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Design for a festal decoration and firework display

Artist or maker:
Blondel, Jacques-François (b.1705, d.1774)
Date:
1739
Place of Production:
France
Medium:
black and brown ink, grey wash and traces of bodycolour.
Type of Object:
drawings
design drawings
Accession number:
1841
Cat no:
29

Commentary

On 29 August 1739 the Spanish Ambassador, the Marquès de la Mina, staged a magnificent firework display in Paris for the marriage of Madame Première (Louise-Elisabeth, daughter of Louis XV) to the Infante Don Felipe of Spain. With Bourbons on both the French and Spanish thrones, the eighteenth century witnessed a change in the relationship between these traditional enemies, and attempts to bring about a permanent rapprochement. Among the lavish celebrations for the royal marriage were firework displays staged by the king at Versailles and the city of Paris on the Pont-Neuf.

This drawing shows the elaborate but ephemeral landscape that was constructed in front of the Louvre at the instigation of the Spanish ambassador. The rostral column between the two large trees in the centre symbolizes naval victories – flattering don Felipe, who was Grand Admiral of Spain. Below it, the new alliance is represented with allegorical figures of the French River Seine and the Spanish River Ebro, their waters mingling. The arms of France and Spain are supported in the branches of two trees. The tableau vivant evokes the blessings of peace. There are ripe, well-ordered fields, contented peasants and minerals being mined. Complementing these earthly riches, Neptune, the god of water, and his wife, Amphitrite, are visible on the rocky islands looking across at each other over the lake. He is in his chariot drawn by seahorses and attended by Triton and Nereids, two of whom are embracing. The dolphins beside Amphitrite were sent by Neptune to persuade her to become his bride.

The drawing was engraved by Antoine Herisset the Elder (1685-1769), who specialized in engraving festal decorations ("Representation exacte du feu d'artifice ordonné par son Excellence Monseigneur le Marquis de la Mina...", Antoine Herisset, BNF, Hennin 8313). The engraver did not include the façade of the Louvre, the seat of the French king, probably because the print was intended to appeal to Spanish buyers as well as French (Laing, 2006, I, pp. 76-7).

A contemporary account of the Marquès de Mina’s festivities, published in the journal, Mercure de France, explained that when the bride appeared on the balcony of the ambassador’s residence the sound of drums, trumpets and other instruments was heard from the orchestra in the illuminated boat and fireworks erupted from the mountain and the water.(Mercure de France, September 1739, I, pp. 2049-50 and 2066-70). Alastair Laing has suggested that the alterations in brown ink made to the boatload of musicians might be by Jacques de Lajoüe (1687-1761). Despite their diminutive size, the draughtsman has given them vivid presence. The necks and bows of stringed instruments stick out in all directions. Figures puff on pipes and horns or lean towards one another, perhaps trying to keep time.

Juliet Carey, "Theatres of Life", exh. cat., 2007

Brief Description

The central motif in the background shows the arms of France adossed with those of Saxony in glory over a rostral column. Two groups of Neptune and Amphitrite flank the scene, in front of bastions, whilst in the centre the figures of a River God and the Nymph of a Spring preside over a fountain. Behind them is a landscape, rocky and with palm trees on the left, smooth and with growing corn on the right.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
217 x 449
Signature & Date:
Not signed or dated.

History

Exhibition History:
Theatres of Life: Drawings from the Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor. Wallace Collection, London 8 November 2007 - 27 January 2008; Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham 12 April - 1 June 2008.
Collection:
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)

Indexed terms