Janmot’s The Torture of Mezentius Acquired by the Musée d’Orsay

25/4/14 - Acquisition - Paris, Musée d’Orsay - The Etruscan king Mezentius : "went so far even as to tie dead bodies to living persons, hand to hand, face to face, as a kind of torture, thus inflicting a slow death to these beings who liquefied themselves into pus and rot, in a miserable embrace" [1]. This horrible torture (which we hope was only the stuff of legend) in any case inspired many artists, including Charles Le Brun but also, less surprisingly, William Blake.

1. Louis Janmot (1814-1892)
The Torture of Mezentius, 1864
Oil on canvas - 113 x 143 cm
Paris, Musée d’Orsay
Photo : Galerie Michel Descours

2. Louis Janmot (1814-1892)
The Torture of Mezentius, 1864
Charcoal,highlighted in white gouache,traces of green highlighting
Lyon, Musée des Beaux-Arts
Photo : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

The Musée d’Orsay recently acquired a painting with the subject by Louis Janmot (ill. 1) from the Michel Descours Gallery. This canvas is related to the Poème de l’Ame since one of the cartoon drawings, part of the cycle residing at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon (ill. 2), depicts the same scene. In a desolate landscape, with a mountainous background, and quite different from the cartoon which shows mainly rocks, a young man is tied to a dead woman whose flesh is already turning blue. Unlike Virgil’s text, they are not tied hand to hand, face to face, no doubt more difficult to evoke. As explained by Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier [2] in the catalogue entry presented by the Descours gallery, and which we recommend to our readers for a complete study of this work : "The calculated aggressivity of this composition suggests an intensification of Janmot’s usual pessimism" corresponding to a period when a décor submitted by the painter for the church of Saint Augustin had not been accepted, a rejection he took particularly hard. The painting was presented at the Salon of 1865 with the title "A Living Person Attached to a Corpse ; Ancient and Modern Torture". While the Poème de l’Ame includes several scenes of a rather morbid tone, this is without a doubt the most horrifying of all. After the purchase of the Medusa or The Cask of Hate by Carlos Schwabe (see news item of 12/3/14), the acquisitions by the Musée d’Orsay, which we have already said are of high quality, as is the case here - continue but in a rather somber tone...

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Didier Rykner, vendredi 25 avril 2014


[1] Virgil, The Aeneid.

[2] And not Mehdi Korchane as we had said initially.

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