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Venus and Adonis Departing for the Hunt
(Jacques Blanchard)

Description

Venus and Adonis Departing for the Hunt

Circa 1631-2

As it is so often the case with Blanchard, the subject of this picture is delightfully self-evident. It is taken from Ovid and illustrates the moment that the goddess, begging Adonis not to leave her for the hunt, knowing that he will never return, entreats a kiss from her reluctant and very mortal lover. This is a rare treatment of an episode in the Loves of Venus and Adonis, as the couple are usually shown on their return from the hunt, and the idea that Blanchard may have been inspired by Shakespeare’s popular poem , published in 1593 is tempting. Here, as in Shakespeare, Venus clings vainly to her the youth, pleading him not to leave for the hunt with its dangers. Adonis, exasperated and impatient for sport, tears himself away and is found the next morning gored by a boar. Venus curses love and vows that to those who love truly and best (like her) love will only bring sorrow; ergo, love and pain are inseparable. Ovid’s myths of causation had been popular subjects for at least a century before, but in the Paris of René Descartes, they enjoyed particular appreciation.

Although, the picture’s lack of provenance prevents it from a definitive identification with the documented decoration of the hôtel Le Barbier, a Venus and Adonis does appear there mentioned as no. 6 in the list of square pictures forming part of the decoration. On stylistic grounds, the picture ought to be associated with this lost decoration; there are no other works currently known of ‘presque carre’ format as described by Dézallier d’Argenville which might fit into this cycle. The square format of the painting and its intended low view point makes it virtually certain that this too, like the Bravo Disturbing a Sleeping Nymph was intended as part of a decorative scheme. Richard Beresford has also kindly stated his opinion that the painting might be associated with the hôtel Le Barbier. Moreover, Dr Beresford pointed out that the Venus and Adonis departing for the Hunt, is consistent in subject matter with another work which he associates with the hôtel Le Barbier, a Diana and Endymion, currently in a French private collection. The latter picture would appear to have been, according to Dézallier d’Argenville’s description, one of the eight ‘upright’ compositions.

The lack of concrete documentary evidence aside, on stylistic grounds the painting fits to exactly this moment of the artist’s development during the mid-1630s. It should be compared with the Louvre Charité of 1633 in the treatment of both the flesh and the draperies, and the muscular structure of Adonis with his unusually stocky figure seems to derive from a model similar to those figures as seen in the Flagellation. In its lyrical aspects, and sense of romantic tension, the picture also approaches the Nancy Bacchanal of 1636.

Throughout the picture, Blanchard’s silvery blue/yellow colour scheme so often employed by Vouet, is given greater subtlety, both in hue and texture, and has none of the metallic effect Vouet used to great effect in his own. Indeed, the picture beautifully illustrated Blanchard mastery of texture, both in drapery, and flesh tones. It is here that we see Blanchard’s great admiration of and debt to his Venetian experience. The ruddy tones of Adonis, contrasted with Venus’s milky white skin, a characteristic less obvious in French painting of the time, was, however the stock in trade of Titian and Titianesque Venetian painters in general. Blanchard simply could not have painted this picture without a thorough knowledge and appreciation of Titian’s mature work. Nevertheless, Blanchard has avoided slavish imitation of Titian’s final period, balancing the opulence and eroticism inherent in the subject with an intimacy of mood and composition, which is strongly reminiscent of Paolo Veronese’s four magnificient allegories in National Gallery in London.

That we can detect faint but clear echoes of the Fontainebleau schools in the work is unsurprising; like so many of his contemporaries, Blanchard could not help but be informed by these earlier painters. This is evident in the figures’ attenuated joints, and the  stylisation of the hair and costumes, which reflect some residual influences of the Fontainebleau artists (most obviously Primaticcio and Amboise Dubois) and of the French mannerists in general. However, Blanchard’s main inspiration for the painting is plainly Michelangelo’s ignudo from the Sistine ceiling whose pose is echoed in Adonis and  Titian’s composition, which by the first quarter of the 17th century had been disseminated in countless workshop copies and print versions. But while Blanchard’s formal debt to Titian may be obvious, his own ambitions for the subject appear to have been very different. Instead of trying to imitate Titian’s complex and considerably larger composition – which, in any case would have been unsuitable to his specific decorative purpose – Blanchard focuses tightly on the lovers. Indeed, so much so that his composition is almost solely dependent on their anatomy. Their intimacy is emphasised by a complete lack of recession, or horizon line. They are anchored at the very front of the picture plane by the crude Cyclopian masonry they sit upon. This is contrasted with the thick tree trunk winding sinuously behind them, suggesting their eventual division. The landscape itself is communicated with barely more than two feathery scrims of foliage. Venus’s yearning and Adonis’s attendant lack of pity is beautifully captured by the kinetic interplay of their limbs and draperies. Equally, while Venus appears almost weightless with abandon, Adonis’s resolution is plain in his clenched right hand, and firmly planted left foot; he is braced against her embrace.

