Queen of Sparta, Leda, was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a swan. Jean Thierry's Academy diploma piece in 1717 was an uncommon one: heartbreaking motifs were usually favored for entry to the Academy, although such a issue had frequently been addressed since the 16th century. The narrative of Leda corresponded to the light and libertine fashion that Thierry promulgated at the Spanish court of King Philip V.
The god Jupiter fell in love with Leda, the person queen of Sparta. He seduced her while she was bathing in the river, and came to her in the form of a swan. This narrative is told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses - an early 1st century work recounting the transformations of humans and gods into animals or plants, which was a primary source of artistic inspiration from the Renaissance on. Manager of the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture, the painter Antoine Coypel, demanded this motif on the sculptor Thierry in 1714 for his diploma piece. The bas reliefs which had formerly been needed for Academy entrance were replaced in the 18th century by statuettes. Many pieces had terrible, brutal, subjects, like Guillaume I Coustou's Hercules at the Stake (1704, in the Louvre), François Dumont's Titan (1712, in the Louvre), René Charpentier's Death of Meleager(1713, in the Louvre), or Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne's Passing of Hippoytus (1715, in the Louvre). Thierry's Leda, on the other hand, comes from a rarer romantic mythology.
Leda was a repeated theme in sensual artwork from the Italian Renaissance, addressed by artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci. The strategy to the motif of Thierry has grace and voluptuous sophistication. Leda's pose (sitting with one leg bent behind her, one arm across her body, and her head in profile) was inspired by the Nymph with a Quiver and Nymph with a Dove (in the Louvre) by Coustou, Thierry's master at Versailles. In this work, yet, the contrapposto is the attitude lascivious, and accentuated. Leda's body is brought to life by the upward motion of the swan that envelops her with its wings, its webbed foot on her left thigh; she's turning her right hand on its shoulder, to the swan, her left caressing its neck. The protagonists are gazing into the eyes of each other with want that is clear. The spiraling shapes intertwine in a swirling contour that confers a ton of perspectives to the group. The sculptor and feels also played, using the ridges on Leda's braided hair, the swan's feathers, and the grooves on the plinth, to emphasize the smooth sheen of the queen's body.
Thierry promulgated this light and libertine design at the Court of Spain where he remained from 1721 to 1728, on the invitation of King Philip V, to work with René Frémin on the sculptures in the gardens of La Granja, near Segovia.
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