Sunday, October 9, 2011

Joseph-Marie Vien - The Seller of Cupids

Joseph-Marie Vien, The Seller of Cupids, 1763
(Musee National de Chateau de Fontainebleau)
Joseph-Marie Vien, had won the Prix de Rome and studied in Rome between 1744 to 1750.  This was a time of great excitement in Italy since ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii had been unearthed in 1738 and 1748 bringing into light some very well preserved wall paintings which was an immense source of knowledge and inspiration for scholars and artists.

Carlo Nolli, The Seller of Cupids,1762
illustration from Le Antichita di Ercolano.
Vien's The Seller of Cupids draws its subject directly from an image from Le Antichita di Ercolano (The antiques of Herculaneum) which was a collection of images of archaeological finds from the ancient Roman city.  Carlo Nolli's engraving of The Seller of Cupids is the mirror image of Vien's painting.

Some of the elements of the original engraving has been changed by Vien; by placing his stoic figures in a shallow setting at the very edge of the picture plane and closing off the back completely using vertical components, he has created a stage-like presence.  Vien has also added some period interior furnishings that are not present in the original engraving plus he has changed the Classical cage to an 18th century basket.

Most critics recognized the innovation in this painting and applauded Vien's sobre style but some criticized its immoral subject matter.  The obsecene gesture of the cupid in the air alluding to the promised pleasure did not sit well with Diderot who was trying to elevate the French and rich Roman ladies buying love was considered more erotic and indecent than even Boucher's sensual paintings.  Finally, even though Vien had achieved Neoclassicism stylistically, he still remained in the Rococo style with his content.  It would be up to his student Jacques Louis David to bring about the complete revolution.  

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