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  • Pigalle's Mercury (approved in 1741) was performed for his entry to the Academy in 1744. The sculptor presented a bigger plaster model of this subject at the Salon of 1742 both statues were made in marble for the king, and presented to Frederick II of Prussia in 1750.

    A contorted position

    Mercury, the messenger of the gods, is sitting on a stone, prepared to leap up. He's attaching the winged sandals which, jointly with his petasus (winged cap), will empower him to take flight. The play of his limbs and the god's contorted posture make the composition intriguing to find from every angle. Mercury isn't looking at his talaria (winged sandals) as he attaches them, but his gesture is accentuated by the convergence of both arms and one leg. His crouched posture, his face turned to study the horizon, and the upward slant of his limbs and shoulder line, give an impression of dynamism? that Mercury is about to soar into the heavens. The posture of his left leg, with his weight on his toes, additionally indicates the messenger god is prepared for takeoff. This pose was possibly inspired by the Mercury and Argus by Jacob Jordaens (a 17th century Flemish painter), popularized by engravings. But the play of the multiple perspectives afforded by sculpture in the round and diagonals empowered Pigalle to add an energy that transformed the figure of the god into an allegory of speed. Mercury's torso is a variant on the Belvedere Torso (in the Vatican); this antique marble fragment of a muscle seated body has a strength that fascinated Michelangelo ? And has continued to fascinate art fans and artists. It was left incomplete, which was not common for the 18th century, and so became a metaphor for Time that ruins the creations of Genius. It symbolized sculpture, as it does in Jacques Buirette's 1663 reception piece, the bas relief entitled The Union of Painting and Sculpture (in the Louvre).

    The School reception piece

    When Pigalle returned to Paris in 1741 after a stay in Rome (1736?39), he presented his terracotta version of Mercury for acceptance by the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture; according to an anecdote, he'd nearly left the work as an assurance of payment for his lodging when passing through Lyon. Rather than demanding another matter, the Academy requested the model to be transposed by him into marble for his entry piece, and he was accepted on 30. Mercury was initially designed as an isolated figure, but in 1742, Pigalle added a fitting piece: Venus Giving a Message, which illustrates an episode from the Golden Ass, a group of stories by Latin writer Apuleius (c. 125?170). In 1746, the Royal Administration commissioned Pigalle to make a life size marble sculpture of each figure; these works were finished in 1748, and presented to King Frederick II of Prussia by Louis XV for the park of the Sans-Souci castle near Berlin.

    An immediate and enduring success

    The work was an immediate success. In The Century of Louis XIV (1751), Voltaire compared it to the finest works of Greek antiquity. Many replicas were obtained by artists, and it featured in several paintings: the painter Chardin, a buddy of Pigalle, used it to symbolize sculpture in his works The Drawing Lesson (1747, Vanas) and The Attributes of the Arts (1766, Minneapolis). The Sèvres manufactory as of 1770 made a smaller variation in biscuit porcelain.


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