Prints from the private collection of Nicolas I

Jupiter and Leda. J.Augustin Léveillé. Late XVIII century. Etching, aquatint. 24,9 И 19,7 cm

An exhibition of XVIII century French prints «Raising Cupid» from the collection of the State Hermitage was opened at the Twelve-Column Hall (room No 244) of the New Hermitage building on March 21.

The history of the unique collection dates back to the Nicolas I age. The Emperor used to order various prints from abroad. Since then the collection was kept at the personal libraries of Russian monarchs, who in their turn often added new acquisitions to it.

The XVIII century French gallant graphic art collection features about 500 pieces. Curators of the exhibition presented to the public only one hundred prints, the most valuable and rare ones; the majority of them are displayed for the first time.

The showcase is divided in three parts: «Cupid as Tutor», «The Pupil, or Cupid’s Lesson» and «Figures of the Language of Love».

In the first section, Cupid appears as a treacherous little god and as the all-powerful teacher of young hearts; on the other hand, he is a small earthly child whom Venus, Mercury and the nymphs instruct in the Science of Love and mercilessly punish for misdeeds. The exhibition displays a rare series of four engravings: «The Childhood of Cupid», «Raising Cupid» (two sheets) and «The Punishment of Cupid», by G. Bouillard, based on paintings by L. Lagrenee.

Broken fan. Louis Marin Bonnet. 1785. Etching, four colours print. 30,2 И 23,2 cm

The second part, «The Pupil, or Cupid’s Lesson», tells about Cupid’s pupil, who is reading romantic novels, looking at engravings and taking innocent relaxation while dreaming about love.

The central image of the «gallant» XVIII century is that of a young pupil reading novels and dreaming about a groom as presented in the engraving entitled «The Amusements of Youth». The language of what has been depicted is symbolic: the small bird in a closed cage symbolizes a maiden’s innocence, while a bird flying out of an opened cage to freedom symbolizes its loss. The young girl is an inevitable sacrifice to Cupid; she is the one to whom all of the respectful bows and refined hints of cavaliers are addressed and for whom the plans and intrigues of parents are intended.

The third part, «Figures of the Language of Love», is the subject of the love lesson, properly speaking, and is constructed in alphabetical order according to French ideas and manners of the XVIII century relating to amorous conduct. These words have been taken from novels, poems and correspondence of the XVIII century, while the images which correspond to them mostly come from chivalrous novels, poetry of the troubadours and books of emblems.

The attitude towards love novels and to life, living one’s own life as a novel, a playful attitude to the sense of love concepts – all of this lies at the base of the «thoroughly French» 18th century, which has rightfully entered history as the «gallant» age. Surrendering themselves to the power of Cupid, the French in the 18th century systematized love and gave it philosophical sense. Since then the history of love behavior, the forms and shapes of love, the history of the feelings and mores of love all evoke constant interest.


The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: