Pierre Le Gros the Younger

Pierre Le Gros the Younger

Pierre Le Gros (Paris, 12 April 1666 - Rome, 3 May 1719) was a French sculptor, active almost exclusively in Baroque Rome. Nowadays, his name is commonly written Legros, while he himself always signed as Le Gros; he is frequently referred to either as 'the Younger' or 'Pierre II' to distinguish him from his father, Pierre Le Gros the Elder, who was also a sculptor. The "ardent drama" of his work and its Italian location makes him more of an Italian, than a French, sculptor [Levey 1993:82] . Despite being virtually unknown to the general public today, he was the pre-eminent sculptor in Rome for nearly two decades until he was finally superseded at the end of his life by the more classicising Camillo Rusconi.


Le Gros was born in Paris into a family with a strong artistic pedigree. Jeanne, his mother, died when he was only three, but he stayed in close contact with her brothers, the sculptors Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy, whose workshop he frequented and eventually inherited at the age of fifteen. His artistic training, though, lay in the hands of his father, from whom he learned to sculpt, and his stepmother's father, Jean Le Pautre, who taught him to draw. Le Gros was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome to study at the French Academy in Rome, where he renewed his close friendship with his cousin Pierre Le Pautre, also a sculptor and fellow at the Academy. His lodging there from 1690-1695 was a fruitful time but not untroubled, since the academy was plagued by a constant financial crisis due to the high cost of the French King's war activities. The premises then were also a rather ramshackle affair and far from the grandeur the academy should later enjoy after a move to the Villa Medici in the 19th century. Eventually, Le Gros was allowed to prove himself by carving a marble copy of a Roman antique sculpture [The commission to "Sr. Le Gros" from Matthieu de La Teulière, director of the French Academy at Rome, is mentioned in his letter to Édouard Colbert de Villacerf at the Bâtiments du Roi, 22 July 1692 (published by Anatole de Montaiglon and Jules Guiffrey, eds. "Correspondance des directeurs de l'Académie de France à Rome... vol. I 1887:298, "s.v." no. 354); the so-called "Vetturia" was then at the Villa Medici in Rome, today in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence.] which was at the time (erroneously) referred to as "Vetturie" [Vetturia, the mother of Coriolanus.] . Finished in 1695, it was finally shipped to Paris some twenty years later, where it elicited a discussion among academics that persisted after Le Gros' lifetime, whether a modern copy could surpass an ancient original; [The debate is noted by Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny, "Taste and the Antique: The Lure of Classical Sculpture, 1500-1900" (Yale University Press) 1981:40b and notes.] the debate, which was an extension of the literary Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns that had exercised the late seventeenth century, was given a twist by the suggestion that a sculptor ambitious to exceed the ancients— a consciously-expressed aim since the sixteenth century— might improve his chances by selectinmg a mediocre antiquity, which in this case Le Gros had done. His version now stands in the Tuileries Garden where it was greatly admired in the later 18th century and still rated a "copie valant presque un original" in 1852 by Edmond Texier who then called it a "Vénus silencieuse". [ [http://www.paris-pittoresque.com/jardins/3-4b.htm "Tableau de Paris"] ; a [http://www.latribunedelart.com/Courrier/07/Pascal_Julien_Versailles.htm plea for its inclusion in the collections of the Louvre] , as one of the few works conserved in France of the genius of the Franco-Italian sculptors of 1690-1715, was posted by Pascal Jullien, University of Toulouse, 2007.] In 1695 he was ejected from the Academy after secretly preparing for and accepting to collaborate (according to an overall design by the Jesuit painter and architect Andrea Pozzo) on the most prestigious sculptural commission in Rome for decades, the altar of Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the Church of the Gesù, the mother church of the Jesuit Order. The subject Le Gros depicted on the right hand side of the altar using a dynamic ensemble of four over-lifesize marble figures was "Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred" ("illustration. left"). In the group, a towering young robed female figure of Religion wielding a cross scatters the aged personifications of the vices hatred (represented by an old woman) and heresy (a man falling over the edge of the architectural framework into the viewer's space). To one side, a putto tears apart a volume by the heretic Swiss reformer Zwingli, while a tome beneath the figure of Heresy bears Luther's name. In 1697, with his sculptures nearly complete, he won a competition for the altar's main image, the silver statue of "St. Ignatius". [It was partly dismantled and melted down for its material value during the French occupation of Rome in 1798 but very soon afterwards restored with slight variations and in cheaper materials.] Ready in time for the Holy Year 1700, all this work remains on the site for which it was intended.

