The subject of the painting.
of the painting, which presents Venus and Cupid playing music, is quite a
traditional one. Iconography of the scene rendered by Lagrenée is in a way
pretentious: Cupid needs neither bow nor arrows, to arouse amorous languor he
can just play lyre. The artist has placed the idyllic scene within a landscape.
Despite the fact that Venus has taken the bow and arrows from Cupid, the sweet
sounds of lyre, which he draws out of the instrument, appear to be the true
weapon of love directly hitting the heart. Lyre is an emblem of art, by which
music hurting human hearts and causing the most delicate feelings is courteously
praised in the painting. The composition of the work makes the influence of
François Boucher (1703–1770), whose creativity strongly impressed upon
Lagrenée’s choice of images, clearly evident. Venus and Cupid are shown seated
under large trees. Through their thick greens far in the distance the sky-blue
heavens are seen. Bright light streams from a spectator’s side illumining the
figures set in the foreground, which is quite characteristic of the painter.
Lagrenée skilfully paints the drapery of Cupid’s and Venus’ cloaks that are
falling in fairly curved folds. The general composition, the arrangement of
masses and even colouring entirely agree with refinement of the Rococo style
with its exquisite taste – lines of the lyre and the bow have much in common
with those of the drapery outline and the contours of the beautifully set
figures. Both, the idea and the manner of the painting point to the fact that it
was assigned for palace interiors. Only connoisseurs in classical mythology are
able to catch the subtle implication of the subject. More than that – the due
understanding of the painting implies a highly educated spectator, who is
concerned with not only classical, but mediaeval culture as well. For instance,
Venus and Cupid playing music are pictured in Daniel Hopfer’s (1470–1536)
etching Luxuria (Bartsch VIII, 485, No 46). A late mediaeval artist, he
presented the theme of Venus and Cupid, who had left his bow and taken up a lute,
as devilry. The goddess of love is surrounded with evil forces, while the devil
playing long flute to make up a duet with Cupid, visually corresponds to him.
Daniel Hopfer’s etching is plainly emblematic: naked Venus and Cupid eliciting
sweet sounds of love from his musical instrument present the allegory of lechery,
one of the Seven deadly sins. Lev Tolstoy’s story The Kreuzer Sonata is
unwittingly recalled reminding us of the opinion, which, on the assumption of
mediaeval Christian doctrines, the great 19th century writer stuck to
interpreting music as the source of sinful lust. Lagrenée, a French artist of
the 18th century, is far from being an obscure moralist. His painting is on the
one hand ideal, and on the other hand sensual hymn to the cult of love, music
and eternally beautiful Nature.
Lagrenée’s authorship is proved not only by his original signature, but also by the fact that the painter himself mentioned this very canvas in his autographic list of his works, first hand-written, and then published (Goncourt E. de. Lagrenée l’aine. // L’Art. 1877. IV. P. 138, No 6. The edition of Lagrenée’s autographic catalogue). The final digit of the date put on the painting Cupid Playing Lyre for Venus Who is Holding His Bow and Arrows, is hardly read – it looks like either “5” or “6”. The autographic list of Lagrenée’s works lacks the dates of their creation. Still, Lagrenée undoubtedly enumerated the works according to the chronology of their sale, starting from 1755, i. e. after his return from Rome (op. cit.: “État des tableux fait par Monsieur Lagrenée depuis son retour de Rome”). This work makes it clear that the artist has visited Rome and got acquainted with the Baroque painting and antique works in relief. The discussed painting set to the examination was executed by the painter to the order of his steady customer M. Paris de Montmartel, the banker, who paid 600 livres for the canvas (op. cit.). It is known that the painting was presented at the 1755 Paris Salon under No 127, but the critics of the time paid no attention to it, and, according to M. Sandoz, the present-day residence of the piece is unknown (Sandoz M. Les Lagrenée. Louis Jean François Lagrenée, l’aine. Paris. 1983. P. 166, No 17). The scholars have found out that the earlier numbers of Lagrenée’s list were given to the paintings dating back to the period about 1755, while the works mentioned after No 6 were presented at the Salon of 1757. Therefore, it seems perfectly convincing that the autographic date on the painting should be read as 1755. Apart from the artist’s signature, technical and technological peculiarities of painting speak well of the canvas’ authenticity. The said specific features become clear when the work is compared to other doubtless works by Lagrenée, particularly those held by the State Hermitage museum (see: Немилова И. С. Французская живопись XVIII века в Эрмитаже. Научный каталог. Л., 1982. С. 198–199, № 169 – Filial Love of a Roman Daughter (Charitas), inv. ГЭ 3698; С. 200, № 170 – Allegory of Charity, inv. ГЭ 8291). The prime is laid on the canvas exactly in concordance with technology that was customary in France in the first half of the 18th century (see: the Conclusion on the structure and the staff of the painted layer of the picture given by L. S. Gavrilenko, senior research assistant of the Laboratory of physical and chemical material researching of the State Hermitage Department for scientific and technical examination).
The painting brought to the examination is an outstanding work of art, and with no doubt should be recognised as a piece worthy of a museum collection.
Беренштам Ф. Г. Из записной книги Лагрене старшего. // «Старые годы». 1911, июль – сентябрь.
Государственный Русский музей. Живопись. XVIII век. Каталог. Т. I. СПб., 1998. С. 101.
Государственная Третьяковская галерея. Каталог собрания. Живопись XVIII–XIX веков. Т. 2. М., 1998. С. 132.
Горленко Я. В. Живописец Лагрене в России // «Русский архив». Кн. 3. 1891.
Яремич С. П. Русская академическая художественная школа в XVIII веке. М.-Л., 1934.
Аn expert art historical examination is undertaken, and the opinion composed on four pages
by Alice A. Mezentseva,
applicant for the PhD degree
at the Russian Academy of Fine Arts,
The Repin State Academic Institute
for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture,
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