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: The Parterre d’eau at Versailles: An Eighteenth-Century Recollection


Thomas P. Hedin



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has acquired a small eighteenth-century bronze reduction (figures 1-2) of the Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas by Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen.1 The original (figure 3), a marble of the later seventeenth century, was conceived for a prominent place in the gardens of Versailles, which were then at the height of the their glory. In contrast, the copy was ordered by a private collector of his own personal pleasure and contemplation, and as such expresses the sentiments of a different age—an age weary of the large and flamboyant productions of the French Baroque of Louis XIV.It will be helpful to examine the early history of the marble group (figure 3) that inspired the Minneapolis bronze. In 1674, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, first minister to Louis XIV, initiated a huge program of sculpture for the first Parterre d'Eau ("Flowerbed of Water"), the square complex of basins in front of the garden façade of the chateau at Versailles (figure 4).2 Most of the details of implementation, from the conception and planning to the preliminary drawings, seem to have been left to the king's first painter, Charles Le Brun.3 For the circular pool in the center, Le Brun designed a colossal arch of rocks, a type of Parnassus inhabited by Apollo, the Muses, Pegasus, and several marine deities (figure 6).4 The largest part of the program, which has become known as the Grande Commande ("Big Commission"), was a series of single marble figures of the four seasons, the four parts of the day, the four continents of the world, the four humours of man, four types of poetry, and the four elements.5 As a complement to these twenty-four statues, a second series of representations of the elements was ordered—four groups (each of three marble figures) that were to depict four mythological abductions from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The commissions for these groups were awarded to the new coalition of sculptors that Le Brun had assembled when he took office as first painter a decade earlier. Boreas and Orithyia (Air) to Gaspard Marsy (figure 3); Pluto and Proserpine (Fire) to Francois Girardon (Figure 9); Cybele and Saturn (Earth) to Thomas Regnaudin (figure 10); and Coronus and Neptune (Water) to Jean Baptiste Tuby.6Only two seventeenth-century authors give a clue as to where the abduction groups were to have stood in the context of the Parterre d'Eau. Sieur Combes wrote in 1681 that "there will be four [sculptures in white marble] at the four corners of the parterre, each ten feet in height, representing four rapes."7 Then in about 1698, Claude Nivelon, indebted to Combes's earlier publication, recalled that these same groups "were placed at the angles of the parterre, represented by four abductions (these great subjects were executed by Messrs. Girardon and Regnaudin and others)."8 One visual record, a ground plan with many variants and alternative thoughts, supports the thesis that the groups were planned for the right angles of the complex (figure 5): four square pedestal markings are visible at points just outside the corner basins. (The twenty-four pedestal markings for the single figures can also be seen along the borders of the pools.) This same drawing suggests that additional decorations had been conceived for the interiors of the corner basins. In fact, according to Nivelon, yet another series marble groups, again representing the elements, had been considered by LeBrun for "the four basins of water that correspond to the pavilions of the palace."9 In all likelihood, each basin and each neighboring outer angle would have been animated with groups of the same element.In his official guidebook of Versailles, published in the same year that Colbert authorized the Gande Commande, Andre Felibien, the royal historiographer, admired his noble conception:
[The Parterre d'Eau] is made up of five large basins and two others, which together form a group of extraordinary figures. When it is finished, one will see an infinite number of different water jets, with many figures, which will be among the greatest beauties of the royal domain.10
The iconography of the Parterre d'Eau was a natural elaboration of the other Apollonian imagery already in place along the east-west axis of the grounds, which included the Grotto of Thetis, the Fountain of Latona, and the Basin of Apollo. At the same time, it intimately related to the sculptural decorations of the adjacent garden façade (figure 7): the procession of keystone heads, with traces the path of life from infancy to old age, along the ground-floor arcade; the statues of the months on the attic level; the reliefs of children above the windows of the first floor; and the military trophies along the roof line. Nivelon described the comprehensive unity of the original plan:
This parterre is representation of the entire mass or construction of the universe. . . [It depicts] the union or the linkage of those things that compose the universe.11
The art of this first Parterre d'Eau had to be read in conjunction with that of the entire east-west axis. The underlying message was that Louis XIV, in the guise of Apollo, god of the sun, presided overall universal forces, all natural cycles, and all human aspirations.This ingenious scheme, however, was soon abandoned. The sculptors of the Grande Commande were not pressed for their finished works until the next decade, by which time the Parterre d'Eau had undergone two changes, a slight revision in 1680 and a complete transformation in 1683-85. The appearance of the transitional state of 1680-83 was recorded with meticulous precision by Liévin Cruyl in an aerial-view drawing (figure 7): a marble terrestrial globe, of somewhat earlier vintage, had been placed in the peninsula between the two western basins; eighty-one boxwoods, in copper vases, had been arranged at regular intervals along the borders; and sixteen of the twenty-four allegorical statues had been installed on pedestals around the pools.12 In contrast, the outer corners were conspicuously vacant.13 When Cruyl documented the last days of the first Parterre d'Eau, the series of abduction groups had been accorded no more than casual attention: the Boreas and Orithyia had not progressed beyond preparatory models; the Pluto and Proserpine and the Cybele and Saturn had been neglected entirely. The