Laurent Pécheux left his native Lyon as an adolescent to study in Paris. He returned briefly to Lyon before departing for Rome to complete his artistic education. Arriving in January 1753 in the Eternal City, Pécheux trained in the workshop of Anton Raphael Mengs, and continued his study of the Antique. In Rome he befriended the preeminent portraitist of the day, Pomeo Batoni, with whom he organized an academy of life drawing. The two fell out when Batoni set up a competing drawing school in his own studio in 1764, but they soon mended their friendship and subsequently collaborated on several commissions. Having lived and worked in Rome for twenty-five years, Pécheux moved to Turin in 1776, where he decorated the library of the Palazzo Reale, and could justly claim to have introduced Neoclassicism to the city. The following year, he helped establish the new Accademia and assumed the duties of Director, as well as serving as Principal Painter to the King of the Two Sicilies.
In his first years in Rome, Pécheux worked mostly for patrons in his native France. The lyrical and romantic Diana and Endymion was painted in Rome in 1761 for export to his principal patron in Lyon, M. Jouvencel. A preparatory sketch for the painting is conserved in the Accademia Nationale de San Luca in Rome (see G. Sestieri, Repertorio della Pittura Romana della Fine del settecento, 1993, III, fig. 881), given by the artist to the Academy on his election to membership in March 1762. There is also a preparatory drawing for the figure of Endymion in the collection of the Biblioteca Reale Accademia Albertina, Turin.
The story of Diana and Endymion is recounted by Apollodorus (I, vii, 5). The hunter Endymion was condemned to perpetual youth and sleep by Jupiter, as punishment for his romantic interest in Juno. The goddess of the hunt, Diana, fell in love with the beautiful youth at first sight as he slept on Mount Lamos in Caria; she descended from the heavens each night to watch over him. Here Diana is depicted upon her arrival on the mountain with the first rays of moonlight. A cupid is about to shoot his arrow of love toward her, and Endymion’s hunting dog sleeps soundly at his master’s feet.
Pécheux’s youthful work derives closely from Michel-Fran?ois Dandré-Bardon’s monumental version of the subject today in The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Dandré-Bardon’s painting was executed in Rome in 1726 for Henri-Raynauld d’Albertas, president of the Châmbre des Comptes de Provence in Aix-en-Provence, but it is not clear when, or if, the painting was ever delivered to its patron, so it is possible that Pécheux might have known it from his first years in Rome.