. 103). The post-mortem inventory tells us that the furniture was of high quality. The bedrooms were furnished with tapestries, and there was a considerable amount of pewter tableware, linen and clothing. They possessed silverware, a library (26 volumes), several paintings and a marble Christ. There were no debts or liabilities. Pierre Varin the Younger managed his property wisely, but died in debt on 5 June 1732. This was because he only had the usufruct of the estate (AN.MC.LXVII, 480), and so his financial situation had deteriorated. Meanwhile, the five children came into a comfortable heritage.
The daughters made extremely good marriages. In 1718, Marie-Anne (d. 1753) married a burgher of Paris, Pierre François; in 1719, Madeleine (d. 1751), who was goddaughter to the sculptor J. M. Raon, married Louis Petiot, a cashier in the Banque Royale, and in 1729, Marie-Thérèse (d. 1793) married J. P. Joly, Secrétaire des Commandements (Secretary of State) to the Prince de Condé. The eldest son, Pierre-Jean Varin (d. 1743), was an architect. Philippe (d. 1737), the younger brother, was a sculptor and taught at the Académie de Saint-Luc, like his father.
Pierre Varin the Younger’s career
Pierre Varin the Younger did not work regularly for the King, unlike his brother, Pierre the Elder. In 1687, he appeared separately from his brother for the first time in the sculptor teams of the royal works, working on two Ionic marble capitals in at the Grand Trianon (Comptes II, p. 1184). He was then 33. In 1688, he worked alone on the facings of four baskets of flowers, again at the Trianon (Comptes III, p. 36; paid 640 livres). In 1690, he was part of a team working on the sculptures of the attic of the Invalides dome (Comptes III, p. 423), as in 1691 (250 livres) with Bonvallet and Sainte-Marie. We find him later, in 1699, in charge of carving the lower sections of the stained glass windows in the Eglise des Invalides with Rousseau and Sainte-Marie (Comptes IV, p. 469; paid 336 livres). In 1700, Varin and Langlois made models of the groups for the Marly gardens, which they moulded. He was also paid for transporting five wagons of busts with their high pedestals from the Salles des Antiques in Paris to Marly (Comptes IV, p. 517). In 1701, his brother Pierre Varin the Elder executed what was perhaps his last work before his death in 1703: casting the fire-back of the antechamber at the Château de Meudon, (900 livres) for the Grand Dauphin (Comptes IV, p. 794).
Pierre Varin the Younger continued to work on royal buildings. In 1783, he was paid for plaster models executed with Desjardins, Langlois and Thierry at Marly (Comptes IV, p. 517). In 1705, he collaborated in the leadwork of the small canopies for the Baths of Apollo in the gardens of Versailles with Becker, Fournier, Raon, Robert and Tuby the Younger (Comptes V, p. 538). In 1708, 1709 and again in 1711, he was in charge of various ornaments for the lower and higher vestibules of the chapel at Versailles, with Gérard, Martin, Massou, Mazeline, Raon, Voirot (twenty-eight metopes with trophies from the four corners of the world, and six bas-reliefs of music trophies; Comptes V; p. 527, 529). From 1709 to 1710, he worked on the "cul-de-four" vaults.
After 1711, Pierre Varin the Younger no longer appears in the published accounts of the Bâtiments (Laborde file, not viewed). However, he continued to execute decorative sculptures for a private clientele. In 1719, he was still described as a sculptor to the Bâtiments du Roi when he carried out some decorative work in the house of Jean de Lalande (now destroyed) in Rue Saint-Honoré (Rambaud, 1700-1750, AN.MC.XV, 503).
We would like to know more about Pierre Varin the Younger’s statuary work. We have not run it to earth, but it exists, as witness the Jeune Bacchante of the Ratton-Ladrière Gallery. Pierre Varin was a talented sculptor much sought-after by a private clientele, and had plenty of connections.
He sometimes received major commissions, as we see from the post-mortem inventory of Anne de Souvré, widow of the Marquis de Louvois (d. 1691), drawn up on 6 December 1715 at the Château de Choisy. It includes a life-size statue of Louis XIV by Pierre Varin the Younger: "Article 1445, a marble figure of King Louis XIV, resting on his arms, on a veined marble pedestal, the cornice in veined green and the base in Sicilian marble, made by Varin, priced with the pedestal at 800 livres" (AN.MC.CXIII, 269; Rambaud, 1700-1750, p. 701). The use of veined green and violet breche marble indicates the latest trend. The statue was placed in a niche at the end of the château’s gallery. The inventory of 1715 lists a considerable collection taken from antique models: 1,542 items, including bacchantes, Bacchuses and nymphs. These came from the Château de Meudon, bought by Louvois in 1679. Girardon, who advised the Louvois on the purchase of sculptures, was in charge of transporting them to Choisy when the château was exchanged with that of the Grand Dauphin. Subsequently, he restored a number of damaged sculptures (Souchal, II, p. 71). After the death of the Marquise de Louvois in 1715, Choisy and its collections were sold to the Princesse de Conty. Varin’s statue of Louis XIV was still in the château in 1773 in a conservatory (AN.O’1348, Chamchine, p. 47). Today, the work cannot be found. We have checked that it is not the statue now in the Musée de Versailles (inv. M.V2667). This had been in the château since 1672 (catalogue Soulié, 1881, no. 212), and was left to the King by Jean Warin (1596-1672), the monarch’s celebrated medalmaker (Mercure Galant, 1682, p. 36). Pierre Varin the Younger was 18 in 1672.
Philippe Varin (after 1685-1737), sculptor and teacher at the Académie de Saint-Luc
Philippe Varin was the youngest son of Pierre Varin the Younger. He became a master sculptor at the Académie de Saint-Luc before 1726, the year he married Marie-Madeleine Patou, the daughter of a coppersmith (AN.LXXXVII, 191). This was not a successful union, either financially or socially. In 1735, Marie-Madeleine Patou obtained a separation as the victim "of the evil behaviour of her husband, who was full of wine almost every day," and who mistreated her "with blows and words alike" (Béchu, 1998, p. 115). Philippe Varin died on 1 March 1737 in Rue Jean-Beausire, near Porte Saint-Antoine, in debt, leaving no heirs (AN.Y.15592, sealed documents).