symbolic mountain and the groups for the corner basins were treated with equal disregard. Eventually, the last of the twenty-four single figures reached Versailles, but the ensemble was dispersed in no particular iconographic order along the palisades to the west and to the north of the Parterre d'Eau.If we are to believe Nivelon, the character of the Parterre d'Eau was changed because of the congestion caused by all of this decoration in such a limited space.14 At the same time, the overwhelming horizontality of the chateau, generated by the projection of the vast new wings, was plainly incongruous with the concentration of vertical statuary and vegetation in front of the central pavilion. But political vicissitudes may have been equally instrumental in the decision to abandon the program. The death of Colbert in September 1683 and the promotion of his vindictive rival, the marquis de Louvois, to the office of first minister resulted in Le Brun's loss of power in the position of first painter. Three months later, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the first architect, ordered the demolition of the first Parterre d'Eau. It was replaced by two simple rectangular pools punctuated along their borders by a series of recumbent figures and small children, all which have survived to this day.15Girardon and Regnaudin made preparations for their groups as early as April 1675, at which time the royal account books disclose that each of them received 400 livres "for a group for the Parterre d'Eau." Nothing more is known of their progress until the spring of 1677.16 Girardon, perhaps assisted in his labor by the young Robert Le Lorrain, was paid on a more or less regular schedule between 1677 and 1687; the parfait payement, or final settlement, was delivered to him in early 1694.17 The treasury records imply that most of Regnaudin's sculpture was finished between 1677 and 1679, but that a few final touches were added in 1687; once again, the parfait payement was delayed until 1694.18Marsy's participation in this project was both belated and abbreviated. According to the royal ledgers, he earned 1,400 livres in three installments between March and September 1677, "on account, for the marble group he is making for the Parterre d'Eau."19 This wording suggests only that the commission for the Boreas and Orithyia called for a group in marble, not that Gaspard had begun carving the marble blocks themselves. Indeed, in the entire collection of primary sources, there is not one word of collaborative evidence to suggest that Marsy ever advanced beyond the point of preliminary study. In February 1682, two months after the sculptor's death, an inventory was taken of the articles in his studio in the Pavillon de Beauvais of the Louvre. The notaries in charge of the inventory did not come across the marble composition in question, but they did find "three models of the Rape of the Wind by Boreas, in plaster, valued at 8 livres."20 If the marble group had been present even in a formative state, the notaries would have included a short description of its subject, material, and dimensions, ending with the words non achevé ("unfinished"). Several sizable blocks were itemized, but apparently these had not been worked at all or not been shaped into forms recognizable enough to warrant further definition. In a section of the first edition of his guidebook of Paris, published in 1684 but based on notes taken in 1680 or 1681, Germain Brice gave an account of the major sculptures in Marsy's studio; again there is a noteworthy absence of any reference to the Boreas and Orithyia. Brice reported that at the time Marsy was preoccupied with other responsibilities to the French crown and court, including a number of figures for the tomb of Anne de Noailles in the Church of Saint Paul in Paris.21When Gaspard died in December 1681, the commission was inherited by his partner, Anselme Flamen. Deluged by other commitments, especially the unfinished Noailles tomb, Flamen was unable to direct his full attention to the project before 1684. Regular payments were issued to him between August 1684 and October 1687; a delayed parfait payement in August 1694 brought his earnings to 13,000 livres.22 In September 1687, the heavy and unwieldy group was hauled from Paris by forty-three horses.23 By chance, a very distinguished and cultivated visitor to France, the Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin, was on hand to witness the installation of the sculpture in the parterres of Mansart's new Orangerie at Versailles, situated just to the south of the chateau. In his diary, Tessin recalled:
[The] group, by Anselme the Fleming, that shows Boreas carrying off Orithyia and knocking down another Wind, was erected in the presence of the King and of the Court while I was there, and everyone strongly approved of it.24
Regnaudin's Cybele and Saturn, which arrived at Versailles one month later, was arranged opposite of the Boreas and Orithyia. The companion groups remained there until 1716 when they were returned to Paris and erected in the gardens of the Tuileries. In 1972, the two monuments were restored and moved inside the Louvre.The Pluto and Proserpine, meanwhile, did not emerge from Girardon's studio until 1695 or 1696. The famous group migrated from site to site in the gardens of Versailles until 1699 when it was placed atop a pedestal by the same sculptor in the center of the Colonnade, deep in the forest to the south of the Allée Royale. Today, it stands in the vaulted underground gallery of the Orangerie.The royal ledgers are silent on the matter of the unexecuted fourth group (Neptune and Coronus), but Combes reported that the commission had gone to the Italian J. B. Tuby.25 His testimony is accorded credibility by the fact that the approbation of his book (dated 2 November 1680) was signed by the sculptors Antoine Coyzevox and Martin Desjardins, pledging that they had read the text and that it conformed to what they knew of the sculptural programs at Versailles. Furthermore, when the Grande Commande was inaugurated in 1674, Tuby had been chosen more than any other sculptor in Le Brun's team to join Marsy, Girardon, and Regnaudin for important decorative campaigns that required a fourth workshop. His statues of Acis and Galatea for the Grotto of Thetis (today at the Bosquet des Domes), his Basin in Apollo, and his Fountain of Flora are yet other examples of his ties to the new coalition.The weight of available evidence, then, does not support the traditional argument that Gaspard Marsy began the