After Jean-Baptiste PIGALLE
Mercure attachant ses talonnières (Mercury Attaching His Wings)
Bisque porcelain group
Limoges, First Half-20th Century
Height: 44,5 cm (17-1/2 in.)
Minor restorations. Few kiln marks
Ready to pounce from the rock he is seated on, Mercury, the messenger of the gods, attaches his winged sandals. These along with the wings on his helmet and the winged petasus launch him.
The god has a turning glance. The playing on appendages presents varying viewpoints as one walks around the composition. His gesture to attach the heel does not require his attention but it is emphasized by the convergence of his arm and leg. The collective pose, obliquely ascending from his limbs to the shoulder line, face outward and gaze scanning the distant render the dynamic impression that Mercury will soar skyward. The left leg bent backwards and on tiptoe suggests that the god awaits his call to jump off.
The position was maybe inspired by Mercury drawing his sword to kill Argus by Jacob Jordaens (Flemish painter during the 17th century) which was popularized by engraved prints. With the playful diagonal and multiple angles offered by the sculpted in round, Pigalle brings a vitality that transforms the figure of the god in an allegory of speed.
The torso of Mercury is a variation on the Belvedere Torso (Vatican). This ancient marble fragment of a muscular man sitting, fascinated greatly Michelangelo, his followers and admirers. Also unique at the time, though never completed, was a metaphor of Time devouring the works of Genius. It was often symbolized in sculpture such as in the low-relief, The Union of Painting and Sculpture (Louvre) by Jacques Buirette, his reception piece in 1663.
The reception piece
After a stay in Rome (1736-1739) and upon his return to Paris in 1741, Pigalle presented the terra-cotta model of Mercury to be approved at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. According to an anecdote he had almost had to pawn it in order to pay his accommodation during a stay in Lyon. Instead of assigning another subject, the Academy asked for the reception piece in marble which was received July 30, 1744.
Mercury was originally designed as an isolated figure. Yet from 1742, Pigalle partnered him with Venus, who ordered him to search for Psyche, illustrating an episode from The Golden Ass, tale by Latin writer Apuleius (c. 125-170). In 1746, the Royal Administration commissioned him for two marble characters in large format. Completed in 1748, they were given by Louis XV to King Frederick II of Prussia for the park of Sanssouci castle near Berlin.
An immediate and lasting success
The work was an immediate success. Voltaire compared it to the most beautiful Greek antiquity in the Age of Louis XIV (1751). Many artists possessed a copy and it was even represented on their canvases. Pigalle’s friend the painter Chardin used it as a symbol of modern sculpture in Drawing Study (1747 Vanas) and Attributes of the Arts (1766, Minneapolis). A bisque porcelain scale model was made by Sèvres Manufacturing after 1770. The work continued to be carried out by porcelain factories in the 19th and 20th century.
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