However, his post-mortem inventory indicated a certain affluence. He had good quality furniture, numerous paintings (28), and the prints and tapestries received from the estate of his father, which had added to his wealth. There were several marble sculptures (an Ecce Homo, the bust of Louis XIV), a well-stocked library, and, in his workshop, a number of not very highly-valued plasters (children, a leopard, heads of the Virgin and emperors, some bas-reliefs, a Venus, a gladiator and a Hercules), some white marble medallions, three wax figures and six collections of prints and drawings.
No works by the sculptor seem to have come down to us, but we know through documents that his private clientele held him in high regard. In 1720, he was paid for his decorative sculpture work in the mansion of Louis de Lorraine, Prince de Lambesc, and in 1730 Samuel Jacques Bernard, son of the famous banker, gave him a contract for a major decorative sculpture project in the mansion at 46 rue du Bac (5,900 livres; see Bruno Pons, in the catalogue of the exhibition La Rue du Bac, Paris, 1990, p. 126-153, where Philippe Varin is erroneously given the first name of Michel).
Philippe Varin was the last sculptor in the family. His brother Pierre-Jean and his descendants were architects. We have not studied the career of Nicolas Varin, the sculptor employed by the King of Sweden in 1732.
For stylistic reasons, it does not seem possible to attribute the Jeune Bacchante to him, as this work is too influenced by the sculpture of Versailles from the last decade of the 17th century, and by the style developed at Marly.
- Comptes des Bâtiments du roi sous le règne de Louis XIV, 5 vols., Paris, 1881-1901
- Jules Guiffrey, "L’académie de Saint-Luc", in Nouvelles Archives de l’art français, vol. XIX, 1915
- François Souchal, French Sculptors in the 17th and 18th Centuries: The Reign of Louis XIV, 4 vol., 1977-1987
- Mireille Rambaud, Minutier central, documents publiés, 1700-1750
- Philippe Béchu, De la paume à la presse, Mémoires de la Fédération des sociétés historiques et archéologiques de Paris, 1998
- Stanislas Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1910-1911
- B. Chamchine, Le Château de Choisy, PhD thesis, Faculty of Literature, Paris, 1910
- Betsy Rosasco, The Sculpture of the Château de Marly During the Reign of Louis XIV, 2 vols., New York, London, 1986
Arcis, together with the Provençal artists Dedieu and Puget, was Louis XIV’s chief artistic representative in southern France. As we know, the Sun King summoned to his court the best artists from the French provinces (and from abroad as well) in view of his greater glory. Arcis studied with sculptors from his region, Ambroise Frédeau and Gervais Drouet, and then rose to prominence through his work at the Toulouse City Hall, the Capitole, where he sculpted thirty busts for a series of illustrious figures, establishing his talent as a portraitist. He also executed a terracotta bust of Louis XIV in 1677 (now in the Musée des Augustins), which has similarities with this medallion. Under the protection of Colbert, who placed him alongside Girardon, he began working at Versailles (the Grande Galerie, Petite Écurie and Salon de la Guerre) and was admitted to the Académie Royale de Peinture et Sculpture in 1684. Perhaps he felt nostalgic for his native region, for he then returned to Toulouse, now as an official artist commissioned to make the model for an equestrian statue of Louis XIV the city council wished to set up opposite the Capitole, and another effigy of the King, this time pedestrian, for the Place Royale in Pau. He was the greatest sculptor in the kingdom’s south-west provinces, and left a prolific body of work in various fields, both religious and secular. He also opened a drawing school and taught pupils. This is the background to the medallion here. It shows the right profile of the King in a wig, his armour largely hidden beneath a draped cloak. He is still quite young, with a narrow moustache, and his features are modelled with suppleness and an evident concern for the truthful and natural, as witness the volume of the chin and the delineation of the characteristic Bourbon nose. This is highly skilled and delicate marble work, right through to the finely rendered curls in the wig. With no signature or date, it is hard to know which period it belongs to. However, we find a similarly-sized marble medallion with Louis XIV’s profile exhibited in a salon at the Académie de Toulouse under the name of Marc Arcis. This was commissioned by the town council of Rieux or Pau, and during the 19th century it belonged to the Musée des Augustins, from which it disappeared at an unknown date. The same museum later acquired a fragment of a stone bas-relief showing the profile of Louis XIV, very similar to this medallion, but smaller, and attributed to Arcis, whose style is extremely recognisable. Is this the 1752 medallion which has come to light again, or another example of the same model developed by Arcis to deal with commissions for a portrait clearly much in demand? The attribution of this medallion to Arcis, a sculptor familiar with the King’s portrait, is not in question. The date of execution is another problem. Was it sculpted during the artist’s Paris period, or when he returned to southern France, and thus a retrospective work? In any event, the work evinces all the qualities of a master in the art of relief carving under Louis XIV. This artist, whom his contemporaries described as shy and retiring, deserves to be restored to his true place – at the very top.
Charles V, Duke of Lorraine (1643-1690), was unable to take possession of his Duchy, then occupied by the troops of Louis XIV, and lived at the court of Vienna. The brother-in-law and friend of Emperor Leopold, he distinguished himself at the head of the imperial army in defensive fighting against the Turks, whom he defeated at the gates of Vienna and in the battles of Buda and Mohács. The Treaty of Ryswick restored the Duchy of Lorraine to his son Leopold, a great builder prince and patron of the arts, who reigned there from 1698 to 1729. It was not he but his son and successor, François, future husband of Maria Theresa of Habsburg and future Emperor, who in 1731 commissioned Remy François Chassel to make retrospective busts of his grandfather, Charles V, and his father. Thus the bust here is not a portrait from life.
