11/17/2008

Portrait of the week - The Cupid Seller

This is the painting The Cupid Seller, made by Joseph-Marie Vien, in 1763. This is a very typical product of the neoclassicism of the 18th century - a movement that will culminate after the French Revolution with every woman wearing dresses reminiscent of the classical sculptures.

In the 1760's the fashion was not yet influenced by neither Ancient Greece nor Imperial Rome, but it was a popular theme in art, sculpture and furniture. This painting is a part of that movement.

The painting shows an interior with a lady sitting down, probably the matrona, and a young woman standing behind her (daughter, servant, friend? it is not clear). Kneeling in front of her is a woman showing some live cupids that she is trying to sell to the seated woman. Cupids were popular in 18th century, adorning both paintings and furniture, though it seldom looked as macabre as it does here.

The matron is clearly meant to be of the upper classes. She is pale and dressed in fine fabrics with bracelets. She looks somewhat indolent, but also interested in the wares presented to her. Her interest is shared by her companion - also dressed nicely with a bracelet. The woman in front of them, the one with the basket, is obviously of more humble origin. Her dress is simpler, her skin is darker - she is obviously a working woman. Her head is wrapped in a shawl and she looks very much like a 18th century peasant woman, if you look beyond the the dress.

Looking at historical paintings gives away a lot about the time it was painted in, and with just changing the clothes the women are wearing you could have a very lifelike portrait of three women from the 1760's.

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