Some Female Figures in Marble

When one visits a museum it’s usually a good idea to study the works one is going to see beforehand. It would be foolish to barge in and expect to appreciate all the great art gathered there as if knowledge of the aesthetic were wholly innate. It would be like going parachuting thinking: “No need to train, I already know how to fall.” My excuse for not knowing anything about French sculpture from the Renaissance to Neoclassicism before I went to the Louvre is that I didn’t have time to study. Also, I’ve never been that fond of sculpture. It’s a very public form of art and my interests have usually taken me looking for something a bit more intimate. It’s also partly the fact that looking at sculptures is so different from looking at paintings — they are somehow too complete and hence have no secrets that have to be deciphered through interpretation.Some historical things can fortunately be transposed from painting to sculpture, such as the influence of Mannerism in France. It can be seen in one of the most famous Diana pieces from the era, although it’s actually atypical in being a garden sculpture.

Source: Wikipedia

It can also be seen in Germain Pilon‘s Three Graces which I’m told was banged out of a single piece of marble. That’s pretty impressive.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s a monument for King Henry II commissioned by a Francesco Primaticcio who worked under Queen Catherine de’ Medici whose grief seems pretty expensive even by royal standards. The pedestal, by the way, is by an Italian called Domenico del Barbieri.

But the names here aren’t that important. Henry II was the successor of Francis Big Nose and the guy whose accidental death kept the art ball rolling in France at a time when Mannerist weirdness was celebrated as the newest thing in fashion and art. Some time afterwards, there was a reaction to this elongated elegance (sorry) and things started to get heavier. Notions of harmony and balance came back from the Classical ages, although they now had been through the Renaissance wringer and thus came out a bit mangled. It’s also the time of Louis XIV and Le Brun, and therefore court productions have a more unified air about them. They seem like they’ve been designed to perpetuate the monarchy and gone through Le Brun’s office. That’s because they very often did just that.

After the Sun King’s court disappeared, there seemed to be two opposing movements: Rococo or Rocaille and Classicism. I’m not sure how the chronology goes and who did exactly what, but it seemed to be a situation where some people liked really curly ornate stuff and others the classical lines of what they took to be antiquity. Some of these things are pretty awesome, like Guillaume Coustou the Elder‘s horsey-thing. That one is fantastic because its imposing size, but there are less melodramatic pieces and pieces that are therefore more interesting. Like these bathers by Allegrain, whose famous brother-in-law, Pigalle, is known better today because he gave his name to the red-light district of Paris.

Source: Wikipedia

And, by the way, the red-light district is pretty tame. It might even be a good place to find a nice cheap hotel for a few days.

Source: Wikipedia

Allegrain’s work is supposed to be a mixture of Rococo and Classicism, but because the subject is so unfamiliar to me I fail to see the fusion. All I can see is that there’s not too much ornamentation in the figures and that the figures themselves are balanced and proportional. The hair and the folds of their clothes offer a chance to show off, but otherwise the statues are pretty ascetic compared to what came before and what would come next.

What came next was perhaps not a style, but a single artist by the name of Antonio Canova. He was Italian, not French, and he was recognized as the greatest sculptor of his time. He made, among other amazing stuff, this thing:

Source: Wikipedia

If there is one statue that rivals Michaelangelo’s Dying Slave in the Louvre it would have to be this one, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. That might be a bold statement, I don’t know, but it’s not difficult to see why this would be the epitome of French Neoclassical sculpture even though the statue and the artist are Italian. That is to say, it is a very influential piece from a very influential artist. It’s so mushy you can feel it squishing between your toes when it hits your eye and, furthermore, it’s based on a melodramatic soap opera of a story. Cupid has huge gay wings, for God’s sake. Why not have a litter of fluffy kittens running about as well? Despite all this Romantic nonsense, it’s still a magnificent thing to look at.

1 Response to “Some Female Figures in Marble”

  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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