Chassel was one of the leading sculptors at Leopold’s court. He belonged to a family of Lorraine sculptors from Rambervillers, in the Vosges, whose genealogy is hard to trace. According to Dom Calmet in his Histoire de Lorraine, Chassel studied further in Paris under Louis Lecomte before being appointed director of the Ducal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Nancy. He received commissions for the Opera and City Hall, various churches (notably Saint-Sébastien in Nancy), the ducal Château of Lunéville and its gardens, and numerous funerary monuments.
His bust shows evidence of the French style that influenced the neighbouring Duchy of Lorraine. The treatment of the large Louis XIV wig and sensitive modelling of the face evoke the art of Coyzevox. Chassel gives the figure great liveliness imbued with a certain haughtiness, as seen in the expression of the eyes and the pouting mouth. The bust is cut off, without shoulders. On the ribbons decorating the garment can be seen a potent cross; on the front, the alerions of Lorraine’s coat of arms on either side of the two-barred cross of Lorraine. The work bears witness to the quality of the artists Duke Leopold gathered around him to illustrate – like Louis XIV – the grandeur of his reign, in his as yet independent state on the borders of the kingdom of France. The style, however, is clearly influenced by the art of Versailles and Paris. In 1754, in his Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire des hommes illustres de Lorraine, François Antoine Chevrier praised the "bold, masculine chisel" of Chassel, adding that he excelled in busts.
The marble group Neptune and Amphitrite under consideration here makes an immediate impact, with its fascinating and inventive composition, the evident quality of the detail and the simultaneous force and delicacy of the sculpted figures, as a work by the incomparable, quirky-minded artist Francesco Bertos: one of the most talented and prolific Venetian sculptors of the 18th century. He is well known to specialists and many art lovers for his imaginative inventions (speakingly described as "scherzi di fantasia" by Leo Planiscig in 1928), which were repeated many times in marble and bronze to satisfy the demanding collectors and sophisticated tastes of those times. These works are now strikingly displayed in a number of leading museums and collections.
Unknown in the substantial catalogue of the artist’s works based on antique fables, the subject chosen by Bertos for this marble seems to be inspired by the verses dedicated to this precise mythological episode by the Greek poet, Oppian of Anazarbus. These verses, which are found in Halieutica, a poem on the art of fishing (published in Latin for the first time in Venice by Alde Manuce in 1517), and which we quote in an Italian translation, tell the story of the rape of Amphitrite, daughter of Nereus and Doris, by Neptune, god of the sea and earthquakes. Putting great emphasis on the dolphins, Oppian says: "Ora i delfini / Godon de’ lidi rimbombanti e pelaghi / Abitan; né mai il mar senza delfini; / Che sovra modo lor ama Nettuno; / Che la donzella già dagli occhi neri, / Anfitrite figliuola di Nereo, / Che il suo letto fuggia, a lui cercante, / Scorgendola i delfini nelle case / Dell’Oceano ascosa, l’avvisaro. / E ‘l chiomazzaurro [Neptune] tosto ne rapio / La fanciulla, e domò lei ricusante; / E consorte la feo del mar regina : / E i suoi fidi ministri pe ‘l messaggio / Commendò, e in la sorte del suo regno / Eccellente die’ lor pregio ed onore." And it is precisely the act of abduction that is captured by the Venetian sculptor in the marble group here. Neptune, with his vigorous nude body and scowling face characterised by a thick, virile forked beard, and a gaze both severe and evasive fixed on the viewer, is seen here in the culminating moment of the abduction, his muscular arms grasping the hips of the young and beautiful Amphitrite, who flails her arms and legs in a final, fruitless struggle to escape the domination of her future spouse. Their union, as we have read, results in her becoming "del mar regina" (queen of the sea): a state which the artist sought to symbolise – successfully – by crowning the voluptuous nereid’s forehead with a diadem and placing a sceptre in her left hand. Gaps in the upper part seems to suggest that it once featured bronze stems imitating seaweed, one of the iconic attributes that often accompanies her, and which, as we know, indicates her future reign over the oceans. We note the presence of a dolphin, which adds further to the representation of this specific episode in Antique myth. Emerging from the wave-like base of the group, on one side it supports the muscular left leg of Neptune, whose foot presses close to its eyes, while on the other side, through its raised tail partly enveloped in Amphitrite’s mantle, it helps to maintain the composition of the group and its structure, accentuating its verticality at the same time.
As well as this literary origin, possible sources of inspiration include a number of major sculptures that the young Bertos might well have seen during his visits to Florence and Rome. Thanks to the discovery of a letter written by Agostino Cacialli to the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini (where he asks him to make available "suoi favori a vantaggio del Sig.re Francesco Bertos"), we know that the Venetian artist travelled to these two cities between 1708 and 1710, "per […] impararvi qualche cosa" (Avery, 2008, p. 22, no. 6). In the Medici capital, Bertos would certainly have lingered over the works of some of the most celebrated artists of the 15th and 16th centuries, and been impressed above all, as Ettore Viancini has already indicated (1994, p. 151), by the complexity of mingled limbs achieved by Giambologna: the female figure in the Rape of the Sabines (Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi) executed by the famous artist seems to have profoundly influenced Bertos, who appears to hark back to it in the Amphitrite of the group here. However, another Rape also captivated him, this time in Rome: Bertos’ brawny figure of Neptune seems to echo the Pluto in Bernini’s celebrated Rape of Proserpina group (Rome, Galleria Borghese).
