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HistoryVersailles through the centuries

Pierre Puget

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Sculptor of the king’s arsenals (1620-1694)

A celebrated baroque sculptor, architect and painter born in Marseilles, Puget produced his greatest works for the gardens of Versailles, now in the Louvre: Milo of Crotona and Perseus and Andromeda. A strange paradox for an artist who never worked on the spot there!

Kept at a distance from Versailles owing to his independent temperament, Puget obtained from Colbert in 1670 the commission for his two most famous works: the groups of Milo of Crotona (1672-1683) and Perseus and Andromeda (1675-1684). He used for this purpose two abandoned blocks of marble from the naval shipyards of Toulon where he worked for the king’s arsenals. Delivered in 1683 and 1684, the groups received the approval of the king, who hesitated at first before their physical vigour and emotional intensity. He finally gave them the place of honour in his gardens: at the entrance of the Green Carpet. The groups remained there until the early 19th century when they entered the Louvre for their protection.

The flagship work of Puget, his Milo expresses all the dramatic intensity of the artist, remote from the academic figures then in vogue in Versailles. There is a touch of Michelangelo and Bernini in this emblematic figure of French baroque sculpture! The twisting of the body, the naturalism of the torso and the intensity of the agony of the figure are fascinating. Perseus and Andromeda expresses the same audacity, the same study of contorted movement.

Thanks to the support of Louvois, the successor of Colbert, Puget undertook other commissions for Versailles: he sculpted his Alexander and Diogenes (1671-1693), his largest relief, intended for the king’s grand apartments but it never reached them (Louvre). He then proposed a colossal Apollo for the Grand Canal, an equestrian statue for the king, and two groups on the theme of Apollo. The death of his protector in 1691 prevented him from carrying these projects through.

Working both in provincial French cities and in Italy, Puget produced sculptures with admirable expressive force: the famous Atlas figures of the Town Hall of Toulon express, before the two works in Versailles, the tortured genius of the artist. In the same spirit, he delivered in 1659 a Hercules and the Lerna Hydra for the château of the marquis de Girardin in Vaudreuil in Normandy (Rouen museum). Noticed then by Fouquet, he executed for him a peaceful Hercules the Gaul (Louvre), recovered by Colbert for his château de Sceaux. Turning away from the academic taste of Versailles, Puget managed to please the king with his audacity and tragic sense.

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