Drawing, Panel of Arabesques for the Hôtel de Salm, Paris, 1785
Pen and black ink, brush and gouache, black chalk on toned paper, lined.
Purchased for the Museum by the Advisory Council. 1911-28-219.
- Designed by Jean-Guillaume Moitte
What is this?
Design for a wall panel. At the bottom, two satyrs sacrifice flowers at the foot of a burning candelabrum. The satyrs support, with their heads, two half female figures (half female and half flower stem). The figures hold a medallion with a maenad. A putto, supporting a vase, stands on top of the medallion. At the very to center of the composition are two billing doves and at the edges two putti. The putti hold festoons and garlands from which then flower baskets are suspended. The doves hold long garlands, which are then connected to two female figures (one at each side of the central composition). These female figures in turn stand on long decorative spears, which rest on the end tips of the half female figures.
Why is this important?
This design for a decorative panel offers a variation on the grotesque motif, an ornamental style that was first seen in ancient Rome. Characterized by the non-narrative assembly of fantastic animals on a two dimensional surface, grotesques were capable of limitless permutations and invited the imagination of countless designers throughout the centuries. The design is host to a lively cast of classical figures: cavorting satyrs, graceful caryatids and plump putti are all connected by a system of garlands and candelabra, together forming a strong vertical axis. Jean-Guillaume Moitte, working in pre-revolutionary France, had stylistic affinities with Ancien Régime designers such as Jean Berain, who helped to popularize the grotesque in the seventeenth century. Moitte designed the panel as part of a commission for the Hôtel de Salm in Paris; the artist was one of the main sculptors hired to work on the building, then the private residence of Prince Frederick III of Salm-Kyrburg. The bright turquoise gouache of the drawing is typical of the highly saturated color palette then popular for domestic interiors.