Pierre PUGET (Marseille, 1620 – 1694)

Medaillon of Louis XIV presenting a Portrait of Louis XIV in Profile

65 x 66 cm. (25 916 x 26 in.)

Marble from Carrara

Provenance :
• Sotheby’s Sale, Paris, November 5th, 2014, n° 241;
• France, Private Collection.

• Pierre Puget. Peintre, sculpteur, architecte (1620-1694), exh. cat. Marseilles, 1994, pp. 134-135, n° 43.
• Charles Maumené and Louis D’Harcourt, "Iconographie des rois de France," Archives de l’art français, A. Colin, Paris, 1928, pp. 75-76.
• Léon Lagrange, Pierre Puget: peinture – sculpteur – architecte – décorateur de vaisseaux, ed. Didier, Paris, 1868, p. 377, n°75.
• François Souchal, “À propos des portraits de Louis XIV sculptés par Puget,” Provence Historique, 1972, vol. XXIII, fasc. 88, pp. 31-41.
• Ferdinand Servian, Pierre Puget intime, Librarie P. Ruat, Marseille, 1920.
• Klaus Herding, Pierre Puget: das bildnerische Werk, Gebr. Mann, Berlin, 1970.
• Émile Baumann, Pierre Puget, sculpteur (1620-1694), Editions de l’École, Paris, 1949.

Son of a mason and stone-cutter, the young Pierre Puget naturally turned to the art of sculpture at a very young age. His first job, closer to masonry than the cultivation of Fine Arts, led him to a galley builder in the port of Marseilles and revealed his exceptional gift for drawing as well as for handling a chisel.

At 18 years old, Puget arrived in France and was inspired by its antique vestiges. His return to France five years later marked the beginning of his glory, which the most eminent sculptors such as Bernini (Naples, 1598 – Rome, 1680) quickly recognized: “I don’t understand why anyone calls me to France when they have an artist such as Puget.” (1) In 1661, Puget went to Italy, to Genoa, for a second time where he stayed seven years. This sojourn made it possible for him to completely absorb the spirit of the Old Masters and ingeniously apply their know-how to his work.

The remarkable quality of our work leaves little place for doubt as to its authorship. The supremacy of the Sun King’s reign gave birth to numerous effigies which were painted, engraved, and also sculpted : the model of Puget’s medallion was a real success which caused the artist to realize several versions, of which one seems to have been intended for his own personal collection: “his collection is not without importance, as of the number of works by his hand, a Louis XIV (marble medallion) is noticeable (…)” (2) The large number of commissions have led certain specialists to hypothesize studio participation in the realization of certain pieces, despite the existence of neither manuscript evidence nor actual convincing visible physical imprint.

Evidence of personal allegiance to the monarch, a private (from parlementary circles), or official commission (means of substitution of the king’s presence in the provinces), the contexte of the realization of this work remains unknown. In the different named inventories, the versions of medallions depicting a profile of the Louis XIV are only briefly described and have approximately all the same dimensions (when mentioned), facts which render tracing provenance even more complex. Three extant versions are known, of which one is conserved in the Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence, purchased by the city in 1827, and the other in the Lambinet Museum in Versailles. The third version, preciously conserved in the Museum of Marseilles, was given to the city in 1856. It was considered until now as the artist’s only autograph version, because it is signed, “PUGET SCP,” whereas Klaus Herding’s 1971 publication mentions: “Lagrange knew other replicas now lost, of which certain bore Puget’s signature.”(3) In any case, the refined handling of the surfaces, the imaginative use of the sculptor’s tools, especially the trepan for the hair and the chisel in the scoring under the right shoulder, as well as the minutiae in details are proof of a unity in execution which brings our medallion very close to the one conserved in the Marseilles Museum.

Despite the fact that it was apparently made during his fully mature period, at the artist’s height of glory, the specialists do not agree on the exact dating of the work. It would seem to have been produced after 1680, that is, between 1784 and 1688. The king would have been between 46 and 50 years old, a convincing estimate in view of his famous physical characteristics, such as the heavy eloquent face with a double chin, as well as the lack of a mustache which the king shaved in that period. The bust of the king shows lace bow ties falling elegantly over the cuirass and the scarf of the Order of the Holy Spirit. Although frozen in stone, the imposing curled wig caught in the wind slips across the bust, and thus brings movement to the composition in striking contrast to the restraint and stoicism of the face.

Opinions differ as to the process for realizing the model. In fact, this depiction of the monarch, which is considered very faithful, is rare among sculptors from the second half of the century : the majority of them worked from medals whose wig featured large imposing curls which don’t exist in the painted portraits. Nonetheless it seems that Puget had the honor of encountering the king. In his work of 1949, Emile Baumann declares: “one thing is certain: Puget knew Louis XIV very well; because the marble medallion he sculpted of his profile supposed an attentive study of the sitter. He did not seek to flatter him; he evokes him as he is in the face incrusted in his memory: the heavy jowls, the long curve of the nose which lightens them, the mouth’s proud pout, and expression of sensual satiation, a majesty in the carriage of the head which does not exclude mansuetude, a gazing down from above, a salient eye, less perspicacious than imperious. The cravat knot, the embroidery on the clothing, the wig, everything has the character of direct verity.”(4)

Exceptional evidence of the artist’s genius pushing back the physical limits of marble, this medallion also is a reminder of the great success of the revival of Antique style ornamentation in the second half of the century. In depicting the monarch in profile in a medallion, Puget thus glorifies the sovereign by associating him with emperors and antique heroes, and inscribes the kingdom of France in the line of Roman powers in perennial fashion.

transl. chr

We would like to thank Ms. Genevieve Bresc-Bautier for havig authenticated the work, with the possibility of studio participation.

(1) Ferdinand Servian, Pierre Puget intime, Librarie P. Ruat, Marseille, 1920, p. 14
(2) Ferdinand Servian, op.cit., p. 26
(3) Klaus Herding, Pierre Puget: das bildnerische Werk, Gebr. Mann, Berlin, 1970, p. 196.
(4) Emile Baumann, Pierre Puget, Sculptor (1720-1694), Editions de l’Ecole, Paris, 1949, p. 130.

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