These, and other commissions he carried out concurrently, secured Le Gros's reputation, attracted further patronage and led to the requirement of assistants and a larger workshop which he found in a back wing of the Palazzo Farnese [He rented this workshop all his life.] . Indeed, he found himself the busiest sculptor in Rome at the time, working for the Jesuits on the monumental relief of the "Apotheosis of the Blessed Aloysius Gonzaga" [The altar again designed by Andrea Pozzo; Le Gros had some freedom to elaborate on Pozzo's design for the relief.] (1697-99; Cappella Lancelotti, church of Sant'Ignazio, Rome) while at the same time starting his extensive work for the Dominicans, whose sculptor of choice he was to remain for the rest of his life, with the "Sarcophagus for Pope Pius V" [The bronze relief of the dead pope is hinged to allow for the display of the body; the photo in Pius's wikipedia entry shows the open sarcophagus.] (1697-98) in Santa Maria Maggiore.

In 1700 he was elected a member of the Accademia di San Luca. For Antonin Cloche, the Master of the Dominicans, he carved first the tomb (1700-03), later the honorary statue (1706-08) of "Cardinal Casanate" (in the Lateran Basilica and the Biblioteca Casanatense respectively) and embarked on the task to produce with his "Saint Dominic" (1702-06) the very first (and for decades the only) monumental statue of a founder of a religious order to adorn a niche in the nave of Saint Peter's. It epitomises his dynamic mature style: "the saint's ardour and authority are well conveyed, emphasized by the ample, skilfully handled sweep of his draperies" (Levey).

Le Gros continued to be employed by several branches of the Jesuit hierarchy for work such as the statue of "St Francis Xavier" in the Roman church of Sant'Apollinare (1702) and the tableau-like and very effective rendering of the "Dying Stanislas Kostka" in the Jesuit novitiate at Sant'Andrea al Quirinale. The latter statue in polychrome marble is today Le Gros's best known work, but quite untypical since his normal practise was to provoke naturalistic impressions by an extraordinarily fine surface treatment of a monochrome white marble. A few months earlier, he was commissioned to carve a relief (1702-05) for the chapel of the Monte di Pietà in Rome.

At some point after 1697, he was hired by Cardinal de Bouillon [Emmanuel Théodose de La Tour d'Auvergne, Cardinal de Bouillon (1643-1715), cardinal since 1669, was eventually interred in Sant'Andrea al Quirinale [http://www.fiu.edu/~mirandas/bios1669.htm] ] to create the main sculptural components for his family tomb in the Abbey of Cluny; Le Gros's work was completed by 1707 and sent to Cluny, where it arrived in 1709. Le Gros is here as French as he would ever be and invented a spectacular sepulchral monument, at once continuing in the French baroque tradition and opening up new formal as well as iconological avenues. Alas, it was never to have any part in the development of tomb sculpture, because it was not even unpacked in Cluny, due to the fact that Bouillon so completely fell out [One angle of the story is told in the Wikipedia entry on Étienne Baluze.] with his cousin, the Sun King, that all tomb construction was stopped and the marbles and bronzes stored, undisturbed in their sealed crates, for nearly a century. [They were nearly sold during the French Revolution as stone material but saved by Alexandre Lenoir who wanted them for his Musée des monument français.] The animated marble figures of the cardinal's parents, Frédéric-Maurice de La Tour d'Auvergne and his wife, together with a "Battle Relief" and a winged "Genius" are today installed at the Hôtel-Dieu in Cluny, a fragment of the heraldic "Tower" in a granary of the abbey.

Le Gros also participated in the major sculptural program of his day in Rome, the enterprise to fill Borromini's colossal coloured marble niches in the Basilica of St. John Lateran with twelve heroic-scaled figures of the Apostles. This project employed some of the most prominent sculptors of Rome. Le Gros contributed "Saint Thomas" [A terracotta model of extraordinary quality showing Le Gros's very different first proposal for the statue is in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] (c. 1703-11) and "Saint Bartholomew" [A marble replica of reduced size, with some variations, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.] (c. 1703-12) who displays his own flayed skin.

