Saint Paul, who is dressed in a red cloak, directs the men in the foreground to burn a pile of books that represent the pagan tradition. He has travelled to the city of Ephesus (now part of Turkey) to encourage the Jews and Greeks to convert to Christianity, and his success is shown by the figures praying and confessing. This subject relates to an episode in the Acts of Apostles, written by Saint Luke, who accompanied Paul on his missions.
This is a preliminary sketch for a much larger version of this subject given to the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris by the city’s goldsmiths in 1649. Every year the goldsmiths commissioned a painting measuring four metres high, which was placed at the entrance of the building so it could be seen by those passing by. Le Sueur was competing against others for this commission, and he would have shown this small-scale sketch to the patrons to show what the full-size painting would look like.
Saint Paul, who is dressed in a red cloak, directs the men in the foreground to burn a pile of books that represent the pagan tradition. He looks towards a man on the left whose outstretched arms also encourage this act. Paul had travelled to the city of Ephesus (now part of Turkey) to encourage the Jews and Greeks to convert to Christianity, and his success is shown by figures praying and confessing to other disciples; on the right one gives alms in the form of money to a kneeling lady. This episode is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, written by Saint Luke, a disciple who accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. Luke may be the male figure with a ledger.
This is a preliminary sketch for a much larger version of this subject, now in the Louvre, Paris. The temple on the right presumably represents the great temple of Diana in Ephesus, now destroyed. The building’s connection with Diana is only made clear in the larger painting, where a statue of the goddess is visible in the background. In the larger version, the artist made significant changes to the background, arrangement of figures and their gestures. The figures convey a greater sense of movement and emotion, and Paul holds a book under one arm, his forefinger pointing upwards to symbolise his devotion to the spiritual world. The pose was inspired by the figure of Plato in Raphael’s The School of Athens in the Vatican, Rome.
The larger painting was given to the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, one of the city’s principal religious landmarks, by the confraternity of Saint-Anne and Saint-Marcel of the Paris goldsmiths' guild in 1649. Every year the goldsmiths commissioned a painting measuring four metres high, which was initially placed at the entrance of the building, where it could be seen by those passing by. The picture was then taken to the altar of the Virgin Mary and eventually displayed on the cathedral wall. This tradition lasted from 1630 to 1707, after which financial difficulties brought it to an end. Le Sueur would have used the preliminary sketch to show his patrons what the full-size picture would look like, as he was competing against other painters for the commission. He also produced smaller versions of the final design for the confraternity’s leaders.
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