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Seller of Cupids

Château de Fontainebleau



Thomas Gaehtgens describes the unusual favor with which this painting was presented at the 1763 Salon exhibition in Paris:

"This painting, above all, made Vien famous because he borrowed the subject and composition from an antique fresco. The model was a painting excavated on 13 June 1759 in Herculaneum. The artist knew it from the 1762 publication documenting the excavations at Herculaneum (Pitture antiche d'Ercolano), in whose third volume C. Nolli's engraving appeared, which also, extraordinarily, was reprinted in the 1763 Guide des Salons. It is noteworthy that the catalogue usually restricted itself to written descriptions of the subjects and compositions of artworks, but in this case made an exception. In this way, the importance of Vien's painting above all others exhibited works was emphasized....[T]he viewer had the possibility of comparing the modern work to its ancient inspiration...Decisive for art history os the fact that an antique model for this work is presented unequivocally with the implication that true imitation of the ancients has successfully been realized."

Thomas W. Gaehtgens, "Diderot und Vien: ein Beitrag zu Diderots klassizischer Ästhetik," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 36, no. 1 (1973), 53. Translation from German by M. Facos


Art critic and philosopher Denis Diderot, editor of the first Encyclopedia, waxed poetic about this painting when he saw it at the Salon of 1763:

"The paintings that Vien has exhibited this year are all of the same genre, and because they are all of the same standard, there is only one praise to offer: it is the elegance of forms, grace, originality, innocence, delicacy, simplicity, and all that contributes to the purity of his drawing, to the beautiful coloration, the suppleness and truth of the flesh...It's a completely graceful is like so many printed madrigals transformed into colors. The artist is like Apelles revived amidst a troupe of Athenians."

Quoted (in original French, translated by M. Facos) in THomas W. Gaehtgens, "Diderot und Vien: Ein Beitrag zu Diderots klassizistischer Ästhetik," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 36, no. 1 (1973): 61.

Related work:

 Carlo Nolli, Seller of Loves from Le Pitture Antiche d’Ercolano e Contorni, vol. 3. Engraving, 1762

About the Artist

Born: Montpellier, France, 18 June 1716
Died: Paris, 27 March 1809
Nationality: French