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Work Neptune Calming the Waves

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

Neptune Calming the Waves, with a Triton at his Feet

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

France, 17th and 18th centuries

Valérie Montalbetti

Lambert-Sigisbert Adam was born to a family of sculptors from Lorraine. He spent ten years in Italy where he underwent the influence of Bernini; this is perceptible in his treatment of the god Neptune, portrayed standing in a twisted position with his trident in both hands. A triton at his feet leans backward, handing him a piece of coral.

A tumultuous figure

Neptune's pose is a dynamic one as he advances toward the waves, his hair and beard blowing in the wind, his drapery rippling. He steps over a triton leaning backward at his feet, and scorns the coral branch offered him (symbol of the sea's riches). With his frowning expression, his front foot placed firmly on a shell, and his hands gripping his trident, he is a magnificent incarnation of the authority of the god of the sea.

A theme familiar to the sculptor

When Lambert-Sigisbert Adam returned from Rome in 1733, Louis de Boullogne, director of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, imposed the theme of the sculpture which was to be his admission piece. Although Adam's terracotta model was approved the same year (sketch approved May 30, 1733, model approved August 29, 1733), he did not finish the marble until 1737, and subsequently became a member of the Academy on May 25. Adam had already treated this theme, having sculpted a marble bust of Neptune (Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace) around 1727 while he was still resident at the French Academy in Rome. The bust and its pendant (Amphitrite) were admired and purchased by Cardinal de Polignac, a distinguished diplomat, art collector, and French ambassador to the Holy See. Despite the ten year gap, the physiognomy and expression of the two Neptunes are similar. Simultaneously to his admission piece, the sculptor treated the theme in a monumental work — the Triumph of Neptune and Amphitrite. This sculpture, the central group of the Bassin de Neptune at Versailles, was completed in 1740.

A virtuoso work

Adam demonstrated his skill with this virtuoso work. It is a classical pyramidal composition, suffused with the baroque spirit — twisted body, folds of drapery, scrolls of the triton's tail, the shell and the waves, and protruding veins suggestive of effort. The naked god's contorted pose reflects the sculptor's mastery of anatomy (the most difficult of academic exercises). Adam paid great attention to details such as the scales and backbone of the triton's tails, the foam where the tails thrash the sea, and the ridges on the huge scallop shell. The panache of this group recalls Bernini's Neptune and Triton (sculpted in 1620, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), although various features distinguish the two works: Bernini's Neptune is immobile, leaning out to sea, his trident poised above the waves. The major difference is one of spirit, however: Bernini's work has a more brutal strength, with a certain wildness in the facial features, whereas Adam's Neptune has something of the terribilita of Michelangelo's Moses. Adam may also have thought of the Neptune sculpted by Michel Anguier (familiar from bronze copies). Adam represented himself with this work in a Self-portrait which he drew around 1740 (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum).

Technical description

  • Lambert-Sigisbert ADAM (Nancy, 1700 - Paris, 1759)

    Neptune Calming the Waves, with a Triton at his Feet


  • Marble

    H. 0.85 m; W. 0.59 m; D. 0.48 m

  • M.R. 1743

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Petite galerie de l'Académie
    Room 219

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