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

Diana the Huntress

© 2008 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

The slender Diana, balanced on tiptoes, seems to have been frozen in full motion. Her clean-limbed, firm figure, the way she nobly holds her head, her elegant movements, and her beauty were admired. Yet her nudity, considered improper for hunting, scandalized Houdon's contemporaries.

Scandalous nudity

Houdon presented a life-size plaster of Diana in his studio during the 1777 Salon. The finished sculpture was to be executed in marble (Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon) for Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Gotha, as compensation for a commission lost by the sculptor. The bronze version is now in the Louvre. The sculpture was acclaimed for its beauty worthy of classical statuary. The impression of swiftness is accentuated by Diana's slim figure. Yet her unabashed beauty caused a scandal. Diana was habitually portrayed in a short tunic belted at the waist, in the manner of the often-copied Artemis the Huntress (Louvre), a classical marble acquired by Francis I. The goddess's nudity was deemed acceptable only when she was depicted bathing. The same year as Houdon, Christophe Allegrain showed - also outside the Salon - his buxom Diana, surpised by the huntsman Actaeon while bathing (Louvre). Yet during the Renaissance, the goddess of hunting was often represented in the nude. The Diana the Huntress of the School of Fontainebleau (Louvre) and the large marble group from the Château d'Anet (Louvre) - in which the nude Diana, accompanied by her dogs, reclines, her arms around a stag - are two well-known examples.

Antiquity revisited

Houdon's wonderfully reconciles the aesthetics of antiquity and the Renaissance. From antiquity, Diana has retained her triumphant nudity, whose elegance and distinction inspires respect rather than temerity. The goddess's noble, even haughty bearing; serene, idealized face reflecting no emotion; and distant gaze render her impersonal and inaccessible. The elongation of the female body, firm anatomy, and linear purity belong to the Renaissance of the School of Fontainebleau. Her slender body, leaning slightly forward on one foot, gives the statue an ethereal and dynamic allure and affords multiple points of view. It evokes the daring balance of the flying Mercury by Giovanni da Bologna (1529-1608), a Florentine sculptor of Flemish origin who exercized considerable influence on European sculptors. But Houdon's Diana is also a full-bodied creature of the flesh. Her naked pubis, considered too realistic, was filled in and flattened in 1829.

A technical tour-de-force

The glory of the great masters of French sculpture (Girardon, Coysevox, Lemoyne, Bouchardon, Pigalle) rests on their bronze statuary, but they seem to have known little about the technical aspects of casting. Houdon, who had a passion for the art of casting, cast two large bronzes of Diana himself at the Roule foundry in Paris: an eight-piece one in 1782 (San Marino, California) and a five-piece one in 1790 (the statue now in the Louvre was purchased at auction by Charles X after the sculptor's death in 1828).

Bibliography

Draper David James et Scherf Guilhem, Pajou, sculpteur du roi, 1730-1809, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997-1998, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, pp. 333-334.
Scherf Guilhem, Houdon. Diane chasseresse, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000.
Jean-Antoine Houdon, cat. exp. Washington, Los Angeles, Versailles, 2003, pp. 211-215.

Technical description

  • Jean-Antoine HOUDON (Versailles, 1741 - Paris, 1828)

    Diana the Huntress

    1790

  • Bronze

    H. 1.92 m; W. 0.90 m; D. 1.14 m

  • Acquired from the artist’s heirs in 1829

    CC 204

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Galerie des "Grands Hommes"
    Room 29

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