There are numerous comparisons confirming that Francesco Bertos was the creator of this fine marble, which in our view can be dated to the third decade of the 18th century. For example, there are close analogies between the Neptune here and one of the male figures in the group of Africa, now in a private collection (Avery, 2008, p. 185, cat. 53): the physiognomy of the face is identical, with the same forked beard, dishevelled hair and band across the forehead. Further affinities can be seen between this Neptune and the male nude of the Allegory of Water, now in a private collection (idem, p. 188-189, cat. 57), and his Bearded Male Nude with a Putto (idem, p. 170, cat. 25). In this case, as well as the close physionomical analogies, the delineation of the muscle structure, the treatment of the leg and the depiction of the genitals and the feet (with their prominent big toes) is very similar. While acknowledging obvious differences, we can put forward one last, convincing parallel between the Neptune here and a sculpture with the same subject but on a larger scale now in the Bellegno or "Ca’Erizzo" Villa (in Bassano del Grappa), where the position of the left leg is identical, with the foot resting on the ever-present and inoffensive dolphin (Guerriero, 2009, p. 271-275), just as in the marble here.
Comparisons can also be made between other female figures executed by Bertos and the Amphitrite in question here, because this is similar to both the Allegory of Spring and Summer – signed "Fran:co Bertos" – now lost (Avery, 2008, p. 164-165, cat. 6) and the female figure in the group of Autumn, a work now in the Pallazzo Reale in Turin, alongside several others (idem, p. 182, cat. 46). All these works are also identical in the modelling of the soft and incandescent female body, characterised by small, well-spaced, swollen breasts, a neat waist, generous hips and slender hands and fingers. The figures of Neptune and Amphitrite here have incised irises and pupils marked with a chiselled hole: a stylistic feature that appears frequently in the body of marble works produced by Francesco Bertos throughout his prolific career.
To conclude, after close examination, we can only emphasise how convincingly the group of Neptune and Amphitrite (partly because of its subject) fits into the body of work produced by the Venetian artist. This, as pointed out by Monica De Vicenti "was unlike anything else in contemporary Venetian sculpture, and he may well have developed it in order to delight art patrons who, in keeping with current tastes, were attracted above all by clever conceptions and virtuoso execution, the very qualities embodied in Berto’s sculptures." (2004, p. 169.)
- Ettore Viancini, "Per Francesco Bertos", in Saggi e memorie di storia dell’arte, no. 19, 1994.
- Monica De Vincenti, "Bertos Francesco", in The Encyclopedia of Sculpture edited by Antonia Böstrom, New York/London, 2004.
- Charles Avery, The Triumph of Motion: Francesco Bertos (1678-1741) and the Art of Sculpture, Turin, 2008.
- Simone Guerriero, "Per un Atlante della statuaria veneta da giardino", V, Arte Veneta, no. 66, edited by Monica De Vincenti and Simone Guerriero, 2009, p. 271-275.
Already well-known (Avery, 2008, p. 185, cat. 54), this representation of America is one of the singular "machine allegoriche" produced by the highly original, enigmatic creative mind of the Venetian sculptor Francesco Bertos.
With its typical pyramidal structure, the marble consists of a round base on which the scene is laid out around a kind of tree trunk. While not violent, this is a decidedly curious scene, to say the least. On one side, we see a half-reclining nude young man, right arm raised, dagger in hand, sitting on a "lucerta" ("lizard": the way Cesare Ripa in his Iconologia defines what critics generally call an "alligator", meaning the canonical attribute of this continent), which he has just given a mortal blow – we imagine to avenge the death of the child lying out beside him. On the other side, another, naked child stands brandishing stones, which, in a primitive impulse, he is preparing to throw at the female figure (whose left hand holds what was probably once a pointed stake, the right being placed on the visible part of a bow), perched on the shoulders of a sturdy bearded man. The latter has one foot on the dead child and the other on the leg of the young man with the dagger, and holds up a kind of stick in his left hand, while the right hand, emerging from the folds of a falling drape, supports the back of the woman. Facing him, another full-length male figure, whose tensed left leg rests on the ground, while the right is slightly raised, is shown pulling on part of the drapery with his left hand, while the right hand, the arm slightly bent, also seems to be holding a slightly sharpened stone.
Probably one of a series of allegories of continents – of which only the representation of Africa still exists, as far as we know (Avery, 2008, p. 185, cat. 53) – the sculpture presented here should be compared in terms of both stylistic affinity and composition with the group of the same subject now in the Palazzo Reale in Turin, along with many others (idem, p. 183, cat. 50). Even if there are obvious differences between the two versions of the Allegory of America, the similarities are considerable – for example, between the figure of the reclining young man with the dagger in the Piedmontese work and the one here: the pose is the same, as is the depiction of the facial features (the aquiline nose, the ears, the delineation of the lips, etc.) and the modelling of the muscles. Another point in common is the figure with the raised right leg, holding in his left hand the drapery of the female figure at the top of the pyramid. This figure is important in the composition, because it is the only one looking towards the viewer.
As we know, works like these and others produced in bronze, made Francesco Bertos an "uomo celebre... solo nell’arte di simil genere" ("a famous man... singular in this kind of art") (Alice Binion, La Galleria scomparsa del Maresciallo Von der Schulenburg, Milan, 1990, p. 127-128). The importance of these words and this precise definition lies in the fact that they come from the editors of the catalogues for the collection of Marshal von der Schulenburg, one of the greatest collectors of Venetian art in the 18th century. His collection, famous throughout Europe, contained at least twelve works by Bertos, making him the sculptor most represented.
- Charles Avery, The Triumph of Motion: Francesco Bertos (1678-1741) and the Art of Sculpture, Turin, 2008.
Today the name Perrache is only associated with a railway station in Lyon, or at any rate, the district where the station stands. And yet before becoming a place name, Perrache was above all the patronymic of a family whose most famous member (the least obscure, in this particular case) gave his name to the eponymous neighbourhood: Antoine-Michel Perrache. He came from a family of sculptors who had settled in Lyon, and we also know that he was trained in the family profession before teaching it in turn. He is attributed with this bust of his sister and goddaughter, Marie-Anne Perrache. It is possible to identify it through a comparison with a child’s bust appearing in the portrait of Antoine-Michel1 she painted in around 1770.
