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Votaries of Bacchus

Artist or maker:
Clodion (b.1738, d.1814)
Date:
Early 1780s
dated stylistically
Place of production:
Paris, France
Medium:
terracotta
Type of object:
figures
Accession number:
2457

Commentary

A young couple bring offerings for Dionysus or Bacchus, the god of wine, theatre and fertility. Clodion was an extraordinarily skilful modeller of clay during a period of unprecedented interest in the material among collectors. This family group is characteristic of Clodion’s lyrical evocation of the classical past.

The man carries an ewer, presumably full of wine. The tambourine on his companion’s head is full of grapes. The woman holds the hand of a little running boy. The boy holds a thyrsus – a staff topped with a pine cone - which was a sacred instrument at Bacchic rituals and festivals. On the ground there are more grapes and a set of pan pipes. The pipes introduce connotations of the god Pan or Faunus, who was associated with fertility and Spring.

Traditionally, terracotta was used to make studies for larger works in more robust and expensive materials such as stone or bronze, but by the late eighteenth century, terracotta sculptures were seen as independent works of art. Like red chalk, whose colour range and softness offered a parallel in drawing, terracotta was favoured for the representation of warm and yielding flesh. Contemporaries valued it for the way it retained evidence of the artist’s touch. Clodion incised the pitcher with crisp, linear decoration and he used a tool to gouge out slivers of clay to texture the rocks and plants at the back. Contrastingly, the grapes were formed in the sculptor’s hand and the figures’ skin was smoothed with wet fingers.

Clodion rarely depicted grand events or stories from history or mythology. Instead, he conjured a lost Arcadian past through sensual, dynamic figures on an intimate scale. While the relationship between the woman and child is expressed in the tender interlocking of their hands, Clodion used the textures of the adult bodies to engage the viewer’s sense of touch in a more erotic register: the animal pelt against the man’s skin; the softer drapery billowing behind the woman; the skin of their upper torsos touching each other.

Clodion's works are usually undated. This sculpture is stylistically similar to others made in the early 1780s such as his 'Bacchant offering a platter of fruit to a bacchante who holds a child' (private collection, Switzerland). In the inventory taken after Clodion's death, there are several similar sculptures indicating that this was a popular subject. The exact nature of Clodion's production is still not known. He probably designed the compositions and modelled many of the finer terracotas himself, but it is unlikely that he executed all the sculptures attributed to him. His three older brothers were associated with him as junior partners, and probably helped produce works.

Clodion, the pseudonym of Claude Michel, came from a family of sculptors. He trained in Paris and Rome where he was influenced by the works of Michelangelo, Bernini and ancient Roman remains. Bernini's small terracotta studies of monumental sculptors inspired Clodion to develop his repertoire of small-scale mythological, religious and historical figures. Returning to Paris in 1771, Clodion set up a workshop on the Place Louis XV where he made works for the aristocracy and for public competitions. During the Revolution, Clodion moved to Nancy and his works became more classical in tone. He was later employed by Napoleon.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Clodion's sculptures were highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs, including Edmond de Goncourt. Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild managed to acquire seven of the finest examples.

Juliet Carey, 2012

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
508 (h)
Signature & date:
Inscribed on rocks at back beneath woman's drapery: CLODǏOИ

History

Provenance:
Possibly sold by the merchant Grandpré, Paris, for 200FF in 1809; owned by Comte Olympe Aguado (b.1827, d.1894 ); purchased probably by private sale by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898); inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Collection:
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957

Bibliography

Bibliography

Charles Blanc; Le trésor de la curiosité tiré des catalogues de vente; 2 vols; Paris; Veuve J. Renouard; 1858; vol. 2, p. 264; a similar, if not identical version in a sale of Grandpré, 1809 for 200FF.
Henri Thirion; Les Adam et Clodion; Paris; A Quantin; 1885; p. 403; a similar, if not identical version.
Terence Hodgkinson, French Sculpture at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 101, July 1959, 255-258; p. 256, fig. 1.
Denys Sutton, The Sculpture at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 75-86; pp. 77-82, fig. 4.
Terence Hodgkinson, Anthony Blunt; Sculpture: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1970; pp. 114-117, cat. no. 39, ill.
Michael Levey, Wend von Kalnein; Art and Architecture of the Eighteenth Century in France; Harmondsworth; Penguin Books; 1972; p. 159, fig. 160.
Anne Poulet, Guilhem Scherf; Clodion, 1738-1814; Musée du Louvre, Paris, 17 March - 29 June 1992; Paris; Réunion des musées nationaux; 1992; pp. 323-324; dated to early 1780s.
Treasures from The National Trust; London; The National Trust; 2007; p. 307.

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