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A river

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

Sculptures
France, 17th and 18th centuries

Author(s):
Montalbetti Valérie

Caffieri, who came from a family of artists, was a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. From 1748 to 1754 he stayed in Rome, where he was influenced by Bernini. In his Academy reception piece, however, the obvious reference to Giambologna (Jean de Bologne) enabled him to demonstrate his technical mastery, and ensured the success of his model.

Iconography and dexterity

The River is represented as a naked old man, sitting on an urn from which water flows. He is holding an oar with his left hand, the rim of the urn with his right, and has a crown of reeds on his head, which is turned to the right. From the beginning of his career, Jean-Jacques Caffieri displayed highly skillful workmanship: less than two years after the approval of the plaster model (30 July 1757), he presented the marble sculpture as his reception piece, on 28 April 1759.

An academic exercise under the influence of Giambologna

Caffieri drew his inspiration for this academic exercise from the representation of the Ganges by Giambologna (1529-1608), a Flemish-born sculptor who settled in Florence and strongly influenced European sculpture (especially that of Versailles). The Ganges is one of the three rivers of the Oceanus fountain on the Isolotto, in the Boboli Gardens in Florence. Caffieri paid less attention to the musculature and gave his sculpture fuller forms, but he kept the position of the left leg over the urn: a posture better suited to a foreshortened view of a figure from bottom to top (as in Florence) than to a composition intended to be placed at eye level. Although the body is that of an old man, it is an ideal nude in a contrapposto position, meant to demonstrate the sculptor's mastery of anatomy. Careful attention to detail is further proof of his skill: the swirl of water on the terrace, aquatic vegetation at the back, beautiful rendering of the water flowing from the urn. But the quality of this work resides above all in the delicate craftsmanship and supple modeling which bring it to life.

The success and influence of the work

This very successful work was often reproduced in terracotta, bronze or marble. In 1785, after the refusal of his first reception piece in 1783, Jean-Joseph Foucou presented a River (in the Louvre) that closely resembled the work of his master. In 1786, the sculptor Louis-Simon Boizot used it as his inspiration for a representation of the river god Peneus, in a group of Apollo and Daphne (in biscuit porcelain) for the Sèvres Manufactory (where he had been director since 1774).

Technical description

  • Jean-Jacques CAFFIERI (Paris, 1725 - Paris, 1792)

    A river

    Provenance: confiscated during the Revolution from the collections of the Académie

  • Marble

    H. 0.61 m; W. 0.39 m; D. 0.49 m

  • M.R. 1773

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Petite galerie de l'Académie
    Room 25

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Additional information about the work

On the front of the plinth: BY MR CAFFIERI. 1759.