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Work Fame and Mercury

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

Mercure monté sur Pégase

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Antoine Coysevox received a commission in 1698 for a group of two equestrian subjects to the glory of the king. These were made in Carrara marble in 1701-2, and placed on either side of the upper part of the horse pond, at the entrance to the park at Marly. They were moved to the west entrance of the Tuileries Gardens in 1719, where they were replaced by replicas in 1986.

Political iconography

After the signing of the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, and the return of prosperity to France, Louis XIV entrusted his Superintendent of Buildings, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, to commission splendid statuary to adorn the park at the Château de Marly. Antoine Coysevox was chosen to sculpt two equestrian groups in Carrara marble, to be placed on either side of the balustrade overlooking the horse pond. The resulting sculptures represented Fame and Mercury, each astride the legendary winged horse Pegasus, symbolizing the king's peacetime and wartime prestige. Both horses rear above military trophies representing the king's victories. Pegasus (the symbol of poetry) is guided by Mercury, the divine messenger and god of trade (symbolizing the benefits of the return to peace). The trophies under his rearing horse include a shield evoking the Spanish Succession, with Minerva (the goddess of war) presenting the portrait of Philip V to the Spanish people.
The statue of Fame, wearing a laurel wreath and holding an olive branch, is sounding the trumpet of truth to proclaim the king's warlike strength. The trophies here include a shield adorned with a winged Victory holding a palm and crown. The lion skin evokes Hercules, the mythological hero of legendary strength, to whom the king was often compared.

Technical prowess

Coysevox's work was a technical masterpiece in terms of size (such large marble sculptures had never yet been made in France), speed, and skill. The groups were made from monolithic blocks, with no joins, by carving into the mass and clearing the projecting parts. Marble is a fragile material that can easily be broken by an impact or intrinsic flaw, but Coyesvox took the risk of clearing frail pieces such as the long, tapering stem of the trumpet, supported by the figure's upraised arm. He completed his sculpture in barely two years (1701-2), proudly drawing attention to this feat in the text engraved on the rocks.

A personal creation

Coysevox could also boast of having invented the model for this sculpture. Previous sculptors under Louis XIV had worked according to the instructions or drawings of painter Charles Lebrun (1619-1690) then architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708), who were successively responsible for fine arts policy. Although Coysevox's composition remained faithful to the harmonious art of Versailles and gave greater importance to the front view, these dynamic groups also marked a baroque inflection in court art with the riders, clearly outlined against the sky, balancing on their rearing horses above their trophies of arms.
The sculptures were transported to the entrance of the Tuileries Gardens in 1719, and have been in the Louvre since 1986.

Bibliography

Les Chevaux de Marly, Musée promenade de Marly-le-Roi, Louveciennes, 1985.
Bresc Geneviève et Pingeot Anne, Sculptures des jardins du Louvre, du Carrousel et des Tuileries, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1986, II, p. 132-138.

Technical description

  • Antoine COYSEVOX (Lyon, 1640 - Paris, 1720)

    Mercure monté sur Pégase

    1699 - 1702

    Paris

  • Marbre de Carrare

    H. : 3,15 m. ; L. : 2,91 m. ; Pr. : 1,28 m.

  • Commandé en 1698 par Jules Hardouin-Mansart, surintendant des Bâtiments du roi

    M.R. 1822

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Lower ground floor
    Cour Marly
    Courtyard

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Additional information about the work

On the base of the rock : ANTONIUS COYSEVOX LUGD.SCUL.REG.FECIT.1702/THE TWO GROUPS WERE MADE IN TWO YEARS