This painting shows an episode from Ovid’s Art of Love (Book III: 83). The Roman goddess Diana would visit the shepherd Endymion every night while he slept. According to Cicero, Diana herself induced Endymion’s sleep so that she could enjoy him undisturbed. The subject was a popular one and had been painted by other French artists.
In 1728 Subleyras arrived in Rome to study, and he remained there for the rest of his life. This picture, particularly Endymion’s reclining pose, shows Subleyras’s knowledge of antique sculpture and Italian Renaissance painting. The painting’s balanced composition and restrained depiction of its poetic source – for example, the delicate way Diana barely touches Endymion’s face – connects it to pastoral and classical tastes that were promoted in Rome at the time.
This painting shows an episode from Ovid’s Art of Love (Book III: 83). The Roman goddess Diana would visit the shepherd Endymion every night while he slept. According to Cicero, Diana herself induced Endymion’s sleep so that she could enjoy him undisturbed. Cicero’s account had been newly translated into French in 1732, and two further editions were published during Subleyras’s lifetime. However, the story of the love-struck goddess had been painted so often that Subleyras would have already known the key components of the story. These include the nude, or near nude, Diana hovering at dusk close to a similarly near nude shepherd holding a staff, with dogs, and perhaps sheep, as well as putti in the background. Versions of the story by contemporary French artists, including Boucher, could be seen in Paris and Versailles.
In 1728 Subleyras arrived in Rome to study at the French Academy there, and he remained for the rest of his life. In Rome he would have seen Annibale Carracci’s fresco of the story at the Palazzo Farnese, and he may have already seen prints of the fresco beforehand. It is possible that Carracci’s fresco is the source for the putto in the upper right corner with his finger to his mouth requesting silence, as this gesture was not common to all depictions of the story. Subleyras would also have known the life-size marble sculpture of the Barberini Faun. Discovered in the 1620s and gradually restored over subsequent decades, the antique statue was housed in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome. It had already become famous through engravings and the French sculptor Edmé Bouchardon, a fellow student at the Academy, was also making a marble copy of it when Subleyras arrived in the city. The Faun may have provided a model for Subleyras’s reclining Endymion, especially the torso and left arm, but Endymion’s head is more likely based upon another classical sculpture of the Dying Alexander (Uffizi, Florence).
Despite Subleyras’s use of visual sources he encountered in Rome, we cannot assume he painted Diana and Endymion soon after his arrival there. The picture more likely dates from the early to mid 1740s, when he would have seen a marble group of Diana and Endymion (1735–40) by René-Michel (called Michel-Ange) Slodtz. Subleyras and Slodtz had been friends when they were both at the French Academy, and Subleyras’s painting may have been a response to Slodtz’s sculpture of the same subject – an instance, perhaps, of friendly rivalry between different media. Both men were elected members of the Academia dell’Arcadia (an elite Roman literary society) – Subleyras in 1743 and Slodtz the following year. As an example of pastoral drama, the subject of Diana and Endymion may well have appealed to fellow Arcadians. The picture’s balanced composition and restrained depiction – for example, the delicate way Diana barely touches Endymion’s face – connects it to an ideal of Arcadian classicism promoted by the Academia dell’Arcadia.
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