The recently rediscovered Triumph of Autumn is one from the set of four seasons by the French court artist Antoine Caron. The Triumph of Summer (Christie’s, New York, 30 May 2003, lot 33), the Triumph of Spring (Christie’s, New York, 30 May 2003, lot 37) and the Triumph of Winter (Couturier & de Nicolay, Paris, 15 December 1992, lot 49) are all well documented throughout the twentieth century. However, the present work, though mentioned by Ehrmann as having been in a Paris collection prior to 1939 (op cit., 1972b, p. 35), remained elusive. We are now able to fully appreciate the complete cycle with all its clever iconography, whimsical charm and grace. In each of them, as here, the gods symbolic of the season process playfully across the foreground, whilst revellers disport themselves in the gardens and architecture beyond. In the sky appear the zodiac symbols associated with the seasons, Sagittarius, Libra and Scorpio for Autumn, tying together Renaissance Humanist interest in the gods of antiquity and astronomy.
Caron’s distinctive Italianate Mannerist style was developed under Francesco Primaticcio and Nicolò dell’Abate in the workshops at Fontainebleau. Even after he stopped working on the Palace in 1561, his figures retained their elegant elongated lines, tapering limbs and small heads that are to be found in the Triumph of Autumn. Between 1560 and 1563 he was employed as the court painter to Catherine de Medici, and retained an important position at court throughout his life. As well as works for his royal patrons, Caron was active as a draftsman and engraver, collaborating on works such as the humanist Nicholas Houel’s four-volume poem, the Legend of Artemisia, which was intended to comfort and glorify Catherine de Medici after the death of Henry II in 1559. The 59 drawings which survive from this project, held in the Musée du Louvre and the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, can be compared stylistically and iconographically with the Triumph of Autumn. For example, in the Triomphe d'Artémise et de Mausole (Musée du Louvre, Paris), the carriage ridden has the same wheels, with the distinctive curved spokes, and backrest as that ridden by Dionysus in the present work. Similarly, the architectural background finds its echo in Le Monument (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), which takes as its central motif a rotunda like the one seen here in the background to the left. This also uses the same unifying technique of the receding floor tiles, which harmoniously unite foreground and background.
From a young age, Caron was employed not only as an artist but also to arrange the extravagant festivals and pageants held at court. He was entrusted, for instance, with the organization of the ceremonial entry of Charles IX into Paris in 1571 and with the festivities for the marriage of Margaret of Valois and the King of Navarre (later Henry IV) the following year. The same spirit that imbued these events, as shown in a series of six documentary drawings by Caron (Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; National Gallery, London; The Courtauld Gallery, London; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York; and Musée du Louvre, Paris), can be seen here in the joyous extravagance of Pan on his donkey with his attendant fauns, the drunken putto lying on the steps, Dionysus in his carriage with his cornucopia of flowers and the sinuous, garlanded, golden statues gazing down. The herons, who pull the triumphal chariot along are undoubtedly a reference to the famous ‘héronnières’, heron houses built by François I at Fontainebleau by the castle gates. This trope is repeated in the Triumph of Winter, thus in a myriad of iconographical ways the Seasons are tied into the complex and fantastical artistic landscape of the French court and the Château de Fontainebleau.
The early history of Caron’s Triumph of the Seasons was established in 1963 by Mme. M. Jurgens at the National Archives in Paris. The four paintings by Caron are mentioned as being in the collection of the engraver for the Royal Mint, Alexandre Olivier at the time of his death in 1607, when they were inherited by his wife, Marguerite de Héry. On 28 July 1612, they were acquired from her for the sum of 252 livres by her son. They are again recorded in an inventory made in Aubin Olivier’s house ‘vis à vis de la galerie du Louvre’ at the time of his death in 1620, when they were inherited by his two young sons, Aubin and Alexandre with their mother acting as executor. The Triumph of the Seasons are later documented as the property of Simon de Vaulx, perfumer to Queen Marie de Medici, in his house on the Ile de la Cité, ‘à la descente du Pont Notre-Dame, près la Madeleine’. De Vaulx began to acquire works of art in about 1608, and assembled a sizeable collection that is detailed in an inventory of 1651. The collection was probably dispersed shortly thereafter.