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Work Venus and the Three Graces Surprised by a Mortal

Department of Paintings: French painting

Venus and the Graces Surprised by a Mortal

© 1981 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet / Jean Schormans

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Kazerouni Guillaume

Blanchard was dubbed the "French Titian" in homage both to his Venetian-influenced use of color and his evocative handling of female beauty. Once known as Cimon and Iphigenia - a reference to Boccaccio's Decameron - this scene is probably drawn from an ancient, still unidentified literary source.

The "French Titian"

Jacques Blanchard was a prominent figure on the Paris painting scene in the 1630s. Trained in Lyon by Horace Le Blanc, he settled in the French capital after visiting Italy, where he had been influenced by the Venetian painters' handling of light and color to the point of becoming known at the "French Titian". His work also provides evidence of an admiration for Rubens who, a few years before, had finished his Marie de' Medici cycle for its subject's Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. This work by Blanchard created a sensation at the time of its acquisition, its use of color running counter to that of the same painter's Charity, then in the Louvre. Here we find a Blanchard more Baroque than Classical.

A mythological mystery

The mythological event referred to by this highly sensual work has yet to be precisely identified. Venus, goddess of beauty and love, is sleeping next to her son Cupid; around them are three languid nymphs recognizable - by their number - as the Graces, whose glowingly voluptuous bodies counterpoint the velvet of the improvised canopy above them. The sight seems to have stunned a human passer-by, in a situation reminiscent of the episode in which Actaeon surprised Diana bathing: changed into a stag by the angry goddess, the intruder was devoured by his own hounds. Here, however, Diana sleeps on and the unfortunate mortal's fate hangs fire. This is one of Blanchard's erotic compositions.

Blanchard and French painting in the 1630s

Painting in 1630s Paris was dominated by Simon Vouet. The art scene, however, was extremely cosmopolitan, with contact between painters from the North, Italy and all over France resulting in an enormous range of stylistic input. In addition to the Italian innovations brought to France by Vouet and others, the School of Fontainebleau continued to exert a major influence, as indicated here not only by Blanchard's choice of subject, but also by the placing of some of the figures. Naturalistic and Mannerist touches from the Northern school were another contributing factor. It was at this time that a painter like Georges Lallemant was really coming into his own and Claude Vignon, part of the same movement, was meeting with considerable success. More so than Vouet, Blanchard points up this plethora of influences with the luminously personal approach exemplified by the work in the Louvre. This is one of his great masterpieces.

Technical description

  • Jacques BLANCHARD (Paris, 1600 - Paris, 1638)

    Venus and the Graces Surprised by a Mortal

    c. 1631-33

  • H. 1.7 m; W. 2.18 m

  • Acquired in 1921

    R.F. 2317

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    The painters of Louis XIII
    Room 12

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