Probably collection of Chancellor Pierre Séguier (1588-1672), hôtel Séguier, Paris.
Panels removed before 1752.
Sale Sotheby’s, New York, May 19th, 1995, lot 97
Sale, Tajan, June 25th, 1996, lot 42
Great Britain, Private Collection.
Urania and Calliope, oil on oak panel, 79.8 x 125 cm. (31 7/16 x 49 3/16 in.), Washington, National Gallery of Art, inv. 1961.9.61.
Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence, Oil on oak panel, 81 x 100 cm. (31 7/8 x 39 3/8 in.) Paris, musée du Louvre, inv. MI 1119.
Euterpe, Oil on oak panel, 81.3 x 64.3 cm. (32 x 25 5/16, Sale, Sotheby’s New York, January 30th, 2014, lot 113.
Clio, oil on oak panel, 82 x 64 cm. (32 ¼ x 25 3/16 in.) Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle.
Erato, oil on oak panel, 81 x 64 cm. (31 7/8 x 25 3/16 in.) New Orleans Museum of Art, inv. 1998.1.
Thalia, Muse of Comedy, Oil on wood, 85 x 65 cm. (33 7/16 x 25 9/16 in.) current location unknown.
Discovered about twenty years ago, our painting was immediately identified by art historians as part of a group of several paintings depicting the Muses, all painted on oak and sharing the same height, four of them also having the same width. The Muses’ attributes, which especially since Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia had been recurrent, simplified identification: Clio with her trumpet and laurel crown; Thalia to whom two putti present a mask; Euterpe holding a flute; Polyhymnia with pearls in her hair; Urania leaning on a globe; and Calliope with her hand resting on a book. Thanks to the tambourine, Erato, Muse of Lyric and Erotic Poetry, is recognizable in the painting which reappeared in 1990, and finally, Tersichore, Muse of the Dance, with her lyre in our painting. Only Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, remains has not been identified.
Parnassus (Apollo and the Muses) should perhaps be added to this series, for though pained on pine, it has the same height (80 x 221 cm. / 31 ½ x 87 in. Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 707). As was the case for the group of Muses, this large painting was formerly given to Simon Vouet, but now, thanks to Arnaud Brejon de Lavergnée’s work, is attributed to Michel Dorigny. This historian also attributes three muses - Polymnia, Euterpe and Erato – to Vouet’s brilliant student, while suggesting that Dorigny played a greater role in the creation of the group. The comparison with the artist’s sure works dating to before Vouet’s death, such as the decoration of the alcove in the château of Colombes painted in about 1647-1648 and a History of Diana series created for an unknown residence, makes it possible to affirm that our painting is also by his hand.
From a well-off family of royal officers in Saint-Quentin, Michel Dorigny became an apprentice in 1630 in the studio of Georges Lallemant, one of the most prominent artists in Paris. After a probable, but undocumented trip to Italy, he went on to Simon Vouet’s studio who, starting in 1638, entrusted him with engraving seventeen of his important works, a mark of the confidence that he already accorded the young artist. From then on, Dorigny divided his time between reproducing his master’s creations in etchings and engravings, and “painted works,” in which he assumed an active role in several big interior decoration projects which had become the studio’s specialty. In 1648, Dorigny “ordinary painter to the king,” married Jeanne-Angélique, Simon Vouet’s second daughter by his first wife, Virginia da Vezzo.
After his father-in-law died in 1649, the artist continued his own career alone, strengthened by his reputation as a creator of grand decoration schemes. He was employed in several Parisian mansions, including that of Lauzun, his masterpiece, as well as the royal château in Vincennes. On March 3rd, 1663, Dorigny entered the Academy, at the same time as Jean Nocret and Nicolas Mignard, and without presenting a reception piece; The following year, he was promoted to the rank of professor. He died in 1665, in his lodgings in the Louvre which previously had been occupied by Vouet.
Whether or not Parnassus is part of the series, the Muses are very coherent as a group. All are depicted seated, their gaze turned to the viewer and their gestures restrained. Always accompanied by winged putti, the young women comfortably take up the foreground and stand out from an architectural background or dense foliage which opens in front of them onto a distant landscape. Breaking the monotony of the group, each picture has its own composition, varying formats, poses, clothing colors, architectural details, number and placement of the attributes, presence or not of steps. Thus, with identical dimensions to Polyhymnia who is depicted enthroned on a dais, Terpsichore is seated on the ground itself like Urania and Calliope, but appears alone in a landscape, as in Thalia who is in a vertical composition.
Together imbedded in a framework of painted and gilt paneling, the Muses were certainly intended to decorate a precious cabinet or small room in some Parisian mansion, comparable to the Cabinet des Muses in the Lambert Mansion decorated by Eustache Le Sueur in 1752-1653 or the rich ceiling painted by Dorigny in about 1650 for one of the rooms in the Mazarin Palace. If the latter only had two paintings simulating tapestries, the ressemblance between the one depicting Abundance and the Muse series is particularly striking.
