Museum Dogs is starting off the week the 3-D! Today we are looking at sculptures of the goddess Diana and her nymph companions—and, of course, their dogs.
Louis XIV commissioned at least ten marble Companions of Diana for the grounds of the Château de Marly, a hunting lodge and a getaway from the busy palace at Versailles. The château, built in 1679, was surrounded by twelve residential pavilions and extensive gardens filled with statuary and elaborate fountains. After Louis XIV’s death in 1715, Louis XV commissioned yet more statues (including some large equestrian works) and moved some of the existing ones to other estates. Marly and its gardens were dismantled over the course of the 18th century, and only the outline of the park and the pavilions are visible today. Many of the statues from the Marly estate, including four of the five featured in this post, are now on display at the Louvre Museum.
The Greek goddess Artemis, known in Latin as Diana, is the goddess of the moon and of the hunt, and she is usually depicted as surrounded by a band of nymphs, hunting, playing, and dancing in the countryside. This image is due in large part to a description in Homer’s Odyssey:
“… Artemis, the archer, roves over the mountains, along the ridges … joying in the pursuit of boars and swift deer, and with her sport the wood-nymphs, the daughters of Zeus who bears the aegis … high above them all Artemis holds her head and brows, and easily may she be known, though all are fair—so amid her handmaidens shone the maid unwed.” (Book 6, lines 102–110)
The Greek poet Nonnus also gives a description of Artemis/Diana and her companions in action, naming some of the nymphs:
[Artemis] and maiden Aura mounted the [chariot], took reins and whip and drove the horned team [of deer] like a tempest. The unveiled daughters of everflowing Okeanos, her servants, made haste to accompany the Archeress: one moved her swift knees as her queen’s forerunner, another tucked up her tunic and ran level not far off, a third … ran alongside. The Archeress, diffusing radiance from her face, stood shining above her attendants … [Artemis] leapt out of [her chariot]; Oupis took the bow from her shoulders, and Hekaerge the quiver; the daughters of Okeanos took off the well-strung hunting nets, and another took charge of the dogs; Loxo loosed the boots from her feet (Nonnus, book 48).
The Okeanides, daughters of Okeanos (the great freshwater stream that encircles the earth), are nymphs who preside over the sources of earth’s fresh-water. Sixty of them form Artemis’s core retinue. Also part of the group are three nymphs from the mythical land of Hyperborea: Oupis (aim), Loxo (trajectory), and Hekaerge (distancing) govern the various skills of archery. Diana’s nymphs serve as a divine escort and as servants to the goddess, and they also represent the state of maidenhood—virgin but of marriageable age. Indeed, unlike the other maiden goddesses (Athena/Minerva and Hestia/Vesta) Diana’s virginity was highly sexualized in ancient myth and in more recent art—like the statues being featured today on Museum Dogs.
Hunting dogs are an important part of Diana’s imagery. The goddess’s first pack is supposed to have consisted of one spotted dog, two black-and-white ones, three reddish ones, and seven “Cynosurian [Arkadian] bitches swifter than the winds.” Among the Marly statue dogs are a hound, a large spaniel, and what appear to be three whippets or small greyhounds. They all are very expressive and super excited about their various situations.
The National Gallery’s Companion, by Jean-Louis Lemoyne, depicts a nymph holding a spear in one hand and her dog’s lead in the other. The floppy-eared hound looks up at his person adoringly, gently licking her leg and showing just how Very Good he is—in happy anticipation of being let off the leash to chase after something. OH HI PERSON YOU ARE MY FAVORITE PERSON EVER MAY I GO RUN NOW PLEASE? I AM BEING A VERY GOOD DOG.
Anselm Flamen sculpted Diana herself, the serene goddess accompanied by a VERY excited whippet. The poor beast’s ears are severely cropped, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is too excited about his person and about the adventures at hand. I MUST RUN LET ME RUN THERE IS SO MUCH FUN GOING ON! THINGS ARE HAPPENING!!! Flamen also contributed a statue of a nymph, one with an ecstatic spaniel. The nymph probably originally held a spear or something in her hand, but her position looks very much like she just threw a ball or stick and her dog is jumping up to go run after it. OH YAY A THING TO CATCH THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER!!!
René Frémin’s Companion has a similarly enthusiastic dog. The nymph stretches out her hand, as if to tell the dog to stay or wait, but the little whippet has other ideas—an outstretched usually holds a treat! IS THERE A TREAT HERE AM I GETTING A TREAT? I WOULD VERY MUCH LIKE A TREAT PLEASE GIVE ME A TREAT!
The dog accompanying Simon Mazière’s nymph is much calmer than the other ones. The serene greyhound lays at her person’s feet (don’t trip over your dog, nymph!), gazing up with an admiring smile and ears in “meek” position. Her front paw curled under is a charming touch that further conveys the dog’s love and devotion to her person. AHH WHAT A LOVELY DAY I AM SO GLAD TO JUST BE HERE WITH MY PERSON MY PERSON IS THE BEST EVER.
I can’t help but include one more statue. It is in the same courtyard at the Louvre as the Marly statues, and the dog is too good not to share:
Antoine Coysevox French, 1640–1720 Marie Adelaide of Savoy, Duchess of Burgundy, as Diana 1710 Marble Paris, Musée du Louvre Photograph by Richard A. Higgins, http://tinyurl.com/lwwjadr
The wide-eyed dog looks about ready to have an apoplexy. WHATSTHATOVERTHERE?! I AM SO CONFUSED AND SO EXCITED I CANNOT EVEN!!!
Many thanks to Richard A. Higgins for the use of his excellent photographs.