marble group of Boreas and Orithyia before his death. His involvement was confined to the year 1677 and yielded several advanced, if not definitive, models. In 1677, Anselme Flamen was in the middle of a four-year term of study at the French Academy in Rome. When the young sculptor returned to France in the summer of 1679, Marsy had already put aside the commission in favor of other, more current projects. Dubois de Saint-Gelais, a later royal historiographer, distorted the respective roles of the two sculptors when he wrote that, after Flamen's return from Italy, "M. de Marsi found his so capable that he collaborated with him on the group of Boreas and Orithyia."26 It is true that the artists formed a productive and harmonious partnership that lasted for more than two years, but at no time did they work simultaneously on the sculpture.This was Marsy's second partnership. During the early phases of the embellishment of the gardens or Versailles, Gaspard and his younger brother Balthazard (d. 1674) had produced a number of important sculptures, including the Fountain of the Dragon, the Fountain of Latona, the Fountain of Bacchus, and one of the two Horses of Apollo. In almost every instance, Le Brun assigned commissions of multiple figures to the Marsy brothers, who then divided them into separate and equal shares. By contrast, during their later partnership, the older Marsy and Flamen sometimes worked together on the same piece of sculpture. Their financial affairs, with each other as well as with both royal and private patrons, became so complicated that they found it necessary to keep an account book. Regrettably, the notaries who drafted the Marsy inventory failed to preserve the book or to transcribe its handwritten entries; they simply listed the number of entries on each page and reported that a few of them had been crossed out. Even the discovery of this book, however, would not help our present investigation. The Boreas and Orithyia was never a matter of mutual interest to Marsy and Flamen, and thus would not have entered into their personal financial dealings.27The central issue is the degree to which Flamen respected the models left by Marsy and the extent to which he devised his own sculptural solutions. A comparative analysis of the preparatory models and the extant group would clarify the situation, but these pieces, made of fragile materials, perished long ago.28 We know from other documents that, when he took over the Noailles commission, Flamen was heavily indebted to Marsy's earlier efforts, working from the full-scale plaster model that his partner had prepared before his death.29 It is not unreasonable to assume that he followed the models of the Boreas and Orithyia in similar fashion. The sculptural idea, then, was Marsy's, but credit for the execution of that idea belonged to Flamen. The many eighteenth-century commentators who wrote that the group was begun by Marsy and finished by Flamen were essentially more correct than those who attributed it to Flamen alone. A later author expressed the relationship in these words:
One can regard the group of The Abduction of the Nymph Orithyia by the Wind Boreasas [Gaspard's] last enterprise. Death, accustomed to interrupting the labors of man, prevented his completion of work.[Anselme] dated to take on the last work of his master, and exercised in his defense that which the Romans called censoria virgula.30
Of course, both Marsy and Flamen were ultimately indebted to Le Brun, who furnished the graphic point of departure for the sculpture. From the standpoint of formal treatment, the artists of this generation enjoyed considerable freedom in their interpretation of drawings by Le Brun, a painter and designer at heart, who was less concerned with the sculptural problems of forms in space than with the legibility of attributes. His original design for the Boreas and Orithyia has not come down to us. The closest known study by the master is one made in preparation for the grisaille (ca. 1678-79) of the same subject on the vault of the Salon de Vénus inside the chateau (figure 8).31 Marsy and Flamen were impressed by the grisaille, the drawing for the grisaille, or others like it, for several of the same gestures and attitudes reappear in their marble.The first painter kept a more watchful eye over the iconographic details. Information not contained in the grisaille or the drawing, such as the new motif of the fallen figure, was passed along to Marsy in other drawings or in verbal consultation before he embarked on his own series of preparatory models. It was Le Brun who discovered in Ovid (VI, 675) the fitting poetic reference to the element of air in the dramatic saga of the seizure of the princess Orithyia, daughter of the Athenian king Erechtheus, by Boreas, blustery god of the North Winds of Thrace:
Boreas was not favored because of Tereus and the Thracians; and so the god was long kept from his beloved Orithyia, while he wooed and preferred to use prayers rather than force. But when he could accomplish nothing by soothing words, rough with anger, which was the north-wind's usual and more natural mood, he said: "I have deserved it! For why have I given up my own weapons, fierceness and force, rage and threatening moods, and had recourse to prayers, which do not at all become me? Force is my fit instrument. By force I drive on the gloomy clouds, by force I shake the sea, I overturn gnarled oaks, pack hard the snow, and pelt the earth with hail. So also when I meet my brothers in the open sky—for that is my battleground—I struggle with them so fiercely that the mid-heavens thunder with our meeting and fires leap bursting out of the hollow clouds. So also when I have entered the vaulted hollows of the earth, and have set my strong back beneath her lowest caverns, I fright the ghosts and the whole world, too, by my heavings. By this means I should have sought my wife. I should not have begged Erechtheus to be my father-in-law, but made him to be so." With these words or others no less boisterous, Boreas shook his wings, whose mighty flutterings sent a blast over all the earth, and ruffled the broad ocean. And training along his dusty mantle over the mountaintops, he swept the land; and wrapped in darkness, the lover embraced with his tawny wings his Orithyia, who was trembling sore with fear. As he flew his own flames were fanned and burned stronger. Nor did the robber check his airy flight until he came to the people and the city of the Cicones. There did the Athenian girl become the bride of the cold monarch, and mother, when she brought forth two sons, who had all else of their mother, but their father's wings.32
