GIRARDON, François
(b. 1628, Troyes, d. 1715, Paris)

Apollon and the Nymphs

Apollo Grotto, Versailles

Girardon was a close collaborator of Le Brun and embodied in his works the classical theories of the Academy. From 1663 onwards he played a part in the decoration of the royal palaces, and in 1666 he received the commission on which his fame principally rests, the group of Apollo and the Nymphs of Thetis for the grotto of Thetis at Versailles.

It is hard now to judge this work because not only was it placed in the late eighteenth century in a new 'picturesque' setting of rocks and ruins designed by Hubert Robert, but the arrangement of the figures in the group was altered. An engraving by Le Pautre shows the original disposition of the group in an enclosed niche, which was flanked by two other similar niches containing the horses of Apollo carved by Guérin and the Marsy brothers. This idea of continuing the action through several different parts of the building and so linking them up is a Baroque device.

Girardon's group is the most purely classical work in French seventeenth-century sculpture. The direct inspiration of Hellenistic work is strikingly evident in the types, the modelling of the nude and the treatment of the draperies, and can be accounted for by the fact that the artist paid a special visit to Rome during the execution of the group in order to refresh his memory of ancient sculpture there.

The main problem which faced Girardon, however, was not the treatment of the individual figures, but the manner of linking them into a coherent group. Antiquity provided no model to guide him here, thus Girardon used as source the paintings of Poussin.