It should not be very surprising that Jacques Lacombe characterized François Marot’s art by saying, “he worked in the manner of his master” Charles de la Fosse, in that many students who frequented the studio of a great artist (Vouet, Le Brun, Boucher, or David) saw their production confused with and lost under a mistaken label. New knowledge about the works and artists makes it possible to rediscover these secondary hands that historiography has not always spared to the point that Marot was only described as a “vulgar imitator.” However recent studies have fortunately contributed to distinguishing him from La Fosse and seen in him – certainly the most important of the followers – a painter who is identifiable by sometimes rounder forms and livelier coloring which augur the new generation of painters such as Antoine Coypel and Carle Van Loo.
Marot, born in about 1666 in Paris, thus frequented Charles de La Fosse’s studio after an apprenticeship under his father. His early production is not known and with the exception of one painting, his sure works are dated with difficulty. In 1702, he submitted his reception piece to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, The Fruits of the Ryswick Peace, an allegorical composition showing Apollo bringing Peace to the Heavens accompanied by Abundance to Favor Science and the Arts (Tours, Museum of Fine Arts). Old sources make it thus possible to clearly recognize certain religious or mythological pictures (thus Latona and the Peasants of Lycia for the Grand Trianon) which have more acidic coloring than works by La Fosse.
Following studies on the latter artist, new attributions to Marot based on stylistic considerations have been possible, such as the luminous Bacchus and Ariadne which recently was on the art market. From a corpus of a few dozen pictures, a characteristic which thus emanates is that Marot seems to have appreciated scenes of the loves of the gods or what would become elegant amorous mythology under François Boucher. In the process, he tended to bypass very large formats and religious subjects.
However Marot’s drawings remain difficult to apprehend. Some could be attributed to him, either because they were preparatory to his reception piece, or because they bear an old viable inscription. A certain talent of this “calmer La Fosse” can be recognized in these drawings. Overall compositions by Marot are even rarer, but he enjoyed imagining figure groupings in thick outlines without really being interested in their surroundings. His drawings of isolated figures follow the same idea but with a more finished appearance and a sure unmistakable line where La Fosse would have been quicker and more nervous.
The subject, taken from Jerusalem Delivered, an epic poem written by Tasso in 1581, was to be of renewed interest throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, from Poussin to Tiepolo, via La Fosse. The moment depicted, which comes from canto XIV, is when Armida the magician prepares to kill the Christian knight Renaud while he is sleeping. Marot has not clearly drawn the dagger which she is to hold, but her momentum slowed by a cupid and her closed hand reveal the intended action: she wants to kill Renaud. However “from enemy she becomes lover,” as the text implies, and Armida finally falls in love, resigns herself to it, and finishes by leading her lover to an island. François Marot thus follows the text with a certain rigor.
La Fosse’s formula is perceptible elsewhere in the drawing we present: such compositions placed on a long diagonal were very much appreciated by artists in about 1700. The couples Diana and Endymion, Venus and Mars, Bacchus and Ariadne, or Renaud and Armida, as here, could adapt perfectly to this layout, one reclining and the other coming upon him or her. The master’s preparatory study for Renaud and Armida conserved in the Snite Museum of Art even seems to be Marot’s reference for the posture and corresponding physical type of his subject, though placed in the opposite direction. The knight is reclining and half off his shield, one leg bent, the head round with thick features bent backwards with mouth half-open, in a manner which evokes a picture of the same subject by La Fosse which is conserved at Basildon Park.
The drawing has many points in common with the preparatory drawing for The Fruits of the Ryswick Peace for which Marot used red chalk with a thick line for outlines which becomes finer and lighter in the areas marked in circular strokes. Thus he drew Renaud whose robust contours are in contrast to the handling of the cuirass with its lightly sketched sanguine fish-scale markings. Similarly, the handling of Armida’s right thigh reveals an initial sketch in black chalk which is still visible through the fluid drapery swept along by the forward movement of the young woman whom the cupid tries to stop. This same black chalk base can be found, as in the previously cited drawing where it is possible to discern an adroitly and rapidly sketched landscape. As in the Bacchus and Ariadne, the group is placed outdoors and balances the composition which opens into the distance. The draughtsman can also be recognized in certain details, such as the clenched hand with tapered fingers and Armida’s thin wrist in contrast to a rounded forearm, as in Apollo and the Allegory of History in the lower right of the composition in the painting at Tours.
Although it is not possible to suggest a date on account of an oeuvre that is still not very well known – at least during his active years, the period of 1690-1719, - it is quite probable that our drawing was preparation for an easel painting which was the artist’s specialty. It is not possible to identify works on this subject from the rare old mentions of Marot in sales catalogues where they could have passed under the name of “Master of Moderns.”
General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Clémentine GUSTIN-GOMEZ, Charles de La Fosse, 1636-1716. Le maître des Modernes, Dijon, Faton, 2006, 2 vol.
François MARANDET, “Dans le sillage de La Fosse: François Marot (1666-1719), peintre d’histoire,” Cahiers d’histoire de l’art, no 8, 2010, pp. 41-47.