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The Sculptor's Workshop, or Allegory on the Education of the Young

© 1998 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Dutch painting

Colange Adeline

Painted in the 1680s and advocating the study of antiquities and asceticism in an artist's training.

A studio

An adolescent, curiously dressed in an elegant feathered hat and a suit with an excessively low neckline, is gazing up at the monumental statue of a man that dominates the composition. Another young man is looking over his shoulder. In the background, two figures are attentively studying an antique head of a woman. The representation of young artists drawing from antique models is a frequently depicted theme. Jan Lievens' Young Draftsman (circa 1630-35), for instance, is shown in a studio full of antique casts. Drawing is indeed the foundation of the painter's and sculptor's artistic training in the studio but above all in the academies. But Adriaen van der Werff goes much further than the somewhat anecdotal genre paintings of his predecessors, who contented themselves with merely showing the realist application of the young pupils.

The quasi-mystical revelation of the antique

One is immediately struck by the quasi-religious dramatization of the composition, first of all the light falling in theatrical chiaroscuro on the young man, but also the figure's almost ecstatic open arms and upward gaze. The moral symbolism of this picture is overdone: the young artist, who until now had led a dissipated life of leisure and futile pleasures (indicated by his extravagant suit inspired by the genre scenes of the Utrecht Caravaggists) is moved by the revelation of the antique. This glory of antiquity is embodied by the perfect anatomy of the imposing lifesize Borghese Gladiator, seen from behind. The young artist's revelation is all the more majestic since it is happening under the aegis of the figure between his arms, Euterpe, Muse of music, an inspirational deity but also protectress of artistic education.

A young artist's manifesto

This work, possibly painted in the 1680s, is the artistic manifesto of a young man who had great difficulty in getting his family to accept his artistic vocation. And Adriaen van der Werff used this small painting as the starting point for a larger composition painted in 1687 (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), in which the message is somewhat watered down by the choice of children as the picture's main protagonists. Here, the allegory remains concentrated on the revelation, with its deliberately mystical overtones, of the ideal beauty of antiquity, an unsurpassed and unsurpassable model.


Exposition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 2000-2001, D'après l'Antique, commissaires Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Jean-René Gaborit, Alain Pasquier, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000, pp. 403-405.

Technical description

  • Adriaen van der WERFF (Kralingen, near Rotterdam, 1659 - Rotterdam, 1722)

    The Sculptor's Workshop, or Allegory on the Education of the Young

  • H. 0.23 m; W. 0.16 m

  • Bequest of Dr. Louis La Caze, 1869 , 1869

    M.I. 1012

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    Holland, middle and second half of the 17th century
    Room 842

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