Antoine-Michel Perrache was born on 22 November 17262. Christened the following day at Saint-Nizier church, he was the seventh child in a family of seventeen brothers and sisters. His mother, Louise Pierre, came from a family of silversmiths on her mother’s side3; his father, Michel Perrache, was a sculptor. The family settled in Lyon in 1672, the year Antoine-Michel’s grandparents – Étienne Perrache and Élisabeth Sibert – were married. The whole family earned their living as carpenters; at any rate, this was the declared trade of Étienne Perrache, and of Antoine-Michel’s uncles, Claude, Aymé and Louis, as well.
We know little about the early training of Antoine-Michel Perrache. However, he was already qualified as a draughtsman at the baptism of his sister Marie-Anne on 18 April 17404. He was 14 at the time, and we must suppose that in professional terms, his first apprenticeship was with an unknown master before he even learned the basics of sculpture from his father.
The bust of Marie-Anne Perrache must date from an early period in the artist’s sculpted works. The little girl, whose hair fastened high on top of her head falls in long curls, could be aged between 5 and 7, so the bust would have been made between 1745 and 1747, when Antoine-Michel was aged between 19 and 21. The sculptor already demonstrates sure skill in the rendering of the hair, and captures the proportions and volumes of the child’s chubby face with great refinement. The bust should certainly be seen in the light of a strong bond between Antoine-Michel and his sister. To find it some 25 years later – in a remarkable about-turn of circumstances – as part of the portrait in the Lyon Musées Gadagne bears further witness to the closeness between the sculptor and his model, and between the painter and hers.
The date given to the bust seems plausible when we know that in 1747 Perrache was studying at the École Académique in Paris, although it is impossible to untangle the network of connections that enabled him to enter it5 – because admission to the school (which was incorporated with the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and was designed to provide initial training to aspiring Academy members) required the protection of an artist who was an Académie Royale member and/or teacher. During his time there, Perrache received the first "prix de quartier" (quarter prize) in December 1747 for the sculpture class6, and the following year competed for the Grand Prix, i.e. the Prix de Rome. He was unsuccessful, but was allowed to compete for the additional prize. He obtained a certificate of merit, but this did not permit him to go to Rome as a scholarship student.
Perrache went to Rome nonetheless, though at his own cost. While the source of funding for his journey is unknown, he was certainly present in the papal city in 1750, because that year he competed for the St Luke’s Academy Clementine Prize7, winning equal first prize with his bas-relief Coriolan renvoyant les ambassadeurs8. His father’s death in December 1750 obliged him to return to Lyon. He was back in Italy again by January 1751, this time in Florence, where he was admitted as a member of the Accademia del Disegno that same month9.
On his return to Lyon, the second Convent of the Visitation (now the Antiquaille, located on the Fourvière Hill) commissioned a sculpted group from him in 1752. This consisted of an apotheosis with Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jeanne de Chantal, after a drawing by the Abbé Lacroix10. In 1755, the Consulate commissioned seven sculpted marble groups designed to crown the façade of the theatre built by Soufflot. He then began a career as official sculptor to the city council, from then on receiving numerous commissions not only from the Consulate and the Hospice de la Charité (decorations for the Council Room together with several tombs and epitaphs), but also from several churches in Lyon, its region and further afield. Voltaire’s 1762 commission for a Christ for the church of Ferney has come to light, for example11
In around 1765-1766 – when archive sources no longer enable us to identify major sculpture commissions – Perrache became involved in a project for enlarging the southern part of the city of Lyon. This was his magnum opus, which he left unfinished. The plans, presented to the Consulate for the first time on 4 May 1766, were refused and then finally accepted on 4 January 1770. From that time until his death in 1779, the artist’s life was entirely taken up with the project.
As an eminent figure in Lyon’s artistic circles, Perrache was naturally admitted as an "académicien ordinaire" to the Société Royale de Lyon, in the arts category, on 4 May 1753. Working as a theorist within the Society, he gave a dozen talks ranging from sculpture and decoration, to ancient history and philosophy.
Himself a teacher12, he held drawing and sculpture posts as from 1756, when the free school of drawing was created at the initiative of the Abbé Lacroix and the painter Donat Nonnotte. This activity perpetuated his name and talent through at least three of his pupils: the sculptors Pierre Julien and François Devosge, and the silk designer Antoine Berjon.
At her brother’s death on 12 October 1779, Marie-Anne Perrache inherited an estate overburdened with debts, mostly through the liabilities of the Compagnie Perrache, which managed ongoing work on the confluence in the south of the city13. She tried to assume management of the company, but was unable to bring order to accounts heavily encumbered by an expensive project with dubious results – mainly involving mills. Overwhelmed, she withdrew in April 1782, leaving all her property in the hands of the company, which was charged with undertaking no proceedings for the settlement of debts, and paying her a life annuity of 3,000 livres. Her withdrawal entailed an inventory of the Hôtel Perrache, located on the eponymous island14. This document included a description of the artist’s now-abandoned workshop, which contained nearly 150 works: moulds, terracottas, unfired clay works and plasters by Perrache and other masters, showing that even in the middle of his urban planning work, the artist had never forgotten his initial training. The inventory, apart from the valuable light it sheds on the life of Perrache, mentions the probable bust of Marie-Anne twice: "in a small room serving as a drawing room […] The busts of M. and Mlle Perrache"; "in the bedroom of Mlle Perrache […] four busts of family members."
So Perrache did indeed sculpt his sister, and one of the busts mentioned could very plausibly be the one that has come down to us.b
Surviving works by Antoine-Michel Perrache are extremely rare, but the dialogue established between this bust of a little girl, where we can sense the hand of the artist (a monumental putto head for Soufflot’s Theatre has the same heavy, full, chubby complexion) and the portrait of her brother painted by Marie-Anne Perrache makes his work all the more sensitive – foreshadowing Houdon, for example – and consequently, exquisite.
