Jean-Jacques Caffiéri, Cupid Vanquishing Pan (S219)
When the terracotta model for Jean-Jacques Caffiéri's bronze group of Cupid Vanquishing Pan was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1771 together with an elaborate explanation of the subject, it failed to impress contemporary critics, one of whom invited his readers 'to laugh with me at the ineptitude of the conception of an allegory so mean, so cold and so false.'. However, the composition must have impressed the abbé Joseph-Marie Terray (1716-1778), who commissioned this bronze version from Caffiéri, as well as a pendant depicting Friendship surprised by Love, now in the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Terray, a close associate of Louis XV's favourite Mme du Barry, was between 1769 and 1774 Louis XV's Minister of Finance and his Minister of Arts for just one year in 1773. Deeply unpopular with all sections of society, Terray acquired the scornful popular epithet the 'sultan in the clerical collar'. The best result of his brief tenure of the Arts Ministry was a series of commissions to leading sculptors and painters during the final five years of his life. The Cupid vanquishing Pan and its pendant each cost the abbé the enormous sum of 2,000 livres (pounds) each and were delivered to him only months before his death.
The bronze, cast by the lost-wax method, is inscribed on the base in Latin and French 'Love triumphs over all'. Its subject seems to be the victory of spiritual love, represented by the leaping confident figure of Cupid, over the cowering embodiment of bestial passions, Pan, the god of shepherds. In a playful conceit, Cupid seems to gain his victory simply by tugging at a lock of Pan's hair. The working of the surface with punches, chisels and wire brushes is of the highest quality and Caffiéri's proud signature on the right side suggests the importance with which he regarded this commission.
Jean-Jacques Caffiéri (1725-1792) was the son of Jacques Caffiéri (1678-1755), who supplied the mounts for the celebrated chest-of-drawers delivered in 1739 to Louis XV's bedroom at Versailles (Wallace Collection, Back State Room) and the brother of Philippe Caffiéri (1714-1774). Unlike his father and brother, Jean-Jacques specialised in sculpture in terracotta or marble and was not especially well-versed in metalworking, as can be seen from the many flaws in this cast.
The Wallace Collection is fortunate to possess one of the richest collections of French small bronze sculpture anywhere. Most of the bronzes in the collection were acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford and reflect his particular passion for eighteenth-century France. The Cupid vanquishing Pan disappeared following the sale of the collection of the abbé Terray in 1779, before reemerging in the collection of the Earl of Pembroke. It was bought at his sale in London in May 1851 by the 4th Marquess.