The prone male added by Marsy and Flamen in their work is probably Zephyr, one of Boreas's brothers, whom he met in frequent battle in the sky. A less tenable interpretation is that this figure is Ilussus, the river from whose shore Orithyia was kidnapped.33 But since neither Girardon nor Regnaudin personified the site where the abduction took place in their sculptures,34 it seems unlikely that Marsy and Flamen would have done so in theirs.In their proposed locations, pressed tightly into the corners of the first Parterre d'Eau, the abduction groups would have presented the onlooker with a variety of aspects. Their rear sides would have been visible only from a distance, across the pools of water, while their frontal, three-quarter, and profile views would have received closer and more detailed inspection. Of the original sculptors, Regnaudin was least conscious of the formal problems (figure 10) involved with such a grouping. Each of his figures conforms so emphatically to the frontal plane that the mass of marble, broken here and there by awkward holes, seems hardly more than a high relief. Only from a small area directly in front does the sculpture make any structural or narrative sense. From the extreme sides, the composition is compressed into a narrow sliver, volumes are confused, and one or more of the figures is obscured from the viewer.Girardon was more sensitive to the realities of a freestanding sculpture in the open spaces of the gardens. Without question, the interplay of limbs, the configuration of lines, and the narrative drams are most effectively perceived from a single optimum point (figure 9). From there, the three figures are bound by a powerful triangle, lines parallel one another or meet at right angles, and volumes are weighed against one another in a finely balanced system. At the same time, however, the vigorous torsion of Pluto's body and the opposing diagonals of the figures in his group generate a range of informative secondary views on either side of this central axis. One is strongly urged to follow the diagonal planes through to the sides; only from the extreme left side, for example, is it possible to see the meeting glances of Proserpine and Cyane. In many respects, Girardon was competing against the Italian master Gian Lorenzo Bernini (d. 1680), who in the early 1620s had fashioned a marble group of the same subject for the Borghese Gallery in Rome. Bernini interpreted the event as a fierce battle between Pluto and the valiant Proserpine, who continues to resist her abductor to the very gates of the underworld. Innumerable details, the kind Girardon would find trifling and distracting, were calculated by Bernini to heighten the illusion of an unfolding drama—the toes, fingers, hair, stretched flesh, and intense passions all suggesting violent physical struggle. The facial reactions of Girardon's figures, by contrast, reflect no such physical or mental agony, only a calm recognition and acceptance of their fates. The high center of gravity of Bernini's marble, which threatens to topple the combatants, contrasts with the near perfect distribution of weight among Girardon's three figures. The most noticeable affinity between the two is their frontality, dominating but by no means precluding angular views. Bernini's Pluto and Proserpine, like all of the Borghese groups from his early career, stood against a wall in a setting with imposing requirements not unlike those of the first Parterre d'Eau at Versailles.The Boreas and Orithyia represents still another solution to the problem or the three-figure composition in space. In its frontal aspect the sculpture is similar to that of Girardon's, but it maintains the same triangular silhouette from virtually every angle and thus takes on a conical form in three dimensions. This was achieved by placing Zephyr along a plane perpendicular to—not parallel with—that of the Boreas/Orithyia pair. The figure makes a solid lateral foundation from the frontal, three-quarter, and profile axes. Unlike the companion groups, neither of the two vertical figures is hidden when the sculpture is approached from the sides. This broad viewing arc is reminiscent of Giovanni Bologna's Rape of the Sabine Woman from the late 1500s in Florence.35 Marsy borrowed freely from this celebrated group, particularly the idea of an arched male rising above a prostrate foe while supporting his captured prize against his chest. The essence of Bologna's work resides in the totality of its possible views and in the solutions to the complex formal problems that the artist invented for himself. Twisted and contorted, the figures engage the space around them equally from every angle. From the cluster of legs at the base, the group spirals quickly upward through a series of diagonals, culminating finally in the outstretched arm of the Sabine woman. The group by Marsy and Flamen lacks this fluid serpentine ascent, but the angular lines of the composition state the situation clearly: the angry Boreas is lifting Orithyia skyward from the riverbank on which his brother has been subjugated. The clouds at his feet indicate that he will return triumphantly to his kingdom in the cold north. The beautiful princess, held back momentarily by her long looping drapery, futilely implores the gods for help.It is important to note that aspects of Flamen's artistic personality still emerged in his translation of Marsy's models into marble. None of the marble or stone figures in Gaspard's private oeuvre has the lively undercut curls or the deep drillwork of the two wind gods in the Boreas and Orithyia. In its graceful rhythms and delicate gestures, the figure of Orithyia looks ahead to a long line of goddesses and nymphs in Anselme's later career (a Cyparissus and four single Companions of Diana), as well as to French aesthetics of the early eighteenth century in general.36One measure of the enthusiasm that greeted the abduction groups was the instant demand, both in France and elsewhere, for reproductions in different sizes and materials. For instance, in 1687 Nicodemus Tessin reported that the sculptor Guillaume Cassegrain was selling, on the open market and at reasonable prices, plaster copies of many famous Hellenistic and Roman statues as well as
[the] groups that Messrs. Girardon, Regnaudin, and Flamen have made. These pieces can be sent to Sweden, where it will be possible to have them cast in lead, not only for the beauty and study of sculpture, but for the cheaper costs.
