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Work Cupid Cutting His Bow from the Club of Hercules

Department of Sculptures: France, 17th and 18th centuries

L'Amour se faisant un arc de la massue d'Hercule

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Edme Bouchardon portrays Cupid as an adolescent playing a trick on Hercules. The god of love has an impish look on his face. The gentle contours and the spiral motion of the body invite the viewer to walk around the sculpture. This daring work, in which the sculptor sought to realistically portray a naked, unidealized adolescent, was considered shockingly crude at the time.

A meticulously lifelike sculpture

Cupid, portrayed here as an adolescent, has stolen the weapons of Mars and the club of Hercules. Proud of having disarmed these two formidable deities, he laughs maliciously as he tests the spring of the bow he has carved out of the club. Bouchardon showed the terra-cotta model at the 1739 Salon; a marble was commissioned by Philibert Oudry, director of the King's Buildings, in 1740, but as Bouchardon was fully occupied by the Grenelle fountain, he did not begin work on it until 1745. The sculptor made several studies from life to give his figure a natural appearance and exhibited a plaster model at the 1746 Salon. He worked on the marble from July 1747 to May 1750, carrying out the sanding and polishing himself, tasks usually carried out by assistants. However, the astronomical fee - 21,000 livres - he received for the sculpture more than compensated for this.

A daringly naturalistic treatment

Bouchardon's Cupid is a daring work reconciling antiquity and the Renaissance in its naturalistic treatment of the figure. From Eros Stringing His Bow (Museo Capitolino, Rome), he borrowed the large wings and the motif of the god examining his bow. He must have also looked at a canvas by the Italian painter Parmigianino (1503-1540), then in the collection of the Duke of Orléans in the Palais Royal in Paris. Bouchardon's figure has the same grace, but its sinuous movement surpasses that of its Italian model: the adolescent's pivoting body forms a long spiral. The round base and circular arrangement of the objects on it (rope, quiver strap, lion's tail) accentuate the effect. The sculpture invites one to move around it, no doubt because it was destined to be placed in the middle of the Hercules Room at Versailles.

An innovative Cupid

The blank-eyed face has a uniform, classical beauty. But instead of giving the god an idealized physique, the sculptor chose a lifelike representation of an adolescent. At that age, the body is not yet fully developed, parts of it have grown quicker than others; Bouchardon has kept these anatomic irregularities. The work was too innovative for its time. In 1739, Voltaire considered the idea of Cupid engaged in a manual task ingenious but incongruous, and it annoyed Diderot. The statue, installed at Versailles in 1750, was disliked by both king and court. It was considered vulgar, and Cupid was likened to a porter. The statue was admired by only a handful of art lovers, including Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, who ordered a copy (apparently never executed) for the Bosquet de l'Amour at Bellevue. In 1752, the sculpture was relegated to the orangery of the Château de Choisy-le-Roi. Despite this, the work soon became famous. It appeared in drawings and paintings, including a portrait of Bouchardon by François-Hubert Drouais (1758, Louvre), and a version in Sèvres biscuit was produced in 1768. It was moved to the Antiquities Room in the Musée du Louvre in 1778 so that it could be copied by Louis-Philippe Mouchy for the Temple of Cupid at Trianon. In 1783, a pendant was commissioned by Augustin Pajou, who chose Psyche Abandoned (Louvre, MR SUP 62).

Bibliography

L'Art et la pensée française, cat. exp. Vienne, Belvédère, 1956, n 116.
Bober Phyllis and Rubinstein Ruth, Renaissance Artists and Antique Sculpture. A handbook of sources, Londres, 1986, n 50.
Bresc-Bautier Geneviève, Sculpture française XVIIIe siècle, Paris,
musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux,
coll. "Notices d'histoire de l'art", 1980, n 10.
Diderot Denis, "Sur Bouchardon et la sculpture", Correspondance littéraire, livraison des 1er et 15 mars 1763.
Krause Katharina, "Ein ungleiches Paar. Amor von Edme Bouchardon
und Psyché von Augustin Pajou", Städel Jahrbuch (Annuaire Städel),
Neue Folge (nouv. série), n 14, Munich, 1993, pp. 289-302.
Roserot Alphonse, "La statue de l'Amour d'Edme Bouchardon
(1739-1750)", GBA, 1906, pp. 308-324.
Salmon Xavier (sous la dir. de), Madame de Pompadour et les arts, cat. exp. Versailles, Munich, Londres, Paris, 2002.
Scherf Guilhem, "Madame de Pompadour et la sculpture", Dossier de l'Art, février 2002, pp. 60-73.

Technical description

  • Edme BOUCHARDON (Chaumont (Haute-Marne), 1698 - Paris, 1762)

    L'Amour se faisant un arc de la massue d'Hercule

    1750

  • Marbre

    H. : 1,73 m. ; L. : 0,75 m. ; Pr. : 0,75 m.

  • Entré au Louvre en 1824

    M.R. 1761

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Bouchardon
    Room 23

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