Venus visiting the Forge of Vulcan, c. 1699
Oil on canvas, H. 1.1 m; W. 0.85 m
Provenance: Laurent Grimod de La Reynière sale, supplement, 3 April 1793, no. 159, where the painting is described precisely (42 pouces by 32 pouces; H. 1,13 m; W. 0,86 m) and where the print is attributed to Duflos.
Sold for 1,210 livres to Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun at the La Reynière sale
Madame de Forestier Sale, Paris, 27 November 1816, no. 20, 42 pouces by 32 pouces 10 lignes (H. 1,13 m; W. 0,88 m), sold for 74 F. to Thomas Grignion
F.-N. Leroy, Histoire de Jouvenet, Rouen and Paris, 1860, especially p. 279 (the painting shown at the Salon of 1699).
Gaëtan Guillot, “La femme et les filles du peintre Jouvenet dans l’œuvre du peintre”, Revue catholique de Normandie, t. 24, July 1915, p. 305-313.
Antoine Schnapper, Jean Jouvenet (1644-1717) et la peinture d’histoire à Paris, Paris, 1974, p. 207-208, no. 95 (as lost but known from a print by L. Desplaces).
Antoine Schnapper, Jean Jouvenet (1644-1717) et la peinture d’histoire à Paris. Edition complétée par Christine Gouzi, Paris, 2010, p. 262-263, P.138 (95).
Oozing elegance and sensuality, Venus stands in front of her official husband, the god Vulcan. Virgil describes this scene in the Aeneid: Venus uses her charms to convince Vulcan to forge armour for her son Aeneas. The master of fire and protector of craftsmen, Vulcan is dressed as an artisan: he is wearing a round bonnet. Still sitting in front of his workbench, initially he hesitates on hearing his unfaithful wife, who preferred Mars to him. Suddenly, Vulcan is seized by amorous passion and promises to help Venus fully. Jouvenet shows Cupid, who has accompanied the goddess and is shooting an arrow at Vulcan. At the bottom of Desplaces’s print, a canto of the Aeneid is quoted: Sensit laeta dolis et formae conscia coniunx [She, the joyful wife; felt what her beauty and her guile could do].(1)
In 1974, when his monograph, Jean Jouvenet (1644-1717) et la peinture d’histoire à Paris(2) was published, Antoine Schnapper knew our painting only through the print by Desplaces and the numerous copies. He emphasized the vigour of the composition and is realist tone. Venus, Cupid, the unharnessed chariot, the structure of symbolic clouds of the gods are juxtaposed with the laborious world of Vulcan, whose assistants continue their work. The anvil, the hammers, the vice, Vulcan’s workbench, the sleeping dog were all for Schnapper “elements of unusual density, without precedent in French painting since the Le Nains”.(3) Indeed, the realism of the blacksmith is truly remarkable and provides a good example of the lively sense for the real perceptible in Jouvenet’s entire painted oeuvre.
In 2010, Christine Gouzi produced a new edition of Antoine Schnapper’s publication(4) and supplemented the entry on our painting, amongst others, of which she had only known the reduced ricordo until then. She considers its colours to be quite exceptional for Jouvenet’s work. In fact, Venus is wearing mauve clothing that is particularly highly worked, which in her view may recall Titian’s palette, who particularly liked this colour, or that of Veronese, who used it in variations of pink. She concluded that even if Jouvenet’s corpus does not evoke the atmosphere of Venetian painting, Jouvenet was sufficiently attracted for it to inspire him on occasion. Other works show this influence according to Gouzi, especially the Birth of Bacchus, a painting commissioned in 1700 for the Château de Meudon (Gouzi 2010, P. 126).(5)
In 1717, the year of Jouvenet’s death, Jean Restout (1692-1768),(6) his nephew and pupil, paid tribute to his uncle by showing a painting of this same subject as his Morceau d’Agrégation.(7) Even if the composition is different, the print must have inspired him for the figures of Venus and Vulcan.
Our painting was probably shown at the Salon of 1699, possibly also at the Salon of 1704. These two successive Salons, which were held in the Galerie of the Louvre were part of a series of exhibitions that were organized sporadically by the Académie Royale from 1667.(8) Around 1700, Jean Jouvenet was at the peak of his career. With Charles de La Fosse, Antoine Coypel and the Boullogne brothers, he was one of the painters of his time who enjoyed the most success. In 1707, Jouvenet accessed the most prestigious positions within the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and became one of its four rectors. Jouvenet was rather unusual compared to his contemporaries in that from 1685, he concentrated essentially on religious painting, an area in which he played a significant part. According to Christine Gouzi, Jouvenet’s work should be seen as proof of a religious renewal at the end of Louis XIV’s reign.(9)
Originally from Rouen, Jouvenet moved to Paris at the age of seventeen. Noticed by Charles le Brun, Jouvenet quickly joined his team of painter decorators of the royal residences: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Tuileries and Versailles. His association with le Brun marked Jouvenet all his life. It is through his contact with the older painter that he was able to develop his greatest quality as an artist: his ability to create impressive compositions, while inciting feeling in the spectator with the figures’ poses and their emotions. Jouvenet’s painted oeuvre remains strongly attached to the classical tradition and shows that there is continuity in grand history painting in France between Le Brun and David. Jouvenet’s enormous success is confirmed by the many copies and prints that circulated until the end of the 18th century. Dr Gouzi emphasized the infatuation for Jouvenet’s art among connoisseurs of the 1780s, which helps to understand his aura in neoclassical and then romantic artistic literature. At that time, our painting was in the collection of the Fermier Général Laurent Grimod de La Reynière (1734-1793), before passing to the famous dealer and collector Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Lebrun (1748-1813).
- Virgil, Aeneid, book VIII, 392.
- This catalogue raisonné caused a great stir in 1974 because of the new distinctions between autograph repetitions, studio replicas, copies by followers and pastiches.
- Gouzi 2010, p. 155.
- The publication of a new edition of this fundamental book by Christine Gouzi in 2010 has left the original text intact as a tribute to the master, while also adding to it, by extending the entries and adding 29 new paintings (of a total of 146).
- Gouzi 2010, p. 263-264.
- Christine Gouzi, Jean Restout (1692-1768), peintre d’histoire à Paris, Paris, 2000, p. 196, P.5 (colour reproduction p. 20).
- Jean Restout, Venus in Vulcan’s Forge, 1717, oil on canvas, H. 1,02 m; W. 1,37 m, current location unknown.
- The term “Salon” was adopted only in 1725 when the Academicians exhibited their works in the Louvre’s Salon Carré.
- Gouzi 2010, p. 10