1. Portrait now in the Musées Gadagne, Lyon, inv. 47.293.
2. Town Archives of Lyon (hereinafter AML), parish registers of Saint-Nizier church, 1GG73, p. 148.
3. This was Marie Federy whose father, Jérôme, and several members of the family were silversmiths in Lyon.
4. AML, parish registers of Saint-Nizier church 1GG87, f° 44, front page.
5. A book concerning the pupils of the École Académique was kept at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-arts de Paris (ENSBA) during the second half of the 18th century; however, it began after Antoine-Michel’s admission. Liste alphabétique des élèves de l’Académie royale
6. The "prix de quartier" was awarded once every quarter, hence its name. See Antoine Cahen, "Les prix de quartier à l’Académie de peinture et de sculpture", Bulletin de la société d’histoire de l’art français (1993) published in 1994, p. 61-84.
7. This competition was created by Pope Clement XI to reward artists, and was thus called the Clementine Prize.
8. Now in Rome, Museo dell’Accademia di San Luca, inv. 32.
9. See Olivier Michel, "Artistes reçus dans les académies italiennes", proceedings of the symposium "Augustin Pajou et ses contemporains", Musée du Louvre, 1997.
10. Obéancier de Saint-Just and a member of the Académie de Lyon.
11. Samy Ben Messaoud, "Voltaire et Lyon" in Bulletin de la société historique, archéologique et littéraire de Lyon, 2003 (vol. XXXIII), Lyon 2005 (2006), p. 47-93.
12. In the inventory of 1782 (see note 14 below), a "museum" and several neighbouring premises are mentioned, containing plasters and other items that could serve a teaching "material".
13. Marie-Anne Perrache was the only sibling of Antoine-Michel who did not enter the religious life. All the other brothers and sisters of the artist became monks and nuns.
14. AML, Fleurieu private collection, 49II, transfer agreement dated 23 April 1782.
Claude François Attiret came from a bourgeois family from Moirans in the Jura, who settled in Dôle in 1638. He was the nephew of the Jesuit, Jean Attiret, painter to the Emperor of China, who died in Peking in 1768; he was also related to the architects Claude André Attiret of Besançon, Antoine Louis Attiret, and Claude François Marie Attiret (1750-1823), who worked in Riom.
After initial training in the family workshop and studies with Michel Devosge, the young Attiret entered the Paris studio of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle in 1743, thus gaining access to the modelling school of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, where he received a third class medal in April 1752 – the only award he obtained in this institution. He travelled to Rome in 1754, and attended the Accademia del Nudo on the Capitol (founded the same year by Benedict XIV), where he won the Clementine Prize (an award introduced in 1702 by Clement XI under the aegis of St Luke’s Academy in Rome). He returned to France in 1759 and was admitted to the Académie de Saint-Luc in Paris on 28 February 1760. After that, he spent most of his career in Burgundy.
Claude François Attiret excelled in the art of the portrait, drawing the life force of his subjects from their very souls. A fine example is the bust portrait of Legouz de Gerland, founder of the Musée Botanique in Dijon, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts there; another is the one of François Devosge (founder of the École des Beaux-Arts of Dijon), now in the city library. He also produced monumental and religious works, including a St John the Evangelist and a St Andrew in the cathedral of Saint-Bénigne in Dijon, and a carved wooden Virgin and Child now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Dôle.
The two children’s heads here demonstrate Attiret’s gift for representing human figures. In 1764, he presented a small character head at the exhibition of the Académie de Saint-Luc. We can certainly compare the sculptures here with this head, as one of the two figures is dated 1764. Furthermore, the two children evince different states of mind: one is laughing, and could represent joy; the other, with its faraway face and gaze, could embody melancholy.
- Guilhem Scherf, "Le portrait sculpté d’enfant: un genre nouveau en France au XVIIIe siècle", Péristyles, no. 26, p. 89-98, reproduced on p. 92
- "Claude François Attiret", Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dôle, 2005, cat. 29 and 30
Gilles-Lambert Godecharle was born in Brussels, and came from a family of artists. He received initial training from two local sculptors, and continued his studies with Laurent Delvaux 1, then active in Nivelles. Delvaux, impressed by his talent, obtained a stipend for him from the Empress Maria Theresa, which enabled him to move to Paris in the 1770s. He was accepted by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, where he was taught by Jean-Baptiste Pigalle, and was also the pupil of the Antwerp artist Jean-Pierre-Antoine Tassaert2. After several years in his studio, Godecharle spent a decade travelling in Europe, accompanying Tassaert to Berlin, where the latter had been summoned by Frederick the Great to embellish his capital, then visiting London and finally Rome. He executed various works, including fireplace ornaments, a group in Carrara marble and a design for a monument intended for the Royal Park of Brussels.
But it was only on his return to his native city in 1780 that his talent received the recognition it truly deserved. He was commissioned to make a series of pediments for the Palace of the Sovereign Council of Brabant and for that of the Governors General at Laeken. Beneath their veneer of fashionable Neoclassicism, these works evince the light and graceful French spirit that had so much influenced him. However, his art began to move towards a more austere interpretation of antiquity, particularly in the four statues designed for the Pavillon Walckiers (now the Villa Belvédère) in 1789, and in a group representing Charity (1795). At the same time as these public commissions, suspended for a while during the Revolutionary period, he taught at the Académie de Bruxelles as "First professor of sculpture from live models and Antique figures". Many private citizens also gave him commissions, which included portraits, allegorical statues and copies of works from Antiquity.
Dating from 1818, this bust features the face of a young woman wearing a veil, which covers not only her head but also her chin and shoulders, framing and emphasising the refinement of her features. Beneath the falling folds of the veil, the beginnings of an antique garment are visible.
