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bonjour Jean-Baptiste...

Marie Pierre Abduction of Europa
The rape of Europa,1750

Another March 6th birthday I completely missed, this French Rococo genius Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre was another one of those painters who was appreciated in his day but waned in popularity afterwards. Although some didn't like him— Diderot thought he was arrogant and couldn't stand him— I find his work important enough to mention because of three things:

1.superb composition
2.great color harmony
3.graceful figures

Pierre has a notably brighter palette than those of his contemporaries, who placed more emphasis on chiaroscuro due to the influence of Titian, than mere color. Also the portrait was becoming immensely popular at this time and the rise of pastel helped usher in this change, whereas Pierre painted mostly mythology and allegorical subjects. Pierre's shadows are thin and transparent, rarely dark except as a framing device around the figures.

In the example above for Europa, Pierre creates a three-dimensional space by a sort of circular composition of the figures, a first for this subject. His figures always seem to have a compositional purpose. If we look at the right side of the painting the two male and female figures create a "v-shape"...something I've never seen before in a mythological painting, whereas in the far left the foreshortened male torso literally points straight toward Europa.Even the cherubs are aligned in perspective diagonally toward her, and yet he makes it look natural by contrasting the direction of each cherub. I'm not sure about the significance of the eagle but even the smoldering cloud behind it points to her. Composition is the most difficult element in any painting, and we can learn something by Pierre who tackles it by assigning importance to each element of the painting.

The last example, The Death of Harmonia (zoomable image at the Met):
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Death of Harmonia

we see again the figures pointing toward the subject in perspective. Pierre uses arms to direct the viewers eye in the composition, a common theme in all of his work. Note his transparent shadows and warm skin tones, especially if we compare the left and right leg of the male figure. Even the way his clothing flows leads our eye to her.

Arrogant or not, Pierre was a fantastic Rococo painter.


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