Recoiling in shock and horror, the terracotta figure of St. Vincent de Paul stands among the devastations of The Fronde, the civil war which ravaged France from 1648 to 1652. Canonized for his charitable acts toward the poor and suffering during this period, St. Vincent de Paul became especially regarded for his compassion towards foundlings,1
to the extent that during the eighteenth century his human dedication above all else raised him to the venerable position of philosopher. As such, and as one of few French saints, he was selected for inclusion in a series of life-size commemorative statues depicting famous Frenchmen, commissioned in 1775 by the comte d' Angiviller, Director of the Royal Buildings under Louis XVI.2
The large marble statue stands today in the courtyard of the Asile des Enfants Assistés, an orphan's hospital in Paris. A monument to moral virtue as well as to the man who personified it, the statue must be viewed as a testament to the career of a little-studied, but highly important sculptor who executed it between 1786-1798.3
Jean-Baptiste Stouf developed an ample, eloquent style which responded to the clarion call of neo-classicism, and which granted him great success as a portraitist. Its salient characteristics are exemplified in the marble of St. Vincent de Paul,
his first major and better-known work, and the model for it, now in The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.4
Broad, smoothly textured forms, and solid construction give witness to a thorough academic training.5
Yet, it is to Stouf's credit that he allows his training to impose a noble grandeur on the figure without codifying it into static appearance is evoked by the rhythmic draperies and poignant expression. It is significant that in the marble, Stouf changes the pose from one of startled discovery to one of action, in which St. Vincent de Paul has gathered one of the infants into his arms.Endnotes
Referenced Work of Art
- Among his charitable activities was the foundation of children's hospitals.
- These included figures of military, political, and literary heroes by such leading sculptors as Houdon and Pajou.
- For accounts of his career, see Stanislas Lami, Dictionnaire des Sculpteurs de l'école française (Paris, 1911), 4, pp. 344-347, and James D. Draper, "A Statue of the Composer Grétry by Jean-Baptiste Stouf," The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin (May, 1970), pp. 377-387.
- 70.15. The John R. Van Derlip Fund. Terracotta, 18 3/8" (h.).
- A student of Guillaume Coustou the younger, Stouf studied in Rome (1770-1778), and became a member of the Academy in 1785.
- Jean Baptiste Stouf. French, 1742-1826. Maquette for the Statue of St. Vincent de Paul in the Courtyard of the Asile des Enfants Assistés, Paris, ca. 1787. Terracotta, 18 3/8" (h.). The John R. Van Derlip Fund, 70.15.