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Work Two standing female figures
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Deux femmes debout
Prints and Drawings
This study of a detail for the painting Brother Luce depicts a woman and her daughter in the same position as the version in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Only the older woman's arm has changed position: she is bending her left arm. A sketch of her hand can clearly be seen bottom right. In the finished work, the hand is facing the other way. The finely detailed drawing is extremely rich thanks to the technique used: black chalk with white highlights and stump on high-quality blue paper.
A lecherous monk
The hermit Brother Luce sets out to seduce an innocent young girl. He dresses up to hide his identity and convinces the girl that by giving in to his advances, she is following God's will. She later gives birth to a daughter. Before giving into the temptations of the flesh, he hypocritically rejects the girl's mother who has come to sell her daughter's charms, feigning surprise and disgust at her suggestion. He is shown kneeling in front of his grotto, with his back to the viewer. Two books are lying by his feet. Although he is supposedly in prayer, he is in fact sneaking a sly, lecherous glance at the girl. His brown cowl contrasts with the blue, white, and red of the girl's gown. The contrasting colors correspond to the opposed attitudes of the three characters. The care Subleyras took over episodes of everyday life, his love of telling details, and his taste for concision are already apparent.
A story without a moral
Subleyras painted four works based on Jean de La Fontaine's tales, in part inspired by Boccaccio's Decameron, for the Duke of Saint-Aignan, French ambassador to Rome from 1732 to 1741. The four paintings were The Hermit, also known as Brother Luce (Inv. 8011, Inv. 32917), The Falcon (Inv. 8010), Brother Philippe's Geese (Inv. 8009), and The Amorous Courtesan. All four are now in the Louvre. However, Subleyras tended to paint several variants of each work, changing the details to a greater or lesser extent, which makes identifying the four works of this set a complicated task, as several versions of each tale are known to exist. The works were popular with collectors and Jean-Baptiste Pierre produced prints of them between 1735 and 1740, probably in Rome. The subject of sexual temptation is treated in a light-hearted manner: Brother Philippe's son cannot hide his astonishment and delight on discovering that the flock of geese his father told him of is in fact a group of beautiful young women. Other artists also produced paintings on a similar theme, including Pater, Lancret, Boucher, Fragonard, and Vleughels, director of the French Academy in Rome. The intimate, picturesque details of Subleyras's depiction contrast sharply with Vleughels's foregrounding of the anecdote and his Venetian inspiration. The exquisite delicacy and the remarkable use of color meant that the paintings-true literary masterpieces-were the object of a number of studies.
BibliographyJ.-F. Méjanès, Les Collections du Comte d'Orsay : dessins du musée du Louvre, exp. Paris, Louvre, 1983, n 94.
P. Rosenberg, O. Michel, in Subleyras. 1699-1749, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Luxembourg, 20 février - 26 avril 1987, Rome, Villa Médicis, 18 mai - 19 juillet 1987, n 21.
A. Schalhorn, Historienmalerei und Heiligsprechung : Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) und das Bild für den Papst im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert, Munich, Scaneg Verlag, 2000.
Pierre Subleyras (Saint-Gilles-du-Gard, 1699-Rome, 1749)
Two standing female figures
Black chalk, highlights of white chalk and stump on blue paper; framed with a line in black chalk
H. 38.7 cm; L. 27.2 cm
Comte d'Orsay collection; confiscated from émigrés, 1793
Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.
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