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Les mois grotesques painted panels by Claude Audran
Three painted panels by Claude Audran for Les douze mois grotesques mounted as a screen. The Gobelins tapestries were woven in 1708-1709 for the apartments of the Grand Dauphin at his personal château, Meudon. They depicted the twelve months through mythology in a rich matrix of grotesques composed of decorative scrolls, trophies and floral motifs often with relevant iconographic detail. Each of the three panels has a grisaille astrological sign painted at the top: Virgo (Ceres), Scorpio (Minerva) and Sagittarius (Diana).

Ceres, the goddess of the harvest, stands in an arbor entwined with poppy flowers (sacred to her) under a beehive crest with flanking torches (one of her attributes – lit from the flames of Vesuvius, she used them to search in shadowy Hades for her kidnapped daughter, Proserpine, who was being held by Pluto). Wearing a floral crown she stands on a winnowing basket and holds a sheath of grass and a scythe. Below her, two dragons (the cart Ceres used to reach Hades was drawn by two winged dragons) cavort under a trophy composed of agricultural tools. Below them, another trophy depicts a wheeled plow, a drying rack and various harnessing gear.

Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and crafts, sits on a cloud and holds a spear and a shield. She wears a golden helmet topped by an owl (for wisdom) and sports a billowing green scarf. She is under an arbor with a thread-winder crest and flanking vases containing balls of thread. A spider web hangs below the symbol of Scorpio. Below her, a wasp-waisted monkey with a human mask unwinds balls of thread in order to work at needlepoint on her elaborate stand. (The foolish young woman, Arachne, challenged Minerva to a weaving contest. When the mortal lost, she was transformed into a spider, condemned to weave and reweave endlessly.)

Diana, the goddess of hunting, holds a spear while running with a bounding greyhound. She has a quiver on her back and wears a crescent moon on her head. She is running through an arbor with a hanging trophy composed of hunting implements with three large birds and branches above as a crest. Below the arbor, two hunting dogs, perched on scrolls, gaze up at a deer head caught in a hunting net. (Actaeon was transformed into a deer when he accidentally came across Diana bathing. He was hunted down by his own dogs.)  

The panels are referred to in the following entry from Les Comptes des Batiments: “Année 1709. Maison Royales. - Peinture: à Claude Audran, autre peintre, pour un tableau représentant un berceau où des singes sont à table; posé à Marly en 1709, 300 livres. A luy pour peintures faites aux Gobelins en 1708 et 1709, pour le nouveau batiment de Monseigneur à Meudon 495 livres”. (“Year 1709. Royal Houses. - Painting: to Claude Audran, another painter, for a painting representing an arbor where monkeys are at table; placed at Marly in 1709, 300 livres. To him for paintings made at Gobelins in 1708 and 1709, for the new building of Monseigneur [the Dauphin] at Meudon 495 livres.”)
 Both Antoine Watteau and Alexandre-François Desportes were working as studio assistants to Audran at this period, so may have worked on these panels. Watteau may have been responsible for the delicate grotesque scrolls, so different from those of the contemporary Bérain; and Desportes may have worked on the lively animals which later became his specialty.

Ex collection: Galerie Georges Petit; Paris, March 13 1922. Lot 111 (All twelve panels)

Height (ins.): 95.5 (242.6)      Length/Width (ins.): 24.5 (62.2)     
Origin: France     Period: Louis XIV



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