Tessin himself bought a model of Regnaudin's Cybele and Saturn. During a visit to the Louvre, he admired a rather large clay model and a scale model in plaster of Girardon's Pluto and Proserpine. Girrardon offered Tessin a small sketch of his group.37References to small copies appear with increasing regularity in inventories of private collections and in auction catalogues. Although the marble groups of Boreas and Orithyia and Cybele and Saturn have stood opposite each other from 1687 to the present day, collectors have preferred companion reductions of the Boreas and Orithyia and Pluto and Proserpine. As early as 1693, paired bronzes of these two were installed in niches in the Salon Ovale at Versailles.38 Another set, cast by the Keller foundry in Paris, was listed early in the next century in inventories of decorations in the Petite Galerie du Roi.39 Augustus the Strong, elector of Saxony from 1694 to 1733, acquired more than one set for his residence in Dresden.40 Other pairs were sold with the Lemarie (1766) and Sécretan (1889) collections. Today, reductions of the two sculptures stand as companion pieces in many European and American collections.In terms of height, there are two basic varieties of bronze reductions of the Boreas and Orithyia, one measuring roughly between 54 cm and 56 cm, the other between 100 cm and 110 cm. The smaller models generally follow the finished group with more fidelity than the larger ones: Boreas dramatically arches backwards, pulling Orithyia towards him in a sharp diagonal plane; the figures retain the same full proportions of their marble counterparts; and a thick layer of clouds, in irregular striations, settles around the pedestal (figure 11).41 Several of these bronzes are strikingly similar in size and detail, inviting speculation that they were cast from the same model or in the same foundry. Although there is no known proof that either Marsy or Flamen initiated any of these bronzes themselves, there is the possibility that later reductions were made from their original models. At the outset, however, the taller genre seems to have been favored. Those in the Salon Ovale and the Petite Galerie, as well as those which appeared later in Dresden, were of the larger dimensions. A number of related bronzes of the Pluto and Proserpine were of comparable size; it is probable that one of these, signed and dated 1693, stood in Girardon's magnificent private gallery and prominently figured in the Salons of 1699 and 1704.42Within the larger genre at least two subgroups are discernible, each with significant departures from the original marble. In the first type, Zephyr is given a pair of stunted wings, Orithyia is partially covered by an elaborate drapery, and Boreas is endowed with shorter and more tapered wings (figure 12).43 At the same time, Boreas and Orithyia pull apart from each other with a torsion and a fury special to this kind of diminutive copy. In contrast, the Minneapolis example belongs to the second tradition of tall bronzes.44 Zephyr is not only wingless, but deprived of the heavy cushion of drapery under his back (figures 1-2). He reclines on a simple square pedestal dotted along its edges with vegetation suggestive of the river Ilussus. Above him, Boreas and Orithyia rise in more vertical planes than in the original group or in the series of smaller reductions. Their proportions are more slender, their attitudes more attenuated, their gestures more elegant. Meanwhile, a veritable torrent of drapery winds and twists its way through the entire composition.The provenance of the new bronze in Minneapolis has not been traced to a particular collection or foundry, but the patination, coloration, and long graceful forms point to an origin in the first half of the eighteenth century.45 One of the most appealing features of the piece is its rich variety of color and surface, created early on by the application of a reddish-brown varnish. Where the surface has been rubbed repeatedly over the years—such as the shoulders of Boreas and Zephyr or the thigh, torso, and arms of Orithyia—a mottled green patination is exposed. In its translucence, the work differs from a great many nineteenth-century bronzes which are often covered by thick, opaque varnishes. The rear side of the group has seldom been touched or rubbed by admirers; as a result, the varnish there remains dark and even.The eighteenth century was the golden age of small-scale bronze sculpture. It was in this period, more than any other, that diminutive figures and groups were prized by collectors for their elegant forms and gestures, their refinement, and their tactile qualities. Erotic mythologies were among the favored subjects. The patrons who filled their salons and galleries with these objects were no longer inspired by the idea of royal propaganda, the recondite allegory, or the large sizes of the art of an earlier generation. The bronze in Minneapolis is a valuable cultural document from this new age.Thomas Hedin is an associate professor of art history at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. His teaching and research interests are in the field of European Renaissance and Baroque art. In 1983 he published a book entitled The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy: Art and Patronage in the Early Reign of Louis XIV.Endnotes
  1. Height 100.4 cm (39"). Weight 54.5 kg (120 lb). Purchased: The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund. 79.20.
  2. For this initial allocation of 20,000 livres, see the Comptes des Batiments du Roi sous le Regne de Louis XIV, 5 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1881-1901), 1:738.
  3. The design of the Parterre d'Eau was credited to Le Brun by his student and confidant Claude Nivelon who wrote a biography of the artist around 1698. See his Vie de Charles Le Brun & description détaillée de ses ouvrages (Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Manuscrits: Ms. Fr. 12987), p. 265. Le Brun furnished the drawings for the statuary as well as two of the early plans for the Parterre d'Eau, one of them our figure 5 (Louvre, Cabinet des Dessins: GM 8171, GM 8178), which have always been preserved with the rest of his personal papers. Another important drawing, a measured plan of the basins, is now in Stockholm, Nationalmuseum: THC 7. It is likely that Le Brun's ideas were discussed or approved by the Petite Académie, a committee of five savants constitute by Colbert in 1663 to watch over the selection of subjects and designs for state-approved commissions. For the origins and functions of the Petite Académie, see Josephe Jacquiot, Médailles et Jetons de Louis XIV d'après le manuscrit de Londres, 4 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1968), 1:I-LXIX; and Antonin Fabre, Chapelain et nos deux premières académies (Paris: Perrin et Cie, 1890), pp. 391-494. The history and iconography of the Grande Commande will be the subject of a doctoral dissertation (Bryn Mawr College) by Ann Friedman, to whom I wish to extend my warm thanks for many informative discussions of the issues at hand. I am also very grateful to Guy Walton of New York University for his valuable criticism of an earlier draft of this article.
