In this blog series our curators, archivists, conservators and learning team will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.
Today we will be looking at the theme of Love. Take a closer look at a pair of wonderful enamel salt shakers depicting the Ages of Love, Boilly's The Sorrows of Love and Étienne-Maurice Falconet's spectacular candelabra of Cupid and Psyche.
Attributed to Colin Nouailher, Pair of hexagonal salts showing the Ages of Love, 1542
The Ages of Love, depicted on this pair of enamel salt containers attributed to Colin Nouailher, is an unusual interpretation of the Ages of Man, a trope of the Renaissance that explored human existence on earth and its development. Through the combination of figures and accompanying texts, which function like the speech bubbles of modern comics, the side panels of the salts illustrate attitudes towards lovemaking at different stages of life.
One salt is decorated with younger people and Venus, the goddess of Love, as well as her son, Cupid, the god of desire, alluding to romantic love and vitality. In contrast, the other portrays couples in old age, holding walking sticks, alongside a jester and the figure of Fortune, with more captions. These scenes may allude to a contemporary cynicism that the aged were unable to feel the true, amorous love experienced by the young.
Louis-Léopold Boilly, The Sorrows of Love, 1790
Love has gone wrong in The Sorrows of Love in which a young lady swoons into the arms of a sympathetic friend just as her portrait and an unopened letter are unceremoniously returned. A manservant speedily exits the scene, having presumably just delivered these items.
It is difficult to misjudge the tenor of this dramatic composition but Boilly makes his point in more subtle ways as well. The little dog, a traditional representation of fidelity, watches his mistress disconsolately. On the mantlepiece sits a statuette of Psyche, the famously abandoned heroine of Greek mythology (Boilly’s Psyche is a reproduction in unglazed porcelain of a well-known statue designed by Étienne-Maurice Falconet). Even the little white garment and knitting needles that lie discarded on the floor suggest preparations for a baby.
Recent cleaning and conservation of this painting (and the Wallace Collection’s other paintings by Boilly) uncovered yet another reference to Psyche. To learn more about what our curator Yuriko Jackall and independent paintings conservator, Nicole Ryder discovered, you can read their article here.
Attributed to Francois Rémond, Pair of candelabra, c. 1785
In mythology, Cupid is the god of desire whose arrows cause those struck to fall in love. The French sculptor, Étienne-Maurice Falconet produced a plaster sculpture of the god at the Paris Salon of 1755. The amorous subject appealed to Madame de Pompadour and she requested a marble version be made, which became popular and was later reproduced in a variety of materials, including Sèvres porcelain. Shortly after, Falconet made a pendant for Cupid in the form of his lover Psyche, which was also produced at Sèvres.
Together the figures allude to their tale of love overcoming all. Other craftsmen used the highly successful models, for example the bronze worker François Rémond, to whom these candelabra are attributed. Here they are produced in patinated bronze, which contrasts beautifully with the gilded candle branches and bleu turquin marble.
Snuff box by Louis Roucel, with miniatures after Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1766-67
Part of the attraction of snuff boxes in the eighteenth century was the way in which they could incorporate miniature interpretations of larger art works. Here, a celebrated painting by Greuze which had garnered great acclaim when it was exhibited in 1761 has been reproduced by a skillful anonymous enamellist. L’accordée de village, or The Village Wedding, depicts an old man handing over his daughter to be married while the rest of her family look on with mixed emotions. All the other sides of the box have also been decorated with enamel plaques after paintings by Greuze, in effect making it a miniature Salon of the famous artist’s works.
Tin-glazed earthenware dish depicting the Presentation of Psyche to the Gods by the Master of the Apollo Basin, Urbino, Italy, c. 1530
Subjects inspired by classical mythology were extremely popular in the decoration of maiolica ware in the sixteenth century. Here, the artist has chosen a scene from one of the most famous love stories of all time, the tale of Cupid and Psyche, which was first recounted by the Roman writer Lucius Apuleius in the Golden Ass. Incorporating love, beauty, passion and a happy ending, the tale has been frequently interpreted in visual art. The final act of the story is represented on this dish, when Cupid, the winged god of Love, introduces his lover Psyche to the gods assembled on Mount Olympus, where they are forever united in sacred love by Jupiter.