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Work Fountain of Diana

Department of Sculptures: France, Renaissance

Fountain of Diana

© 1996 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Sculptures
France, Renaissance

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Accompanied by her two dogs, a greyhound and a water spaniel, Diana, the goddess of hunting, reclines with her arm around a majestic stag. This sculpture once surmounted a monumental fountain on the grounds of the Château of Anet, built by Philibert de L'Orme for Diane de Poitiers, Henry II's mistress. The elongated, naked silhouette of the chaste goddess, whose beauty had always been admired, became a symbol of the French Renaissance.

Diana and the Nymph

The semi-reclining figure of Diana is seen with one arm around the neck of a stag proudly holding up its head. She is accompanied by her dogs, Phrocyon and Cyrius, clearly depicted as a greyhound and a water spaniel. She is not wearing her usual attribute, the crescent moon. This figure of Diana instantly recalls the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Louvre), a high relief sculpted by Benvenuto Cellini for Francis I. Philibert de L'Orme had installed it above the main entrance to the Château of Anet in the mid-16th century, transforming the nymph into Diana, the goddess of hunting.
Without being an actual portrait of the royal favorite, the figure is certainly evocative of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of the castle. The painting of Diana the Huntress (Louvre) by a School of Fontainebleau artist likewise draws parallels between the two Dianas, and the goddess is similarly depicted nude. In the Nymph relief, Cellini had specified that the stag represented Francis I. It is tempting to think that the stag here symbolizes Henry II, Diane de Poitier's royal lover.

The sculptor

The artist to whom French sculpture owes its first large-scale nude remains an enigma. The beauty of the work presupposes a great master, but which one? Its traditional attribution to Jean Goujon (not accepted today) dates back to the French Revolution and was put forward by Alexandre Lenoir, founder of the Musée des Monuments Français and an enthusiastic admirer of Goujon. Since then, the sculpture has been attributed, in turn, to Benvenuto Cellini, Germain Pilon, Pierre Bontemps, and Ponce Jacquiot. But it is hard to judge, for the statue was heavily restored in the 18th century, and then again in 1799-1800 by the sculptor Pierre-Nicolas Beauvallet, also known for his interpretation of Susannah and the Elders (1813, Louvre).

Fontainebleau elegance

Whoever the sculptor of the work was, Diana epitomizes the regal elegance of School of Fontainebleau art: the elongated Mannerist figure, the litheness of the body, the tiny high breasts, the small head, the extremely refined hairstyle, and the well-drawn eyes. A certain sensuality stems from the contrast between the nakedness of the body and the elaborateness of the hairstyle, but the ideal beauty of the figure and the purity of the lines confer a chaste distinction upon the goddess.
The work is a masterpiece of harmony. To balance the goddess's pose and the majestic presence of the stag with tall antlers, which draw the group to the left, the sculptor raised the goddess' left arm and placed a bow in her hand. The heads of Diana and the stag, turned in the same direction, ensure the coherence of the scene.

Bibliography

Mayer M., "La fontaine de Diane du château d'Anet n'est pas de Benvenuto Cellini", Revue de l'Art, no. 68, 1935, pp. 125-134.
Du Colombier P., Jean Goujon, Paris, 1949, pp. 130-133.
Blunt A., Art et architecture en France 1500-1700, Paris, 1983 (English edition, 1953), p. 108.
Michèle Beaulieu, Description raisonnée des sculptures du Musée du Louvre, vol. 2, Renaissance française, Paris, 1978, pp. 96-99.
Zerner H., L'Art de la Renaissance en France. L'invention du classicisme, Paris, 1996, pp. 361-363.

Technical description

  • Fountain of Diana

    Middle of 16th century

  • Marble

    H. 2.11 m; W. 2.58 m; D. 1.34 m

  • Provenance: Musée des Monuments Français, 1823

    M.R. 1581, M.R. sup 123

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Prieur
    Room 15 b

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