  4. Le Brun designed the Parnassian mountain from two sides, one of which is commanded by Apollo, the other by Pegasus. The drawing that is reproduced here as figure 5 is preserved in the Nationalmuseum: CC 1659. Both of Le Brun's proposals were engraved before 1686 by Louis de Chatillon, whose prints are found, among other editions, in Recueil de divers desseins de fontaines et de Frises maritimes, Inventez et dessignez par M. Le Brun, Directeur et Chancelier de l'Academie Roy. De Peinture et Sculpture (Bibliotheque Nationale, Cabinet des Estampes: Da 39a in fol.), fols. 1,2.
  5. Most of these subjects were drawn from Ovid's eulogy of Pythagoras (Metamorphoses XV, 60), wherein the Greek philosopher develops his theory of the eternal rhythm of natural and human forces. Here we find an enumeration of the elements, the seasons, the parts of the day, and the ages of man. All twenty-four concepts were explained and illustrated in the first complete French edition of Cesare Ripa's Iconologie, which was published in 1644 by Jean Baudoin (2: 3-13, 52-55, 77-79, 176-78).
  6. The alliance between Marsy, Girardon, and Regnaudin originated in 1657 when the three young sculptors were admitted to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture within a month of one another. The ornamentation of the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre was the first sculptural enterprise conducted by Le Brun after his appointment as first painter in 1663. The southern half of the ceiling decorations was executed by Girardon and Regnaudin, the northern half by Gaspard and his brother Balthazard Marsy. Tuby joined in the team for the first time in 1664. For an analysis of the patterns of royal patronage during this first generation, see Thomas Hedin, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy: Art and Patronage in the Early Reign of Louis XIV (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1983).
  7. Sieur Combes (Laurent Morellet), Explication historique de ce qu'il y a de plus remarquable dans la maison royale de Versailles, et en celle de Monsieur a Saint-Cloud (Paris: C. Nego, 1681), p. 129. The Boreas and Orithyia is actually 260 cm in height. The translations in the present article are my own.
  8. Nivelon, op. cit., p. 265.
  9. Ibid., p. 266. He identified the subjects as Arion and the Sailors (Air); Phrixus and Helle (Fire); Europa and the Bull (Earth); and Melantho and the Dolphin (Water).
  10. André Félibien, Description sommaire du chasteau de Versailles (Paris: G. Desprez, 1674), p. 99. The book was printed on 30 December 1673. Its author, a close friend and admirer of Le Brun's, accurately described the plans for a number of decorative programs that were months or even years from completion. Much of his theoretical and historical writing was reviewed in the Petite Academie, a body to which he was appointed in 1683.
  11. Nivelon, op. cit., p. 265.
  12. Although dated 1684, the drawing by Cruyl (Musée de Versailles: 5679) must have been based on a design made before the destruction of the first Parterre d'Eau at the end of 1683. A date of January 1684 for this drawing has been proposed by Guy Walton, "Liévin Cruyl: The Works for Versailles," Art the Ape of Nature Studies in Honor of H. W. Janson, Mosche Barasch et al., eds. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981), p. 432.
  13. In one of the early proposals (GM 8171), these same concerns are occupied by tall candelabrum fountains in circular basins.
  14. Nivelon, op. cit., p. 266.
  15. According to the inscription of an early plan (Bibliothèque de l'Institut: Ms. 1307-51), the large twin basins of this second Parterre d'Eau were designed by André Le Notre. For this information, I am indebted to Ann Friedman. The reverse of a medal inscribed REGIA VERSALIARUM and dated 1680 shows the twin basins of the second Parterre d'Eau, the northern and southern wings of the chateau (albeit with significant departures from the finished wings), the two Ecuries, and the Grand Commun. It is likely that the medal was struck several years later than its date would suggest. For a recent account of it, see Colbert: 1619-1683 (Paris: Hotel de la Monnaie, 1983), p. 444, no. 636.
  16. Comptes des Batiments, 1: 831, 963, 964.
  17. Ibid., 1: 963, 1161, 1287; 2: 335, 439, 621, 987, 1176; 3: 1004. In August 1689, the Pluto and Proserpine was said to be six months from completion. See Marthe Oudinot, "Francois Girardon: Son role dans les travaux de sculpture a Versailles et aux Invalides," Bulletin de la societe de l'histoire de l'art francais (1937), p. 242. The sculpture is signed and dated 1699. For an early clue to the role of Le Lorrain, whose works for Versailles are documented continuously in the royal payments from 1685 to 1692, see Louis Gougenot, "Robert Le Lorrain," Memoires inedits sur la vie et les ouvrages des membres de l'Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, L. Dussieux et al.., eds., 2 vols. (Paris: Dumoulin, 1854), 2: 214.
  18. Comptes des Batiments, 1: 963, 1050, 1160; 2: 1182; 3: 101, 1006.
  19. Ibid, 1: 964.
  20. Archives Nationales, Minutier Central des Notaires: CXII, 385a.
  21. Germain Brice, Description nouvelle de ce qu'il y a de plus remarquable dans la ville de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris: Nicolas Le Gras, 1684), 1: 17.
