School of Fontainebleau | 7th Tiberius Auction
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School of Fontainebleau

7th Tiberius Auction

School of Fontainebleau

After Sale Price:  22.752

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  • USD: 23.958 $
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  • CNY: 170.754 ¥

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School of Fontainebleau
Diana and Actaeon
Around 1570/80
Oil on oak panel
78 x 108 cm, with frame 84 x 116 cm

This expressive painting is a mythological depiction of Diana and Actaeon, created by a painter of the School of Fontainebleau around 1570/80. This group of artists worked at Fontainebleau Castle south of Paris – the favourite residence of the French King Francis I (1494-1547) – from the 16th to the beginning of the 17th century in the Mannerist style and concentrated mainly on pictorial themes of Greco-Roman mythology. The so-called First School of Fontainebleau (1530-70) was formed by Italian artists whom Francis I invited to decorate the château. Under Henry IV (1553-1610), the château was restored, this time with Flemish and French artists carrying out works that are considered to be of the Second School of Fontainebleau (1590-1620).

According to Ovid, the hero Actaeon surprises the goddess Diana with the nymphs bathing at a grotto in the forest after the hunt. Outraged that a mortal has seen her unclothed, Diana transforms him into a stag, which is soon mauled by his own hunting dogs. In this painting, the moment of encounter is shown: Actaeon, armed as a Roman general with spear and sword and looking rather imposing, surrounded by three hunting dogs, looks towards Diana, who, however, has turned towards one of the three nymphs. They jump up in fright and look at the intruder. Diana is sitting on a red cloth next to a fountain-like structure; the bronze sculpture of a bearded river god emphasises that the scene is taking place at a spring. The nymphs appear in turmoil; one points accusingly at the hero and the other turns, gesturing, to Actaeon, while the third backs away, grabbing a green cloth and leaning on a vase. The goddess herself, however, wears an almost self-satisfied smile, for the outcome of the story can already be seen in the background: the transformed Actaeon, in armour but with a stag’s head, has fallen and is being circled by his dogs. This allusion presupposes the viewer’s knowledge of the myth; such refined details are typically employed in works of the Fontainebleau school.

Pictorial themes integrating nudes and erotic scenes were particularly popular among artists of the Fontainebleau School, such as the “Allegory of the Birth of a Prince of France” c. 1550/70 (Bildergalerie Sanssouci Potsdam GK I 5040). Other special features are the detailed inclusion of sculptural ornaments, such as the fountain, and the condensed groups of figures around the main figure Diana. The female figures also wear characteristically pinned-up, braided hairstyles with tiaras. In addition, the manneristic elongation of the figures emphasises the drama of the scene, while the strong contours of the sharply modelled bodies and the cool colour effect skilfully distance the viewer from the mythological events. The strongly elaborated musculature of the female figures is comparable to René Boyvin’s depiction of the nymphs (MET 32.105). A version as an oil painting from the third quarter of the 16th century is also known and related to this painting in the modelling of the female bodies (MET 42.150.12). The depiction of Actaeon is also reminiscent of the portrait of Henry IV as Mars (Château de Pau) by Jacob Brunel from the second school of Fontainebleau. A similar vase as an ornamental element in connection with a nude figure can be seen in the painting by Jean Cousin the Elder, titled “Eva Prima Pandora” (Louvre RF 2373).

Diana is already represented in works of the first School of Fontainebleau around 1525/1550 (Louvre RF 1952 28) and around 1540/60 (Louvre INV 445). Similarly, another depiction of Diana bathing, painted by François Clouet in the third quarter of the 16th century, is in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen (1846.1). Most related, however, is the composition and execution of a painting of Diana bathing from around 1560/1600 (Louvre 1941 9), which follows in the footsteps of the Flemish painter Frans Floris (c. 1516-1570) and his school: Diana is shown equally calm with her hand outstretched, while the three nymphs in the foreground gesture or attempt to cover themselves. Actaeon approaches with a similarly billowing red cloak, yet with a defensive gesture rather than in a surprise-offensive manner as in the present painting. Equally similar is the contoured-accentuated modelling of the bodies, the physiognomy and headdress of the women, and the overriding cool colouring. Therefore, this painting can be placed in the tradition of the Second School of Fontainebleau. It appears livelier and more dynamic than the example in the Louvre, not least because of the more active movements and gestures of the figures, which result in an increased immediacy of the scene.

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