For painters and sculptors, and starting somewhere after the middel age, plunging back onto mythological scenery provided an exquisite excuse for treating the nude freely. The rising of Catholicism in society prohibited nudity while mythology venerated it. Trough out the hole 18th century, archaeological discoveries and infatuation on Greek and Roman society would have an incredible impact over arts and art of living. Each period using this influence it’s own way according to the taste of the day and the pursue of their ideal world in paintings and art in general.
For Madame de Pompadour, as one as many others, to use that mythologic influence was again and always for her a way to secure her place at court and in the heart of her beloved king. She was concern to build a body of images of herself to keep the attention on her, as to permanently freeze her beauty on paper anyway, of her young years trough time. And there were no one as François Boucher to accomplish the task. The pair Boucher-Pompadour would be a win win situation and would provide us a remarkable view of this mid century idealistic world of art.
When Rococo movement was plunging once again onto Mythology for inspiration, it did with gallantry (called »l’art gallant ») and served then as a higher ideal of virtue of man, without any artifice of civilization, free in it’s natural state and away from cities. The rococo set itself in opposition of the artistic norms codified in the age of Baroque: Rococo was about lightness, irony, fantasy, elegant asymmetry, while Baroque focused on luxuriant, monumental, heroism and dignity. Baroque was about a statement of power and dygnity while Rococo rejected the formal pursuit for the benefits of a pleasurable life. An idea that would unfortunately lead to the destruction of monarchy in France, since it contributed so little to the »public virtue ».
Speaking about »public », Pompadour was not at all opposed to the idea of art representing herself for a wider public use. However, her more pressing commitment in ordering art was for private needs and to secure her place at court. She, at first, employed Boucher to decorate her chateau at Bellevue, for her bedroom and on settings to provide the scenery for her plays to amuse the King. She used art to embellish her life in ways which affected the identity she presented to King and courtiers.
So, from 1737, the Royal Academy of painting and sculpture organized public expositions for about 400 new objects of art every two years in the square salon of the Louvres. Because of the name given to the room, the exposition was simply called »Salon », which made echo to the salons (see article #54) and provided a new subject for intellectuals to speak about. Critics were born! And the most influent of them was Denis Diderot. We’ll get back one of these days to speak about him.
For Pompadour, who could feel the mood of her period, in which notions of »connoisseurs » among collectors were being refined and intellectualized, she played the role of a cultural accumulator: merely commissioning, with new painters that she helped to get famous, while the propaganda of her image of prestige was emplyfied and commercialised. No wonder that in 1765, Boucher was to become director of the academy, found himself a place to work directly at the Louvres and became the first painter of the King.
Pompadour did not invent rococo, she did not give it it’s chance either, but she did make it lived! Since the end of Louis XIV reign is link to a decline of large scale commissioning and most artists suffered from it. In the regency, the only work done at Versailles was the ceiling of the Salon of Hercules, completed in 1736. Then Pompadour’s role in history was to favoring the painters of her time, so she did.
Whether for a play, a sculpture, a painting or porcelains, Pompadour’s ideal beauty and charm lies often in combining her, or a lady that recall her face frame, depicted as Venus and Eros. Not giving herself to the king, and often choosing among ladies some stupid beautiful girls to fulfill the »task », she give herself the role of the sexual organizer for the king.
But when the »work » was accomplish, the girl was to get out for Madame the Marquise to take place for the after sex. While painting were keeping the attention of sexual desire of the King towards her. But meanwhile, she was choosing Venus to represent her as a model of virginity, always at the center of attention in the composition, always with wither skin then the other subjects, showing to her king a total devotion and loyalty. As always with our favorite, under frivolities and cheerful arrangement of pastel shades, lies true virtue of the heart, smartness and devotion. That is what I call a lady!
Note that the second painting you see in here today was commitionned by the king to her, installed in her bathroom at Versailles, and that the »Toilette de Vénus » is making reference to the famous morning cessions originally from her. (see artical #12)