WATTEAU, Jean-Antoine
(b. 1684, Valenciennes, d. 1721, Nogent-sur-Marne)

The Embarkation for Cythera

Oil on canvas, 129 x 194 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This picture was Watteau's diploma piece for the Académie royal de Peinture et de Sculpture. Watteau's nomination was accepted by the Académie in 1712, but he had to be called to order several times and in 1717 he was given six months to execute his reception piece. He was received on presentation of his picture.

Love is a traditional theme of French poetry since the Middle Ages. From the beginning of the 18th century, the idea of departure for Cythera recurs in numerous ballets and operas.

The handle of the paint in scumbles and glazes, thinly applied, with very little impasto, is close to that of Rubens in his final period. Watteau was able to study his style of painting in the royal collection. Even the subject is derived from Rubens' Jardin d'Amour. Moreover, Watteau made a very close study of the Rubens painting in the Galerie Médicis. There are also reminiscences of Italy in this enchanted land; the general atmosphere of the painting is Venetian, and the distant mountains in their blue haze recall Leonardo.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 6 minutes):
François Couperin: Pieces de clavicen (excerpts)