Leda and the Swan
- Jacques Sarazin (French, Noyon 1592–1660 Paris)
- ca. 1640–50
- French, Paris
- White marble
- Height: 62 in. (157.5 cm)
- Credit Line:
- Purchase, C. Michael Paul Gift, and Bequest of Mary Cushing Fosburgh and Gift of Irwin Untermyer, by exchange, 1980
- Accession Number:
It could rightly be claimed that just as the return of Simon Vouet to Paris from Italy in 1627 ushered in a new era in the history of French painting, the return of Jacques Sarrazin only a few months later played an equally important role in the development of French classical sculpture. Sarrazin's eighteen years in Rome, from 1610 to about 1628, brought him a firsthand familiarity with ancient and Renaissance sculpture and fruitful contacts with living Italian artists such as Domenichino. His most exciting experience undoubtedly was working at the Villa Aldobrandini at Frascati where he modeled the powerful mythological stucco figures which can be admired to this day in the niches of the villa's Teatro d'Acqua. The impressions of these early years remained with Sarrazin throughout his life. His long career was marked by a wealth of private and royal commissions which testify to his seminal importance as the most gifted and influential of the sculptors working during the minority of Louis XIV.
Sarrazin's activity was many-sided; in addition to funerary monuments and religious sculptures, he contributed to important decorative programs in the Paris hotels and the country houses of influential art patrons-the marquis d'Effiat, Claude de Bullion, and the chancellier Séguier. While the stucco sculptures of the Nymphaeum at Widewille and at the château at Maisons still survive, many mythological figures and marble groups have either disappeared or lost their identity. The group of Leda and the Swan, presented here for the first time, is undoubtedly one of these long-lost garden sculptures.
Loosely patterned upon a classical prototype-a late Hellenistic group in the Capitoline Museum in Rome-Sarrazin's Leda is nonetheless a creation of utter charm and sensitivity. Her harmoniously closed contours, her chastely wrapped draperies, and her soft chiaroscuro surfaces speak of Sarrazin's predilection for clear geometrical volumes and gentle naturalism. The standing Cupid, with his conspiratorial gesture based on an ancient Harpocrates, is a playful interpolation which recalls the children for which Sarrazin is famous.
The entire composition itself, a seated young woman accompanied by a child, is a faithful echo of one of Sarrazin's best-known ensembles: four reliefs depicting the cardinal virtues, executed about 1643–1645 for the Monument of the Heart of Louis XIII. The reliefs, now in the Louvre, show variants of the Leda composition. In fact, facial types, pudgy hands and feet, hairdos, and ribbons are identical to a degree that can only predicate authorship by the same sculptor. The formal, yet intimate, almost domestic interpretation of the fable reflects the tone of many of Sarrazin's creations. Even the kneeling effigy of Cardinal de Berulle, also at the Louvre, shows similar compositional rhythms and the handling of the marble with a similar warmth of feeling and careful observation of nature.
The group stood until 1905 in the Chateau de Valmer, near Tours-a small Louis XIII château that was destroyed by fire in 1948. A late seventeenth-century drawing of the gardens of Valmer shows a Terrasse de Léda, for which our sculpture was undoubtedly intended. Its surface, not conventionally weathered but bearing marks of some indirect exposure to the elements, suggests that it was surrounded by a pavilion structure of the sort fashionable in mid-seventeenth-century French gardens.
Valmer was built about 1645, together with its surrounding gardens, by Thomas Bonneau, a conseiller du roi who had acquired the property in 1640. Bonneau's Paris connections probably helped him in securing the group from Sarrazin, who shortly before had worked at Widewille for Claude de Bullion. After Bonneau's death in 1691 Valmer changed hands many times. The only treasure in its park was kept intact through the upheavals of many generations, escaping until now the attention it deserves.