Certainly the theme of Muses and of Parnassus was relatively common in interior decoration under Louis XIII – on can cite, for example, the Concert of Muses ceiling painted by Charles Poerson in the Hôtel de l’Arsenal, - but a group of such importance and quality could only have been created for a powerful patron capable of the taste for the classicizing refinement of these paintings. Armand Brejon de Lavergnée rightly noted the mention of the “apartments which were devoted to the Muses” in the description of the Hôtel de Séguier by Germain Brice dating to 1752. One can’t imagine a better setting for the Muses than the magnificent residence of Chancellor Pierre Séguier, collector and patron, who by 1636 had commissioned Simon Vouet to decorate virtually all of the ceremonial rooms. All that remains are a few canvasses and engravings by Dorigny: the monumental frieze of The Adoration of the Magi in the chapel was one of the very first works which Vouet had him engrave.
For this vast undertaking and as was his custom, Vouet, who was solicited on all sides, reserved the important pieces and the direction of the project for himself, while voluntarily leaving the realization of some of the decoration and paintings to his students and collaborators, including Dorigny. The latter rapidly became essential to the studio, on account of his talent as a painter and his ability to blend into the master’s style which, as an engraver, he knew better than anyone. Vouet went so far as to entrust his future son-in-law with the painting of entire decoration projects, such as the stairwell of Louis Hesslin’s mansion, Vouet’s most trusted friend and executor of his will.
The suite of Muses also fits into the studio production as described by Jacques Thuiller in 1990: “It also happened that from the master’s idea, sometimes worked well into the studies of details and even the oil sketch, the execution of the painting was turned over entirely to one or more members of the studio.” The master’s “conduct” here is confirmed by the existence of two autograph drawings: the first for Thalia’s face (black chalk and pastel, Florence, Uffizi, inv. 2463 F) and the second for the figure of Euterpe d’Euterpe.
Comparison with autograph canvases by Vouet also reveals the nature of his intervention: such as the Diana of Hampton Court engraved by Dorigny by 1638 or the Abduction of Europa (oil on canvas, 179 x 141.5 cm. / 5 ft. 2 3/16 x 4 ft. 1 5/8 in. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection) engraved in 1642. In our Terpsichore, the hands with their elongated lightly curved fingers, the vast rigorous draperies with contrasting reflections, the narrow folds in the tunic, the diffused light, the flowers, the refined detai.ls, the “Roman” face of the muse (seemingly a portrait), her pale flesh tones, and the mischievous putti all are undeniably part of Vouet’s language. Nonetheless, this comparison reveals the originality of Dorigny’s art and introduces the inflections of his manner after his master’s death. Dorigny’s figures are broader and rounder, their poses frozen and sculptural. The artist appreciated compositions with ample rhythms and – as in our picture where the figures only take up part of the left side – he plays with the contrast of light and dark masses in order to preserve the equilibrium and calm of the whole composition.
Unusual for Vouet, this arrangement of figures probably comes from the adaptation of a drawing intended for a different format, unless it was audaciously suggested by Dorigny who was anxious to make his mark. As evidence, note that important modifications have become apparent with time: the lyre initially was placed further to the left; the angle of the muse’s head, the sleeve of her tunic, and the wing of the putto seated in the lower left disappeared under draperies. Similarly it is tempting to attribute to the collaborator rather than the master the surprising and somewhat unachieved pose of the muse who poses her left hand on the face of the little completely rosy putto. The latter grips the young woman’s arm and seems unhappy, without rendering the significance of this unprecedented gesture comprehensible; it stands out in this suite of Muses which otherwise perfectly respects classical iconography. Finally, the refined colors playing on nuances of crimson, purple, straw yellow, and sky blue, skillfully combined in the draperies and surrounded by browns and olive greens, are Dorigny’s, as is the light which traverses the flesh and reddens both the tips of Terpsichore’s fingers and the cheeks of the putti holding two frightened white doves.
We would like to thank M. Dominique Jacquot, Chief Curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Strasbourg for having confirmed the attribution of our work.
Bibliography Related to this Work
Arnauld BREJON DE LAVERGNEE, “Une série de Muses de l’atelier de Simon Vouet,” Z. Dobos (dir.), Ex fumo lucem : Baroque studies in honour of Klara Garas presented on her eightieth birthday, Budapest, 1999, vol. I, pp. 167-180, cit. (as Terpsichore by the studio of Simon Vouet) p. 168, fig. 8.
Arnauld BREJON DE LAVERGNEE, “Nouveaux tableaux de chevalet de Michel Dorigny,” S. Loire (dir.), Simon Vouet, Symposium Acts, National Gallery of the Grand Palais, Paris, 1992, pp. 417-433.
Valérie THEVENIAUD, “Michel Dorigny (1617-1665). Approches biographiques,” Bulletin de la Société d’Histoire de l’Art Français, 1982, 1984, pp. 63-67.