The painting’s strongly baroque rhythm of interlocking limbs is characteristic of the Venetian school, but was achieved by only a few northern artists, Rubens being the most successful in this regard. It is interesting to note in fact just how similar Blanchard’s Venus and Adonis is to Rubens’s painting of the same subject, which he, in turn had based on Titian’s picture in the Prado. Our picture is most likely at least three years earlier than Rubens’s, so it is debatable who inspired whom, if at all, but the compositional similarities are remarkable. Both works depict the lovers caught in the same vain embrace, both pictures include the upright figure of Cupid to elude to the central theme of love and its stings, and to serve as a formal device which emphasises the strong intersecting diagonals of the lovers. Rubens picture was painted in his later career, when he was settled in Antwerp, so any possibility that Rubens was inspired Blanchard’s picture, would depend on an engraving after it, and at present none exists.

Far from being an empty scene of baroque rhetoric, Venus and Adonis Departing for the Hunt with its deliberate sensuality and dramatic tension is a true epyllion, a sort of erotic elegy. In this painting, Blanchard working within this very narrow remit of decorative painting achieves that delicate balance between the poetic and the sensual, which is one of the delights of the baroque.

Metamorphoses, Book 10.
In Shakespeare’s words the scene is described thus:
“Fondling,” she saith, “since I have hemm’d thee here
Within the circuit of this ivory pale,
I’ll be a park, and thou shalt be my deer;
Feed where thou wilt, on mountain or in dale:
Graze on my lips; and if those hills be dry,
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.”
The poem appeared later that year in a quarto edition, published and printed by Richard Field, a Stratford-upon-Avon man and a close contemporary of Shakespeare. Field released a second quarto in 1594, then transferred his copyright to John Harrison (“the Elder”), the stationer who published the first edition of The Rape of Lucrece, also in 1594. Subsequent editions of Venus and Adonis were in octavo format rather than quarto; Harrison issued the third edition (O1) probably in 1595, and the fourth (O2) in 1596 (both of Harrison’s editions were printed by Field). The poem’s copyright then passed to William Leake, who published two editions (O3, O4) in 1599 alone, with perhaps four (O5, O6, O7, and O8) in 1602. The copyright passed to William Barrett in 1617; Barrett issued O9 that same year. Five more editions appeared by 1640 — making the poem, with 16 editions in 47 years, one of the great popular successes of its era. Shakespeare developed this basic narrative into a poem of 1194 lines. His chief innovation was to make Adonis refuse Venus’s offer of herself. Erwin Panofsky argued that Shakespeare might have seen a copy of Titian’s ‘Venus and Adonis’, a painting that could be taken to show Adonis refusing to join Venus in embraces. But Shakespeare’s plays already showed a liking for activist heroines, forced to woo and pursue an evasive male (see The Two Gentlemen of Verona). The other innovation was a kind of observance of the ‘Aristotelian’ unities: the action takes place in one location, lasts from morning till morning, and focuses on the two main characters. Wikipedia, Venus and Adonis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_and_Adonis/Shakespeare_poem (accessed 4/2/08).

R. Beresford, Priv. comm., 17 January 2008, ‘I think your Venus and Adonis is an earlier picture and comes from the Hôtel le Barbier’.
Thuillier, op. cit. cat. no. 47, p. 170-172, illus.
(R. Beresford, 2008, email, 7 February).
Rubens had seen Titian’s picture in 1628-9 and had made a copy. Venus and Adonis, mid- or late 1630s, oil on canvas; with added strips, 77 3/4 x 95 5/8 in. (197.5 x 242.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of At, New York, Gift of Harry Payne Bingham, 1937 (37.162)
An identification proposed

Measurements
128 x 136 cm (50 ½ x 53 ½ in)
Type
Oil on canvas
Provenance

French Private Collection, SW France

Literature

The Matthiesen Gallery, Myth and Allegory, London 2008, in particular pp 20-25

Guillaume Kazerouni, Jacques Blanchard au Musée des Beaux Arts de Rennes, 2015; Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Collector’s Exhibition 2016, 2016, pp. 6-8.

Exhibited

“Amanti. Storie di Passioni Divine e Umane” at Casa delle Esposizioni di Illegio (Tolmezzo, UD) from 21.05. to 08.10.2017

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Subject
Mythological
School
French
Catalogue
2008-Jacques Blanchard: Myth and Allegory.
A discussion of Venus and Adonis departing for the hunt by Jacques Blanchard.

(Click on image above)
Price band
$1 million - $1.5 million