(Saint-Quentin, 1617 - Paris, 1663)

Venus and Adonis

98.5 x 78.5 cm (38 ¾ x 30 78 in.)
c. 1640 Huile sur toile

• Paris Sale, November 12th, 1814, lot 48 (attributed to Simon Vouet, Départ d’Adonis pour la chasse, 39.8 inches by 26.9 inches, about 101 by 68.3 centimeters) (Departure of Adonis for the Hunt).
• Acquired by François-Simon-Alphonse Giroux (1775-1848), Paris.
• His Sale, Paris, Hôtel de Bullion, November 24th-26th, 1818, lot 137 (Simon Vouet, Vénus faisant tous ses efforts pour retenir Adonis partant pour la chasse. Des amours environnent le jeune chasseur pour s’opposer à son départ, 37 inches by 30 inches, so about 93 by 73 cm). (Venus doing everything she can to keep Adonis from leaving for the hunt. Cupids around the young hunter trying to block his departure).
• Acquired by François Heim Gallery, Paris, in the 1990s.
• France, Private Collection.

Dorigny and Vouet
Born into a distinguished family in Saint-Quentin, Michel Dorigny embraced painting as a vocation. In February 1630, he entered into a five year apprenticeship under Georges Lallemand, one of the most well-known painters in Paris. He next frequented Vouet’s studio and by 1638, made his presence known with seventeen etchings by Dorigny after paintings by the master chosen by Vouet himself. These included two ovals, Venus and Mars and Venus and Adonis which had a poetic finesse characteristic of a painter rather than an engraver. In fact, the reproduction of his master’s and future father-in-law’s works constituted only part of Dorigny’s activities, as he was mainly occupied with “works of painting.” The young artist also participated in many of Vouet’s undertakings in decoration, as much with drawing studies as brushed ones, but he also furnished a good number of easel paintings destined to embellish rich Parisian dwellings.

Scenes or Series with Venus and Diana

It’s not suprising that Dorigny’s first production was strongly marked by Vouet’s influence. The series of five paintings of the History of Diana, dated by Arnauld Brejon de La Vergnée to before Vouet’s death in 1648 and conserved in the Museum of the Petit Palais and in private hands come to mind. Two of these paintings are oval like Vouet’s Venus and their execution is very fine and close to the master’s: Diana and Actaeon and Diana’s Departure. With their lively sparkling light, saturated colors, and heavy voluminous figures, Pan and Diana, and Latona with Apollo and Diana can, in fact, be favorably be compared with our work which was almost certainly realized during the same period.

Like the Diana series, our picture had a decorative vocation and was intended to embellish a grand Parisian mansion. It is not impossible that it was also part of a series which would have had, for example, a theme of the Gods of Olympus. However in the actual state of our research, none of Dorigny’s extant paintings seem to constitute a pendant for Venus and Adonis.

The Story
The story taken from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (X, 519-739), describes both the power and limits of love. Venus, struck with passion for the superb hunter, renounces celestial pleasures and, with “her clothing caught up to her knee,” wanders through the woods in order to be near her lover. She fears the dangers of the hunt and warns the beautiful young man about the wild beasts. But the love which had succeeded in transforming the goddess proves to be powerless to change Adonis. His passion for hunting overrides his feelings: he pursues a wild boar which wounds him, and he dies in Venus’ arms.

Our Painting
By depicting this famous theme in his turn, Dorigny was in all likelihood inspired by two paintings by Vouet which he engraved in 1638: Venus and Adonis and Venus and Mars. From the first, he borrowed the goddess’ desperate embrace seen partially from behind and Adonis’ impatience to be off, that is, the body language which Vouet had taken from Titian’s canvas painted for Philip II. In a letter to his royal patron, Titian explained the audacious choice of depicting Venus from the back by the desire to give variety to the king’s large collection of nudes. As for Vouet’s second painting, Venus and Mars, Dorigny imagined a bed of gilded wood and heavy red drapery, whereas even Ovid situated the scene in a forest in an improvised resting place at the foot of a poplar.

Furthermore, our work seems to be equally indebted to the Venus at her Toilette realized by Vouet in about 1640: one sees the same saturation of space, similar predominance of reds and lapis-lazuli blues, comparable liveliness in all the figures, and gestures which are sometimes very similar. Nonetheless, our picture remains completely unrelated to the new version of Venus and Adonis which the master made in about 1642, and which Dorigny engraved a year later (J. Paul Getty Museum, oil on canvas, 132.7 x 96.5 cm. / 4 ft 4 ¼ in. x 3 ft. 2 in., inv. 71.PA.19). Vouet preferred the moment when Venus narrated the story of Atalanta to Adonis: the young man is all ears and the goddess not yet the least worried. This fact makes it possible to situate our canvas early in Dorigny’s career, in the very early 1640’s when, although strongly influenced by Vouet, he already appeared as a painter with his own style.

The artist interprets the myth through movement. A whirlwind agitates hair and leaves in trees, inflates the red curtain which releases winged cherubs, wraps the orangey drapery around Adonis’ body, but lets the goddess’ blue tunic flow in a stream across the dazzling whiteness of her lower back. Light traverses the fabrics and flesh, tints the shadows, and produces reddish reflections on Venus’ face and the cherubs’ bodies. More than Vouet, Dorigny liked story-telling. His Adonis is vigorous and resolute, with firm gestures and half-open mouth as if he were talking to his loved one. Venus is supplicating, uneasy, but also powerless. In a determined but useless effort, Cupid tries to hold the young hunter back, while the dogs pant impatiently. A pentimento made visible by the thinning of the pictorial layers shows that the dog’s head originally was in a different position, his muzzle touched Adonis’ hand. The animal now stares at Venus’ face and makes the scene even more intense.


We would like to thank M. Dominique Jacquot, Head Curator of the Strasbourg Musée des Beaux-Arts for having confirmed the attribution of our work after first-hand examination. The picture will be included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné being prepared by M. Damien Tellas (Paris-Sorbonne University).

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work)
Arnauld BREJON DE LAVERGNEE, "Nouveaux tableaux de chevalet de Michel Dorigny," S. Loire (dir.), Simon Vouet, Colloquium acts, 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, years 1982, 1984, pp. 63-67.

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