This is a marble copy of a bronze bust on a deep blue marble pedestal, now in the Musée du Louvre under reference MR 16963 and known as the Vestale voilée (Veiled Vestal) or Vestale Zingarella. Dating from the 17th century, this belonged to Charles Errard4, the first director of the French Academy in Rome, and painter to Louis XIV, to whom he left his collection on his death. We can reasonably suppose that it was one of the eighteen busts mentioned in the bequest, because it was part of the royal collections in the 1707 general inventory of sculptures of the royal houses at the Château de Versailles: "a bronze head 18 inches high of a Vestal, with the head entirely covered with drapery passing over the chin and neck…"
In 1713, it is described as follows: "an Antique bust of a woman wearing a veil on her head that covers the neck and chin, eighteen inches high." In around 1731, François Boucher featured it in an allegorical painting entitled Les Génies des beaux-arts, commissioned by Philibert Orry, director of the Bâtiments du Roi, for the Château de La Chapelle-Godefroy. Subsequently, in the list of bronzes in the Garde-meuble de la Couronne of 1791, the description mentions number 309 as "a bust of a woman, also called the Vestal, wearing a veil on her head that covers the neck and chin, eighteen inches high, estimated at eighteen hundred livres". It was confiscated during the Revolution and delivered to the Muséum National on 3 August 1793 for exhibition in the Apollo Gallery. Later, it appeared in Napoleon’s inventory of 1810 and in that of the Musées Royaux of 1814-1824 among the 15th and 16th century sculptures in the Salle des Antiques, under the title Femme coiffée d’un voile (Woman in a Veil).
In his major work Musée de sculpture antique et moderne, the Comte de Clarac5 references it under number 3479B, with the title Vestale Zingarella, "bronze, pl. 1105". It was then inventoried in 1857 in the Rubens drawings room as follows: "After the Antique – 16th century casting – Vestale (a copy of a head known under this title), now in the Palazzo Corsini in Rome."
This final description takes us back to the first origin of this bronze bust, which is itself a copy of an Antique bust of a veiled woman, considered to be a bust of a Vestal Virgin, or of the Vestal Tuccia6, still called Zingarella7, a marble bust that belonged to the Palazzo Corsini collections in Rome. A second example was found in the Philosophers’ Room in the Palazzo Farnese. It is mentioned in the Farnese collection under number 6194.
Another copy from the 17th/18th century of this Corsini Antique statue, once in the Royal Spanish collections, is now in the Prado Museum8, under the title Vestale Tuccia. It is notably described in the post-mortem inventory of King Ferdinand VII in 1834: " Un busto de una Bestal de Marmol de Carrara con vasa de lo mismo copia de lo antiguo… 3 000" and then in 1857, under number 291. Lastly, we can mention the appearance at auction of a similar marble bust of a woman at Christie’s during the 19th century.
Generally speaking, Classical Antiquity was a constant inspiration to artists9: those of the Italian Renaissance, who brought it to the fore once more, and throughout the 18th and 19th centuries through the Neoclassical movement, which aimed to embody an ideal Antiquity in total contrast with the Baroque and Rococo styles, and was nurtured by the archaeological discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii in around 1750.
Although sensitive to the light-hearted spirit of the 18th century, and influenced by the French style through his training, Godecharle also produced works in keeping with his times – for example, his memorable Hermaphrodite (1811), a copy of the Borghese Hermaphrodite, and his series of illustrious men from the Graeco-Roman elite between 1816 and 1817, including Cicero, Marcus Aurelius and Homer.
Likewise, the bust of a woman presented here meets all the requirements of an idealised Antiquity10: through the theme itself – the Vestal Virgin, a legendary figure with an honourable status11, making it possible to represent her with a hieratic quality in line with Antique canons, as the embodiment of an ideal beauty; through the choice of material – marble – which emphasises the purity of the lines; and lastly, through the skill of the sculptor himself, which makes this refined face with "blind" eyes emerge from the numerous folds of the veil.
We can only speculate about the circumstances surrounding this piece. Firstly, which model is it based on? Did the sculptor see the Antique works in the Corsini and Farnese palaces on his trip to Rome in 1779, or did he take the 17th century example now in the Louvre as his model? The latter theory seems the most likely, in that he had been living for some time in Paris, where access to the royal collections was clearly possible, since François Boucher includes this woman’s figure in his painting in 1731. Secondly, was it a private commission – which might explain the small size of the bust –, or was it an occasion to prove his skill in imitating Antique works? The latter is probable, since we know his status within the Académie de Bruxelles and his propensity for copying works from Antiquity.
To our knowledge, this work by Godecharle is a real rediscovery, since it is not mentioned or documented in any of the books concerning him, or even in the royal Belgian collections. This seems surprising, because the production of a piece in marble required the production of first a clay model and then a plaster cast, from which the stone version was copied. One might imagine that some trace remains – in the form of a drawing or a terracotta, for example. But for the moment there is no evidence.
Enlightenment of this sort is thus crucial in understanding the sculpted work of Godecharle, and beyond that, of Neoclassical art in general.
- Clarac Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste, Comte de, Maury Alfred, Musée de sculpture antique et moderne, ou Description historique et graphique du Louvre et de toutes ses parties, des statues, bustes, bas-reliefs et inscriptions du Musée royal des antiques et des Tuileries et de plus de 2 500 statues antiques… tirées des principaux musées et des diverses collections de l’Europe… accompagnée d’une iconographie égyptienne, grecque et romaine, Paris, Imprimerie royale (impériale), 1826-1853, 13 volumes, vol. 7, pt. VI, Iconographie antique, XXVIII, 288 p., no. 3479B, pl. 1105, p. 193.
- Coppel Aréizaga Rosario, Catalogo de la escultura de época moderna: Museo del Prado, Siglos XVI-XVIII, Madrid, Museo del Prado, and Santander, Fundacion Marcelino Botin, 1998, no. 163.
- Lennep Jacques Van, Catalogue de la sculpture. Artistes nés entre 1750 et 1882, Musées Royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, 1992.
Le Palais Farnèse, Rome, École Française de Rome, vol. II, pl. 269.
- Les Sculptures européennes du musée du Louvre, Geneviève Bresc-Bautier (editor), Musée du Louvre Éditions, 2006, p. 427.
