Michel Anguier (1612-1686) began his career in Eu, Normandy, training with his father who was a woodworker. He moved to Paris in 1629 to work under the sculptor Simon Guillain, but it was perhaps his decision to travel to Rome in 1641 that had the most decisive influence on his development as an artist. For ten years Anguier lived in the Eternal City, working with luminaries such as Gianlorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, and studying ancient art and texts with the large community of foreign artists drawn to the city like himself. He would return to Paris where he had a successful career working primarily as a sculptor in marble and architectural stucco, although some of his most enduringly popular works were cast in bronze.
GODS AND GODDESSES
Among these, some of Anguier’s best-known sculptures today are a series of gods and goddesses, the models for which were created shortly after his return from Rome. These were discussed in two lectures given at the Académie Royale, first by Anguier himself in 1676, and then by Guillet de Saint-Georges four years after the sculptor’s death, in 1690. In the latter lecture, Anguier’s life was summarised and it was noted that ‘Monsieur Anguier was occupied in 1652 with models of six figures, each of 18 pouces which were cast in bronze and which represented a thundering Jupiter, a jealous Juno, an agitated Neptune, a tranquil Amphitrite, a melancholy Pluto, Mars giving up his arms, and a weeping Ceres. Today these figures are with M. Montarsis, jeweller to the king’ (translated into English in Paris, New York and Los Angeles, op. cit., p. 204).
This statement has long caused confusion due to the fact that Guillet de Saint-Georges refers to six models, but then lists seven figures. However, in an entry written by Genevieve Bresc-Bautier in 2002 (op. cit.), the author publishes documents relating to the collection of the Marquis de Seignelay, son of the famous Minister of Finances, Jean-Baptiste Colbert. In 1689, Seignelay purchased 39 small bronzes from Montarsis including Neptune, Amphitrite, Jupiter, Juno, Pluto and Ceres. The extra figure of Mars was not included in the list, suggesting that it was not part of the original series.
In the lecture he gave to the Academy in 1676 entitled ‘On the Manner to Represent Divinities according to their Temperaments’, Anguier explored many of the theories that he must have absorbed during his time in Rome, including the notion that ‘proportions of the humours determined the temperament of each individual’ and that this ‘could be applied to the emotions characterizing the gods’ (Paris, New York and Los Angeles, op. cit., pp. 204-205). It is now believed that the six gods and goddesses formed part of a programme which included pairs of figures which complemented each other through their temperament, but which also related to the Four Elements (Bresc-Bautier, op. cit. p. 431). With only six figures, they did not form a complete set of the Elements, and it is not known why the final pair – for Fire – were not included among the models created in 1652. The three other elements consisted of Earth (Pluto and Ceres), Air (Jupiter and Juno) and Water (Neptune and Amphitrite).
The series of gods and goddesses enjoyed enormous success throughout the 17th and 18th centuries and examples in bronze, terracotta, marble and stone appear in the inventories of some of the most important collections of the day. An extended life-size set was carved in stone for the famous Superintendant of Finances, Nicolas Fouquet, and a marble figure of Amphitrite alone (now Louvre, Paris) was originally acquired for the gardens of Versailles (for a discussion see Charageat, op. cit.). Bronze examples, singly or in pairs also surface regularly, including an Amphitrite and Neptune in the collection of the Comte de Pontchartrain (catalogue of the sale with P. J. Mariette, Paris, 1747, p. 17) and a Neptune and Pluto in the collection of the Seigneur de Wilryck (catalogue of the sale with J. Grange, Antwerp, 7 June 1774 and following, lots 13 and 14). The limited nature of cataloguing in eighteenth century sales make the identification of the present bronzes difficult. It is interesting to note that the celebrated collector Louis Antoine Crozat, Baron de Thiers – whose pictures were acquired by Catherine the Great of Russia for the newly formed Hermitage – owned both a Pluto and Neptune ‘par Michel Anguier’, followed closely thereafter by an Amphitrite (catalogue of the sale with P. Remy, Paris, 26 February – 27 March 1772, numbers 891, 892 and 894).
The series of six gods and goddesses from 1652 were said to have been 18 pouces in height (approximately 48.6 cm) but this is thought not to include the bases. There are known to have been at least two sizes created within, or shortly after, the lifetime of Anguier himself, with a smaller set approximately 25 cm high, including a Pluto that entered the collection of Augustus the Strong in 1699. The larger size, including the present two bronzes, are thought to reflect Anguier’s original conception more accurately (for a discussion of the differences between the large and small models of Pluto see Paris, New York and Los Angeles, op. cit., p. 214).
The Amphitrite is the most widely reproduced of all the figures from the set and the two best examples are generally agreed to be a cast in the Louvre (53 cm high, see ibid, no. 55) and one in Stockholm (54.5 cm high, illustrated in Nationalmuseum Stockholm, Illustrated Catalogue – Swedish and European Sculpture, Stockholm, 1999, p. 258). The present cast compares extremely closely to these. The Pluto, however, is presently known in only three other examples on this scale. The best quality has hitherto been believed to be a cast in a French private collection (57 cm high, see Paris, New York and London, op. cit., no. 58). Two other casts include one in the Musée Carnavalet (with a thin, flat plinth and a fig leaf as cache-sex), and one sold recently on the Paris art market (57 cm high, Sotheby’s, 5 November 2015, lot 298). The present bronze of Pluto shares the rectangular plinth with a slight gradation to the front that both the private collection example and the art market example exhibit, but it differs from both in that it has a separately cast swathe of drapery running across the front of the hips and through the proper right hand. The figure otherwise conforms closely to the cast in the private collection, but is even more finely finished in the details.
CASTING AND GILDING
In fact, both the present Amphitrite and Pluto are notable for the extreme attention to detail and finishing of the bronzes after coming out of the moulds, raising the question of who the founder responsible for their casting might be. As has been noted previously, Anguier himself worked mainly in marble and stucco and was renowned as a modeller. Although created in 1652, it has been suggested that the series of gods and goddesses were not cast in bronze until much later, and it is possible ‘that those that are most technically accomplished and refined in handling of surface may well reflect editions from 1700 or later’ (Paris, New York and Los Angeles, op. cit., p. 205). The goldsmith-like quality is further enhanced by the fact that the bronzes are extensively and richly gilded, a fact that is unique among the known examples. Close examination of the gilding suggests that the surface of both bronzes, with the exception of the patinated Cerberus and dolphin, were specially treated to receive gilding, a technique common to the late seventeenth century.
Hans Tobiesen (1881-1953), who owned the present bronzes in the mid-20th century, was a Danish shipping magnate and art collector. He bequeathed a number of paintings to museums, including the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki, but the bulk of his collection was sold at auction at the time of his death in 1953. The auction, held by Winkel and Magnussen in Copenhagen, consisted of a catalogue in three volumes. The present bronzes do not appear to have been included in that sale and may have passed from the collection before Tobiesen’s death. Considering his connections with Finland and the subsequent appearance of the bronzes in a Finnish private collection, Tobiesen may have given them as a gift to a friend or business associate.