Pleasure, ca. 1754
Anton Raphael Mengs (German, 1728–1779)
Pastel on paper, laid down on canvas; Oval: 24 3/8 x 19 1/4 in. (61.9 x 48.9 cm)
Victor Wilbour Memorial, The Alfred N. Punnett Endowment, and Marquand Funds, 2005 (2005.231)
Mengs was a gifted portraitist, and when, in 1744, he returned to the court of Dresden from Rome after four years of training, he had for a short time a successful practice in pastel portraiture, in which he was inspired by Rosalba Carriera (1673–1757), whose work was well represented there. Mengs' portraits in pastel, made with close and honest attention to appearances, are blond in tone and smoothly modeled, the colored strokes disguised, rather as in a highly finished oil painting.
By contrast, the present work, while studied from a model, was probably improved in accordance with what Mengs understood to be the classical standard. Pretty and androgynous, this allegorical figure of Pleasure lies midway between the Rococo and Neoclassicism. The forms are soft and pleasing. Mengs must have intended that the figure, in its anatomical perfection, be reminiscent both of Raphael and of the antique. Pleasure may have been conceived as belonging to a group of three, with Truth (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), and Innocence (of which at present only copies are known). For these personifications, the artist relied closely upon descriptions in the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa, whose book directs that Pleasure be shown as a handsome smiling youth of sixteen with a garland of roses on his head, dressed in green, and much adorned.