  22. Comptes des Batiments, 2: 441, 628, 995, 1176; 3: 947, 1004. Regnaudin earned an identical sum for his Cybele and Saturn, but Girardon earned 14,000 livres for his Pluto and Proswepine.
  23. Ibid., 2: 1188, and Oudinot, op, cit., pp. 233-34. The October 1687 payment to Flamen for work on the Boreas and Orithyia, therefore, was also belated.
  24. Pierre Francastel, "Relation de la visite de Nicodème Tessin a Marly, Versailles, Clagny, Rueil et Saint-Cloud en 1687," Revue de l'historie de Versailles et de Seine-et-Oise (1926), pp. 159-60. Shortly before in Paris, Tessin had seen the accomplished group that he said was destined for the Parterre de l'Orangerie. See Roger-Armand Weigert, "Notes de Nicodeme Tessin le Jeune relatives a son sejour a Paris en 1687," Bulletin de la societe de l'histoire de l'art francais (1932), p. 263. In the 1698 edition of his guidebook (1: 80), Brice urged his readers to view a model of the group, appraised at 30 livres, was discovered in the studio after the sculptor's death in 1717 (Archives Nationales, Minutier Central des Notaires: XCVI, 246). For additional details, see Hedin, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, pp. 85, 94-98, 206-07.
  25. Combes, op.cit., p. 130. The author, writing in the past tense, correctly named the recipients of the other three commissions.
  26. Louis-Francois Dubois de Saint-Gelais Histoire journaliere de Paris: 1716-1717 (Paris: Societe des Bibliophiles Francois, 1885), p. 192.
  27. The association between the two sculptors has been studied by Thomas Hedin,"Exemple d'une collaboration d'artistes: The Partnership of Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen (1679-1681)," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 98 (1981): 103-14.
  28. In his will, Marsy bequeathed "all [his] designs and models" to his nephew Pierre Le Gros II, then fifteen years old (Archives Nationales: Minutier Central des Notaires: CXII, 384). In contrast to models of a private and informal nature, it is unlikely that those for unfinished royal projects were part of the family inheritance. For a discussion of Marsy's bequest to Le Gros, see Hedin, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, pp. 94, 232-33.
  29. See Francois Souchal, French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th Centuries: The Reign of Louis XIV (G-L), Elsie and George Hill, trans. (Oxford: Cassirer, 1981), p. 435, no. 17; and Hedin, The Sculpture of Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, pp. 93-94, 217-19.
  30. Antoine-Nicolas Dezallier D'Argenville, "Gaspard et Balthasar Marsy," Vies des fameux sculpteurs, depuis la renaissance des arts, avec la description de leurs ouvrages (Paris: De Bure, 1787), pp. 207, 209.
  31. Vienna, Albertina: Inv. 11.688.
  32. Ovid, Metamorphoses, Loeb Classical Library, 1: 336ff. For a contemporary poetic appreciation of the group, which was then only in the planning states, see Claude Denis, Explication de toutes les Grottes, Rochers, et Fontaines du Chasteau Royal de Versailles, Maison du Soleil, et de la Menagerie. En vers heroiques (Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Manuscrits: Ms. Fr. 2348), fols. 7-8.
  33. Several historians near the turn of the century, including the comte de Clarac and Henry Jouin, proposed that the third figure is Illussus. See, for example, Inventaire general des richesses d'art de la France: Paris-Monuments civils, 4 vols. (Paris: E. Plon & Cie, 1879-1913), 4: 229. In Simon Thomassin's engraving of 1694, Zephyr raises his left (reversed) arm in defense, contrary to either the marble or the bronzes; his right hand is free and open, not tightened around a clump of drapery.
  34. Girardon represented Cyane, Proserpine's companion, at Pluto's feet (figure 9), while Regnaudin showed Ceres, Saturn's daughter, as the third protagonist in his group (figure 10).
  35. Among others in France, a bronze reduction of the group was owned by Girardon himself. See Francois Souchal, "La Collection du sculpteur Girardon, d'apres son inventaire apres deces," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 82 (1973): 35, no. 5. Paired bronzes of the Pluto and Proserpine and the Rape of the Sabine Woman appeared frequently in eighteenth-century sales. For possible correlations between the Boreas and Orithyia and Pierre Puget's Perseus and Andromeda, a work that arrived at Versailles in 1685 while Flamen was in the midst of his labor, see Francois Souchal, "Anselme Flamen, 'Natif de Saint-Omer,' Sculpteur du Roi," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 91 (1978): 55-56.
  36. For illustrations of these statues, see Souchal, French Sculptors (A-F), pp. 278-92, and Michele Beaulieu, "La Diane d'Anselme Flamne et ses 'Compagnes,'" La Revue du Louvre et des Musees de France 23 (1973): 83-88.
  37. Weigert, op. cit., pp. 232, 259, 260, 263, 275, 278. The small model that Tessin gave to Girardon was lost in a shipwreck before it could reach Sweden. See Tessin's letter of 10 May 1693 to Daniel Cronstrom, published in Roger-Armand Weigert and Carl Hernmarck, Les Relations artistiques entre la France et la Suede, 1693-1718 (Stockholm, 1964), pp. 18-19.
  38. See the Comptes des Batiments, 3:824, 854, and Alfred and Jeanne Marie, Mansart a Versailles, 2 vols. (Paris; J. Freal, 1972), 2: 381.
