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Work The Horses of Apollo Groomed by Tritons

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

Les Chevaux d'Apollon

© 1994 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

This terracotta was a study for a large marble installed in the park at Versailles, near Girardon's figure group, Apollo Tended by the Nymphs of Thetis. The compsition is a combination of classical equilibrium and Baroque verve. The violence of the rearing horse, the brutal dynamism of the tritons, and mingling curves of the bodies create a turbulent atmosphere.

A model for a large marble

This small terracotta figure group is the model for a large marble installed in 1672 in the Grotte de Thétis in the park at Versailles (now in the Bosquet des Bains d'Apollon). The Marsy brothers' horses were a pendant to those of Gilles Guérin, and the two works stood on either side of François Girardon's Apollo Tended by the Nymphs of Thetis, a figure group depicting Apollo resting after his diurnal journey in the chariot of the Sun. A 1676 engraving by Jean Lepautre shows the statue in situ. The art dealer Paul Cailleux donated the model to the Louvre in 1946.

Baroque vitality and classical discipline

One of the horses is biting the croup of its companion, which is rearing with pain. The triton (a marine deity with a man's head and torso and a fish's tail), who was grooming it, has raised his left arm to restrain it. The other triton, holding out to the animal a conch of ambrosia, the food of the Olympian gods, moves sideways to avoid getting kicked.
The dynamic vitality of the figures, close to Italian Baroque, is combined with the classical principals of equilibrium and unity of action. The four figures form a harmonious circular composition in which their spirited movements balance one another. Within this ordered space the nervous horses, with their slender necks, rippling muscles, flowing manes, and dilated eyes, are champing at the bit with a furious energy befitting the creatures who pull Apollo's chariot through the sky from dawn to dusk. The reaction of the horse has prompted the sudden reaction of the tritons: the steep slant of one's shoulders, the arched back of the other. The curves of their bodies and arms, the undulation of their tails, and the sinuous shells create a turbulent atmosphere. The tritons, sculpted by Gaspard, have powerful, deeply etched muscles inspired by the Belvedere Torso (Vatican), about which Gaspard gave a lecture at the Académie in 1669. This ancient Greek marble fragment, at the time a unique example of an unfinished Greek work, fascinated artists and art lovers, and for the sculptor, it embodied the quintessence of Hellenic art. The horses were Balthazar's work. There is, however, a genuine formal dialogue between the figures: the body of the first triton forms an ascending spiral that continues with the neck and head of the rearing horse.

An instant success and an enduring influence

The group was immediately acclaimed and won the Marsy brothers the commission for the Latone fountain at Versailles. After seeing the model in their studio, the great French poet La Fontaine dedicated several verses to the sculpture in The Loves of Psyche and Cupidon (1668). The Horses of Apollo influenced the conception of equestrian statues in France, for example Antoine Coysevox's Fame Riding Pegasus (1701-2) and Guillaume Coustou's Marly Horses (1743-45), both in the Louvre.

Bibliography

Hedin Thomas, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazar Marsy, Missouri, 1983, p. 41-52 et p. 133-139

Technical description

  • Gaspard MARSY (Cambrai, 1624 - Paris, 1681)

    Les Chevaux d'Apollon

  • Terre cuite

    H. : 0,37 m. ; L. : 0,35 m. ; Pr. : 0,29 m.

  • Don Paul Cailleux, 1946 , 1946

    R.F. 2578

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Lobby, 17th-century terracottas
    Vestibule
    Vitrine 1

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