Virginal

Selections from the Nasher Museum of Art
August 1, 2005

 

Vestal Virgin Clodion

Vestal Virgin
Clodion
Circa 1799
Terra cotta
17 1/2 inches
Gift of Mary D.B.T. Semans and James 
H. Semans, in 
honor of Mary Duke Biddle

The eighteenth-century French artist Clodion (born Claude Michel) was a master of small-scale sculpture--mostly in terra cotta, although he also worked in bronze and marble. Clodion was a contemporary of his better-known colleague Jean-Antoine Houdon, with whom he shared a studio for a time.

Clodion was famous for his adept and often elegant small-scale renditions of classical themes and figures--Galatea, Zephyrus and Flora, Bacchus and Ariadne, satyrs, bacchantes, and putti--inspired by antique sculpture and by the works of artists such as Michelangelo and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. He also created impressive works on a larger scale, including a masterful marble sculpture of the Baron de Montesquieu and a relief on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris.

This terra cotta statuette represents a Vestal Virgin carrying garlands to be used in a sacrifice and a vase that was probably intended to hold sacrificial oil. The Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, has a similar figure by Clodion in its collection. The Nasher's small, lyrical virgin is typical of Clodion's later work, in the 1790s, when he began to move from his signature rococo style toward the neoclassical style then gaining ascendancy.