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Nymphe et un petit génie sur un dragon marin

© Musée du Louvre/P. Philibert

France, Renaissance

Valérie Montalbetti

The fountain was created on the occasion of French king Henry II's entry into Paris in 1549. It was the work of Jean Goujon, perhaps in collaboration with Pierre Lescot. Located in the Les Halles district, it formed a sort of raised portico with two arcades on the rue Saint Denis (where the royal cortège passed), and the other at right angles. The long reliefs exhibited here were situated under the arcades.

The Fountain of the Innocents

The Fountain of the Innocents, erected on the occasion of King Henry II's solemn entry into Paris in 1549, was originally a loggia built on the corner of two streets, with two arcades along one street and one along the other. Jean Goujon adorned it with lighthearted reliefs evoking water nymphs, thereby reviving the antique tradition of the nymphaeum. The undulations of this underwater world compensated for the feeble trickle flowing from the faucets. The Nymphs in the Louvre adorned the base of each arcade. In 1787, the fountain was reassembled as a cubic pavilion on the new square created on the site of the former Cemetery of the Innocents (closed for reasons of hygiene). The improved water supply under the Empire had water gushing from the faucets, which is why the bas-reliefs were removed from the bases in 1810 to protect them from the water. They entered the Louvre in 1824.

A new conception

Jean Goujon introduced a new concept of bas-relief, with figures that were autonomous and perfectly adapted to the frame. He was thus able to create an illusion of space within a thin slab of stone. Goujon's nymphs resembled the works of antiquity to a degree that was unprecedented in France. These reclining, naked Nereids were inspired by the sea triumphs sculpted on antique sarcophagi. The Nymph and Triton composition closely resembles a sarcophagus in Grottaferrata, which was visible in Goujon's time in Rome and often drawn during the 16th century. Triton's hair, tied at the nape of his neck, resembles that of an antique statue of the Tiber (in the Louvre) discovered in Rome in 1512 and exhibited in the Vatican until 1797. The wavy locks of the nymphs' hair, deeply hollowed into the stone, also resemble those of antique statues. Goujon was equally inspired by the Italian artists summoned by Francis I to work at the Château de Fontainebleau, such as Rosso (1495–1540) and Primaticcio (1504–1570) who successively directed work at the royal residence. The Nymph with a Sea Dragon has the same pose and muscular thighs as the Nymph of Fontainebleau, designed by Rosso for the Galerie François I. Goujon was also inspired by Primaticcio's lengthening of the female form, with its narrow shoulders and small, high bosom. The tight, parallel folds of floating drapery contrast with the nymphs' naked bodies: an idea suggested by the Nymph of Fontainebleau (in the Louvre) sculpted by the Florentine Benvenuto Cellini.

Hellenic beauty

Goujon introduced a fluidity of his own, however: the undulating drapery plays with the slender spirals of the figures, and with the scrolls formed by the shells and the tails of the sea creatures. These graceful, intertwined curves give rhythm to the composition. The decorative treatment of the surface (scales, shells, and wavelets) and the Cupids' mischievous expressions add a certain lightheartedness to the work. The slender, elegant figures with their strong, clear outlines, together with the supple modeling of the flesh, confer a highly personal grace to this bas-relief: Goujon seems to have rediscovered the Hellenic secret of ideal beauty.


Beaulieu Michèle, Description raisonnée des sculptures du musée
du Louvre, t. II Renaissance française, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion
des musées nationaux, 1978, pp. 94-96.
Colombier Pierre du, « Un Modèle antique de Jean Goujon », GBA, t. II, 1930, pp. 26-30.
Colombier Pierre du (pseud. de Pierre Poinçon de la Blanchardière), Jean Goujon, Paris, Albin Michel, 1949, pp. 64-66.

Technical description

  • Jean GOUJON (Actif depuis 1540 - mort probablement à Bologne entre 1565 et 1568)

    Nymphe et un petit génie sur un dragon marin

  • Pierre

    H. : 0,74 m. ; L. : 1,95 m. ; Pr. : 0,12 m.

  • Attribué au Louvre en 1818 , 1818

    M.R. 1736

  • Sculptures

    Richelieu wing
    Ground floor
    Jean Goujon
    Room 213

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