  39. Archives Nationales: O1 1968. See also Souchal, French Sculptors, (A-F), p. 282, no. 19b.
  40. According to Walter Holzhausen, "Die Bronzen Augusts des Starken in Dresden," Jahrbuch des Preussischen Kunstammlungen 60 (1939): 175-75, the ruler owned three reductions of the Boreas and Orithyia.
  41. Examples include those in the Fogg Art Museum, the Jean Block Collection, and the Wallace Collection (two versions). A bronze of this variety was sold by the Black-Nadeau Gallery to a private collector in 1980. A version at the Musee de Versailles is distinguished by a wingless Boreas and a pedestal of billowing of clouds. The very fine piece in the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas shares important features with some of the larger reductions, such as the marine motifs on the pedestal, the sleeker proportions, and the more vertical poses of Boreas and Orithyia. See Erich Herzog, "A Baroque Allegory in Bronze," Register of the Museum of Art of the University of Kansas 2 (1958): 23-34. The weight of the tall bronze in Minneapolis, 54.5 kg, is more than twice the usual weight of the shorter ones, e.g., the Fogg Art Museum bronze, 22.2 kg; the Wallace Collection bronzes, 30.9 kg. (S169 with its Rococo base) and 26.3 kg (171); and the Spencer Museum of Art bronze, 21.8 kg. For their helpful replies to our inquiries about the weights of the bronzes in these three museums, I would like to thank, respectively, Arthur Beale, John Ingamells, and Marla Prather.
  42. For this bronze (107.5 cm), now in Strasbourg, see Europaische Barockplastik am Niederrhein: Grupello und seine Zeit (Dusseldorf: Kunstmuseum, 1971), p. 368, no. 334. At the same time of his death in 1715, Girardon possessed two bronzes of his group, each 7 pieds in height, including pedestal (Souchal, "La Collection du sculpteur Girardon," p. 84, no. 214; p. 87, no. 230). The bronze of the Pluto and Proserpine appeared in the Salon of 1699 (3 pieds, 3 puces) was accompanied by one of the Cybele and Saturn, but not by one of the Boreas and Orithyia.
  43. The finest examples of this kind stand in the Grunes Gewolbe in Dresden and in a private collection in Paris.
  44. The bronze that Michael Hall Fine Arts recently sold to a private collector most closely approximates the one at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Among the other large reductions, of one type or another, are those in the Louvre, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, and the C. Aubry Collection. For the most current bibliography and references to illustrations, see Europaische no. 349, and The French Bronze: 1500-1800 (New York: M. Knoedler & Co., 1968), nos. 25, 26. In addition to the bronze figured in Aspects of French Academic Art: 1680-1780 (London: Heim Gallery, 1977), no. 22.
  45. Jacques Fischer attributed the bronze to the third quarter of the seventeenth-century (The French Bronze: 1500-1800, no. 25). The sculpture, which consists of five pieces of bronze pinned together, is not inscribed with any foundry marks. Casting wires and heavy bolts, used to secure the base to an inner shell, are also visible inside the work.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. After Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen, Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, 18th century, Bronze, 100.4 cm high, The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 79.20.
  2. After Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen, Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, 18th century, Bronze, 100.4 cm high, The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 79.20.
  3. Gaspard Marsy, French, 1624-1681, and Anselme Flamen, French, 1647-1717, Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas; 1684-87, Marble, 260 cm high, Louvre, Photo: Courtesy of the author.
  4. Israël Silvestre, French, 1621-1691, Plan of Versailles (detail) 1674, Engraving, Photo: Alfred and Jeanne Marie, Naissance de Versailles (Paris: Vincent, Freal & Cie, 1968), 1:pl. 71.
  5. Workshop of Charles Le Brun, Plan for the first Parterre d'Eau (with later additions), Versailles, ca. 1671, Photo: Courtesy of Réunion des Musées Nationaux.
  6. Workshop of Charles Le Brun, Drawing of the Fountain of the Arts, ca. 1671-72, Conceived for the central basin of the first Parterre d'Eau, Versailles, Photo: Courtesy of the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
  7. Liévin Cruyl, French, 1640-1720, View of the chateau and gardens of Versailles from the west, 1683-84, Photo: Courtesy of Reunion des Musees Nationaux.
  8. Charles Le Brun, French, 1619-1690, Drawing of the Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, 1678-79, In preparation for a grisaille in the Salon de Venus, Versailles, ca. 1678-79, Photo: Courtesy of the Albertina.
  9. François Girardon, French, 1628-1715, Abduction of Proserpine by Pluto, 1675-99, Marble, 270 cm high, Orangerie, Versailles, Photo: Courtesy of Photographie Giraudon.
  10. Thomas Regnaudin, French, 1622-1706, Abduction of Cybele by Saturn, 1675-87, Marble, 260 cm high, Louvre, Photo: Courtesy of Photographic Giraudon.
  11. After Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen, Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, 18th century, Bronze, 55.3 cm high, The Wallace Collection, Photo: Reproduced by permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London.
  12. After Gaspard Marsy and Anselme Flamen, Abduction of Orithyia by Boreas, 18th century, Bronze, 107 cm high, Musee de Versailles, Photo: Courtesy of Photographie Giraudon.
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Source: Thomas P. Hedin, "The Parterre d'eau at Versailles: An Eighteenth-Century Recollection," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 65 (1981-1982): 50-65.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009