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HistoryVersailles through the centuries

Antoine Coysevox

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Sculptor to the King (1640-1720)

The favourite sculptor of Hardouin-Mansart, Coysevox executed for Versailles a series of works in the baroque and antique style, a strange mix for an artist who never visited Italy!

Born in Lyon, he arrived in Versailles in 1679 for the decoration of the Hall of Mirrors and the marble courtyard. For the War salon he carved relief of Louis XIV Victorious. This masterpiece of French baroque art testifies to the freedom of invention and the virtuosity of the sculptor. His baroque character and taste for rich materials appeared again in the France Triumphant of the Arc-de-triomphe grove, cast in gilded lead. Another war piece was the Vase of War (1685) for the terrace of the Château.

On a more serene note are the marble replicas based on antique models of the Bending Venus and the Venus with the Shell for the North parterre and the Latona fountain. Today in the Louvre, they were replaced by replicas in marble or bronze. More ambitious is the Castor and Pollux group at the start of the Green Carpet. Coysevox intended that he too could rival the calm classicism of Girardon. He demonstrated this again in the Water Parterre in the original reclining figures of the Garonne and Dordogne rivers.

Coysevox also exercised his talents at Marly. With his nephews, the celebrated Coustou brothers, he produced the figures of the Grand Cascade: Neptune, Amphitrite, the Seine and the Marne (Louvre) as well as the equestrian figures of Mercury and Fame for the water trough. Transferred to the entrance of the Tuileries gardens, they announced the rocaille style based on rocks and shells. Another rocaille figure is that of the Duchesse de Bourgogne as Diana (Versailles) in which he combined his interest in antiquity and his taste for the portrait.

As the king’s official portrait painter, Coysevox showed his undeniable superiority over Girardon. He produced numerous busts for the king and the court, a genre which produced remarkably successful pieces in the 18th century. All attest to his profound sense of psychology and resemblance. This subtlety won him commissions for numerous funerary monuments, of which the most famous are those of Mazarin in the Institut de France and of Colbert in Saint-Eustache church. The artist worked constantly until the end of his life. He terminated his gifted career with a final masterpiece: the Louis XIV at Prayer in the choir of Notre-Dame. Once again in the service of the king!

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