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Work Man Resting in the Lap of a Woman

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Homme reposant sur les genoux d'une femme

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Chabod Christine

This drawing, remarkable for its quality of execution and harmony of arrangement, is striking evidence of the advent of a new sensibility, in terms of the beauty of the gestures and the litheness of the nudes. Their luminous skin is evoked using the very free three-colored chalk technique. The key contemporary theme of the couple is here removed from any mythological context and treated with a new feeling of intimacy. A work like this is at the root of eighteenth-century romantic ideology.

A hero of antiquity

Two figures are seated beside one another, intertwined. The man is seen from the back, half lying toward the right. He is naked to the waist, and a loose drapery covers his hips. He is leaning into the lap of the young woman and clasping her waist with his right hand. The woman is seated, facing him. Her head rests nonchalantly on her right arm, and her left hand is delicately placed on the shoulder of the young man. This composition, squared for transfer, illustrates a passage from Virgil's Aeneid (70-19 BC), an epic poem telling the story of Aeneas, the Trojan hero who founded Rome. Aeneas is led to the Elysian fields by the Cumaean sibyl Deiphobe, where he finds his father, Anchises. Anchises takes him to the banks of the Lethe, the river of Hades in Greek mythology, whose waters could make you forget the past, and shows him the Roman princes who will be his descendants (Aeneid, Book VI).

At the zenith of his art: the Palais Royal project

The drawing is a study for the couple in the foreground of a painting depicting Aeneas descending into Hades. The painting, which used to decorate a wall in the new gallery of the Palais Royal, was long thought to be lost, but was found in the Louvre. Despite having "disappeared", we knew of the composition from an engraving of 1740 by Louis Surugne and a drawing of the whole scene in Frankfurt (Städelsches Kunstinstitut und Städtische Galerie). The gallery decoration was commissioned from Antoine Coypel in 1701 by his patron and friend, the young duke Philippe of Orléans (1674-1723). The vault decoration was completed in 1705, and the wall panels between 1714 and 1718. This vast decorative ensemble included fourteen compositions tracing the story of Aeneas. The gallery was destroyed in 1781 by Louis-Philippe, duke of Orléans (1747-93); then unfortunately, during the French Revolution, the paintings were dispersed. The Musée du Louvre has four other studies by Coypel for Aeneas descending into Hades and around a hundred sketches, also in three-colored chalk, which are all that remains of these lost decorations.

A transitional style

The gallery decoration marks the summit of Coypel's career. It reflects his interest in the Roman Baroque, inspired by the great gaps in the sky painted by Pietro da Cortona, as well as the style of Annibale Carracci and the great French decorator Charles Le Brun. Despite his debt to the seventeenth-century masters, a drawing such as this is striking evidence of the advent of a new artistic sensibility, marked by the elegant, cheerful, and delicate nature of the figures. Antoine Coypel belongs to a generation of painters who drew their inspiration from the Italian models of Carracci, Albani, and Correggio, and borrowed their shimmering colors from the Venetian artists and Rubens.

Bibliography

Bacou Roseline, Dessins et aquarelles des grands maîtres. Le XVIIIe siècle français, Paris, Éditions Princesse, 1976, p. 61.Bacou Roseline, in Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle : de Watteau à Lemoine, LXXXIXe exposition du cabinet des Dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux ,1987, notice 54.Choix de dessins français et de miniatures du XVIIIe siècle, VIIe exposition du cabinet des Dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1954, notice 8.Garnier-Pelle Nicole, Antoine Coypel 1661-1722, Paris, Arthena, 1989.Mardrus Françoise, in Le Palais Royal, cat. exp. Paris, musée Carnavalet, 1988, pp. 79-84.Monnier Gérard, in Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle : amis et contemporains de Mariette, XXXVIIIe exposition du cabinet des Dessins, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1967, notice 5.

Technical description

  • Antoine COYPEL (Paris, 1661-Paris, 1722)

    Man Resting in the Lap of a Woman

    1716-17

  • Black chalk, white highlights and red chalk; squared for transfer; beige-tinted paper

    H. 28.5 cm; W. 43.5 cm

  • Formerly in the Cabinet du Roi

    INV25884

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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