1708-10 he collaborated with his close friend, the architect Filippo Juvarra, in the creation of the Cappella Antamori in the church of San Girolamo della Carità, where his statue of "San Filippo Neri" is set against a large backlit coloured glass window. [The intimate nature of this collaboration is detailed in: , "A “Dialogue” between Sculptor and Architect: the Statue of S. Filippo Neri in the Cappella Antamori", in: Stuart Currie, Peta Motture (ed.), The Sculpted Object 1400-1700, Aldershot 1997, 221-237.] Between about 1709-13 Le Gros was in charge of the "Monument of Pope Gregory XV and his nephew Ludovico Cardinal Ludovisi", again in the church of Sant'Ignazio, where he also brought in his colleague Pierre Monnot to sculpt two Famae. 1711-14 followed the Cappella di S. Francesco di Paola in S. Giacomo degl’Incurabili, for which he was the architect and the sculptor of a large relief.

But by then, his star had started to decline rapidly. First, he managed to alienate the Jesuits in 1713 by stubbornly repeating his proposal to transfer his own statue of Stanislas Kostka into the church of Sant'Andrea al Quirinale as a centrepiece for the newly decorated chapel of the Blessed Stanislas. Then, all the efforts of French officials to convince their king to pay for another Apostle statue in the Lateran and employ Le Gros to make it, led to nothing. He would finally have to recognise that he was fighting a losing battle against Rusconi, who was by then clearly favoured by Pope Clement XI. In 1714 his father died in Paris and Le Gros himself was close to death's door, suffering from gall stones.

In order to have an operation done and also to settle his inheritance, in 1715 the travelled to Paris, where he stayed with his friend, the patron and collector Pierre Crozat, whose "cabinet" in his Parisian house and chapel in his country retreat at Montmorency Le Gros decorated (both destroyed). But he was disappointed to be rebuffed by the Académie and returned to Rome in 1716. Here the last sad chapter of his life opened promptly when he sided with some dissidents who opposed the introduction of new rules at the Accademia di San Luca which subjected non-members to great financial unjustice, and he was unceremoniously expelled. This meant that he was then unable to carry out any more public commissions in Rome in his own right. The rich Roman art market was effectively closed for him and he had to settle for a few works outside, namely some statues for the Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino (after the heavy bombing in World War II, only his "Emperor Henry II" shows a reasonable degree of authenticity after restoration) and, without doubt due to the intervention of Juvarra who was by then architect to the Duke of Savoy, two female saints for the church of S. Cristina in Turin (now in the Cathedral).

Embittered, Le Gros died from Pneumonia in 1719 and was buried in the French national church in Rome. Only in 1725, under the directorship of the painter Giuseppe Chiari, was he posthumously rehabilitated and reinstated as a member of the Accademia di San Luca.



*, "Pierre Le Gros 1666-1719", Reading (Si Vede) 1997 (in German).
*Robert Enggass, "Early Eighteenth-Century Sculpture in Rome", University Park and London (Pennsylvania State University Press) 1976.
*Michael Levey, "Painting and Sculpture in France 1700-1789", (Yale University Press) 1993 (originally published as part of the Pelican History of Art in: Wend Graf von Kalnein and Michael Levey, "Art and Architecture of the Eighteenth Century in France", 1972 and several new editions).
*François Souchal, "French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The Reign of Louis XIV", vol. II, Oxford (Cassirer) 1981, vol. IV, London (Faber) 1993.
* [http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/le_gros_ii_pierre.html Pierre Le Gros II on-line]
* [http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/l/le_gros/index.html Web Gallery of Art:] Pierre Le Gros the Younger
* [http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/fcgi-bin/db2www/descrPage.mac/descrPage?selLang=English&indexClass=SCULPTURE_EN&PID=N.SK.-632&numView=1&ID_NUM=2&thumbFile=%2Ftmplobs%2FTV1TXHS9WNR82VNT6.jpg&embViewVer=&comeFrom=quick&sorting=no&thumbId=6&numResults=2&tmCond=Legros&searchIndex=TAGFILEN&author=Legro%2C%26%2332%3BPierre%2C%26%2332%3BII%26%2332%3B%28%26%2363%3B%29 St. Petersburg, Hermitage Museum, terracotta bozzetto for St. Francis Xavier]

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