Description & Technical information
This vibrant small statuette of Neptune derives from a model that formed part of a set of six images of gods and goddesses commissioned from Michel Anguier in 1652 by Pierre Le Tessier de Montarsy. In 1690 they were described by Guillet de Saint-Georges, the first historian of the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, with the evocative titles of ‘a thundering Jupiter, a jealous Juno, an agitated Neptune, a tranquil Amphitrite, a melancholy Pluto, … and a weeping Ceres’. The sculptor was said to have intended the series of deities to correspond to a hierarchy of emotions; three mythological couples conceived with distinctive temperaments characterised by one of the four elements. The images were created as pairs to represent the elements of air (Jupiter and Juno), water (Neptune and Amphritite) and earth (Pluto and Ceres), with the fourth element of fire lacking. A Mars also mentioned by Saint-Georges did not form part of the group. The original set of six bronzes was sold in 1689 to Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1651 –1710). The earliest record of individual bronzes cast after these models are the Amphitrite, Jupiter and Juno given in 1693 by André Le Nôtre to Louis XIV, now in the Musée du Louvre (Inv. O.A. 11897).
Michel Anguier (c. 1612-1614 – 1686) was born in Eu, Normandy (now Seine-Maritime) and apprenticed to his father, Honoré, a woodworker, before moving to Paris to join the workshop of Simon Guillain around 1629 – 1633. He was one of a number of artists who moved to Rome where, for ten years from 1641, he assisted the leading sculptors of the day, Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi.
Anguier received the commission for this series of gods and goddesses after returning to Paris in 1651. From 1655 to 1657 he was employed in the decoration of Anne of Austria’s apartments in the Louvre, modelled on Pietro da Cortona’s decorations in the Pitti Palace in Florence. He later worked at Vaux-le-Vicomte, the château of Louis XIV’s minister Nicolas Fouquet, near Melun, with Charles Le Brun and André Le Nôtre. Anguier’s most important commission, completed in 1667, was the decoration of the Church of Val-de-Grâce in Paris, to which he contributed reliefs and a marble nativity group for the high altar (1665), now in the Church of Saint-Roch in Paris. His reliefs for the triumphal arch of the Porte Saint-Denis, executed in a severely classical style, were completed in 1674. Anguier’s brother François was also a noted sculptor and between 1648 and 1652 the two collaborated on a tomb for Henri II, duc de Montmorency at Moulins.
In his later years, Anguier lectured at the Académie Royale on a variety of subjects, notably including different expressions of anger (1675) and depicting gods through their temperaments (1676). He was not known as a bronze maker and it is possible that he turned to a specialist founder to assist with reproducing his models as his large-scale commissions declined later in his life. Although his career was occupied with such commissions, Anguier was noted for the excellence of his small models.
In this exquisite petite bronze the god of the sea is shown striding forward and, like Gianlorenzo Bernini’s marble Neptune and Triton, completed for Cardinal Montalto’s villa in Rome (in its original location until 1786, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Inv. no. A18-1950, and clearly the inspiration for the model), appears to represent the so-called ‘Quos Ego’ (‘Whom I’) from Virgil’s Aeneid (I. 35). During the war between the Trojans and Greeks, the goddess Juno used the god of the winds to stir up a storm to kill the retreating Trojans. Neptune, angered by this intervention, calmed the waves by brandishing his trident and issuing the unfinished threat:
‘Winds, do you dare, without my intent, to mix earth with sky, and cause such trouble, now? You whom I – ! ... But it’s better to calm the running waves: you’ll answer to me later for this misfortune, with a different punishment.’
Neptune’s chariot was drawn by hippocamps or sea-horses, one of which writhes between his legs.
The early versions of these bronzes, possibly cast in the 1660s or 1670s, incorporated hexagonal bases and Neptune’s genitals were covered with flowing drapery, closer to Bernini’s marble. Our version, with the square base and exposed genitals, suggests that it is a subsequent cast of around 1670 – 1690, or possibly later, when the model had been adjusted.
Eight larger bronzes of Neptune are known measuring approximately 54 cm in height including the plinth (see, eg., the versions in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Inv. no. A206-1946, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Acc. no. 2001.41.1, and the later cast in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc. no. 14.40.691). A fewer number of smaller editions, in addition to the present work, are known, each measuring between 25 cm and 35 cm.
The image of the ‘Agitated’ Neptune is the most powerful and overly Baroque of Anguier’s gods. Striding over the waves, the deity stills the oceans, his head turned to the right and tilted downward. He looks over his shoulder, his right arm holding a fold of drapery. His left leg forward, he strides a hippocamp which rises from the rectangular base modelled as the waves. Strongly chased and with a dark to light brown patina and highlights, the present cast is a superb example of French Baroque master craftsmanship.
Date: Late 17th century
Period: 1600-1750, 17th century
Origin: France, Paris
Medium: Bronze, Fully integrated base
Dimensions: 25.5 x 10.7 x 9.2 cm (10 x 4¹/₄ x 3⁵/₈ inches)
Provenance: Hampel, Munich, 23 May 1992, lot 540 (as by Michel Anguier)
Private collection, Germany
Literature: I. Wardropper, ‘Michel Anguier: The Bronzes’ in G. Bresc-Bautier, G. Scherf and J. D. Draper (eds), Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution, exhibition catalogue (Musée du Louvre Editions, Somogy Art Publishers, Paris, 2009), pp. 204-225, esp. pp. 208-209, cat. 56
I. Wardropper, ‘Michel Anguier's Bronze Series of Gods and Goddesses: a Re-examination’ in Marsyas, Vol. XVIII (Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, New York 1976), pp. 23-36, pl. VIII, fig. 9
G. Bresc-Bautier, ‘Le Petit Bronze’. Un temps d'exubérance. Les arts décoratifs sous Louis XIII et Anne d'Autriche, exhibition catalogue (Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 2002), pp. 422-433
O. Raggio, 'Sculpture in the Grand Manner: Two groups by Auguier and Monnot' in Apollo, Vol. 106, no. 189 (Press Holdings Ltd, London, November, 1977), p. 368, fig. 12
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