- Salomon Reinach, "Recueil de têtes antiques idéales ou idéalisées", Gazette des beaux-arts, 1903, p. 209-210, pl. 257.
- "François Boucher (1703-1770)", Paris, Grand Palais, 1986, p. 161, no. 24.
- "1770-1830 : autour du néoclassicisme en Belgique", D. Coekelberghs and P. Loze, Brussels, Musées Royaux de Belgique, 1985.
1. After an international career in London and Rome, Laurent Delvaux (1696-1778) settled permanently in Nivelles. He worked for many European courts under the protection of Charles de Lorraine, Governor General of the Austrian Netherlands,.
2. Jean-Pierre-Antoine Tassaert (1727-1788) was a Flemish sculptor active in France and Prussia.
3. MR 1696 : Woman in a Veil, known as Vestale voilée (Veiled Vestal) or Vestale Zingarella. Bronze: cast after an Antique figure on a dark blue marble pedestal, 18th century, Italy, "no. 309" engraved on the drapery at the base of the neck. H. 47 cm; L. 31 cm ; D. 28 cm. Musée du Louvre, sculpture department.
4. Charles Errard (1606-1689), painter to Louis XIV, was one of the twelve founders of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. He spent several years in Rome as from 1627 and became the first director of the Académie de France in Rome, from 1666 to 1672, then from 1675 to 1684. In 1689, Louis XIV accepted Errard’s bequest, which contained several bronze statuettes.
5. Comte Charles Othon Frédéric Jean Baptiste de Clarac (1777-1847), a French draughtsman, scholar and archaeologist, was appointed Curator of the Antiquities Department in 1818 at the Musée du Louvre. He published a description of it in 1820. The final edition of his Description du musée du Louvre was published in 1830
6. Tuccia was a legendary Vestal Virgin whose story is told by Valerius Maximus. Unjustly accused of breaking her vows of chastity, she had to prove her innocence by carrying water in a sieve from the Tiber to the Temple of Vesta, goddess of fire.
7. The term "Zingarella" indicates a confusion between the themof the Vestal and the Bohemian girl (called Zingara), who also covers her head.
8. Coppel Aréizaga, Rosario, Catalogo de la escultura de época moderna : Museo del Prado, Siglos XVI-XVIII, Madrid, Museo del Prado, and Santander, Fundacion Marcelino Botin, 1998. "No. 163: La vestal Tuccia (busto), anonimo italiano, Siglo XVII-XVIII, Marmol. Altura: 46 cm; Altura del pedestal: 14 cm."
9. Antonio Canova (1757-1822), Neoclassical sculptor par excellence, took inspiration from the Vestale Tucci, now in the Museum of Naples, for several busts on the subject (Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon; Gallery of Modern Art, Milan; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles).
10. "This strange and charming bust, known as the Zingarella (the Bohemian Girl), had already preoccupied Winckelmann, who could not bring himself to see it as a Vestal according to the designation he had received in the 18th century. Gerhard rightly remarked that the Naples bust has no priestly characteristics, nor does it have anything in common with authentic portraits of Vestals: those severe and lofty "abbesses" revealed to us by digs in the Roman Forum. The veil covering the chin, which Gerhard finds totally out of the ordinary, is now familiar to us through the numerous terracotta figures featuring this custom..." Salomon Reinach, "Recueil de têtes antiques idéales ou idéalisées", Gazette des beaux-arts, 1903, p. 209-210, pl. 257.
11. VestalVirgins were Ancient Roman priestesses dedicated to Vesta, thegoddess of fire. Chosen at the age of between six and ten, they undertook a priesthood of thirty years, during which they watched over the sacred public fire in Vesta’s temple in the Forum of Rome. While they were priestesses they were dedicated to chastity,symbolising the purity of fire. They had a very specific legal status. Freed of all paternal authority, they were also grantedconsiderable privileges.
Highly celebrated in his day, Chinard spent most of his career in Lyon without seeking to settle in Paris, despite his numerous official successes. After studying for a time with Barthélemy Blaise, the artist completed his training with two stays in Rome: the first between 1784 and 1787, when he won the coveted Balestra prize at St Luke’s Academy with Persée délivrant Andromède (Perseus rescuing Andromeda) (Rome, Accademia di San Luca) – of which we showed an original patinated plaster reduction in our exhibition "De Pierino da Vinci à Joseph Chinard" (2010) –, and a second, more turbulent period during the French Revolution, from 1791 to 1793, when his membership of a Masonic lodge and sympathy with the new ideas led to imprisonment in the Castel Sant’ Angelo. The official portraitist to the Bonaparte family, Chinard was famous for his mellow chisel and the realism of his busts, which mingled the new Neoclassic trends with traditions inherited from the 18th century. On 10 messidor, year VIII (i.e. 29 June 1800), the First Consul laid the first stone in the reconstruction of the Place Bellecour, demonstrating his support and concern for France’s second largest city. On this occasion, commemorative medallions with Bonaparte’s effigy were struck in token of the people’s gratitude to the First Consul, "the rebuilder of Lyon". Chinard made a patinated plaster bust of Bonaparte later in 1802, during his second visit to Lyon (now at Malmaison). He seems to have based the portrait here on a medallion by Claude-Antoine Mercié, Bonaparte vainqueur et pacificateur (Bonaparte as Victor and Peacemaker), adding a sash across the First Consul’s chest and framing his profile with a sword and the fasces crowned with the Phrygian bonnet. We know several versions of this medallion (Carnavalet, Malmaison, Musée de Dijon), including one in plaster (the Petit Palais Museum in Paris has a plaster version with a diameter of 21 cm, which does not seem to be signed, but has "I Consul" inscribed on the back), of an identical size and with the same signature, which was sold in Paris in 1998 (Couturier Nicolay auction house, 22 April). Others, however, are signed "Chinard de l’Institut de Paris" – or "Chinard, de l’Institut à Paris", as with the version once in the Penha Longa collection, which has a diameter of 19 cm.