Riddles “Pilgrimage to the island of Kythira” Watteau: Why the artist renamed the painting
On Saturday, August 28, 1717, Antoine Watteau presented a painting for which he was admitted to the French Academy. The canvas depicting a gallant celebration quickly received the approval of its members and gave birth to a new genre in painting of the era. But then something went wrong, in any case, the artist changed the name of his canvas.
Antoine Watteau, the French Rococo artist and founder of the” gallant festival”, made the main object of his painting the love island of Greek mythology, visible in the background and inhabited by countless cupids. In the ancient world, cythera is one of the Greek Islands, which was considered the birthplace of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love. Thus, the island became sacred for lovers. It is noteworthy that this island is the southernmost and easternmost part of the group of Ionian Islands. The mountain ranges rise to a height of 1,663 feet.
This island is a Paradise, painted with bright landscapes that will charm even the most fastidious viewers. The picture shows young ladies and gentlemen in holiday dresses, ready to get on a gondola and head to the island of love. Historians still debate whether the lovers are going to the island or are actually preparing to leave? Most are inclined to leave.
Watteau’s work praises love, cupids fly around couples and “bind” their hearts. The statue of Aphrodite is also significant. The luminous colors indicate the influence of Venetian painting on Watteau. The painting depicts the usual celebration for the aristocratic society of France, which is seen as a procession of pleasure and peace after the long and dark years of the reign of Louis XIV. In the foreground are three pairs of lovers. At the foot of the hill, several more happy people are depicted. Thin light strokes of the artist make the picture fabulous, magical, almost unreal. The misty and mountainous landscape is artfully painted, the costumes of the characters are carefully detailed, and the strokes of extraordinary beauty are also used in the image of trees. The neutral palette of the landscape is elegantly complemented by the bright pastel costumes of lovers.
The painting, originally named “Pilgrimage to the island of Kiferu” by the artist, was renamed “Gallant celebration”for presentation to academicians. Subsequently, this work of the artist gave birth to a new genre of painting – “gallant celebration”, which was practiced by imitators of Watteau-Jean-Baptiste Pater and Nicolas Lancre.
What caused this transformation of the name? The fact is that the mention of Cythera, the island of the goddess Aphrodite, referred to antiquity, to Greco-Roman mythology. And the author’s name prepared the viewer for a canvas full of deities and people in ancient robes. Meanwhile, Watteau painted pairs of men and women dressed in the fashion of his time. From the mythology there are only the whirling vortex of winged cupids in the background, and from the Ancient world – statue of Aphrodite with a broken hand. The name “gallant festival” gently removes this discrepancy: the work does not fit into the tradition of mythological, allegorical or decorative painting, which was practiced by Watteau’s predecessors and contemporaries and continues to be practiced by some modern artists.
The procession includes eight pairs. Basically, these are typical images for the work of Antoine Watteau: they can be seen in other paintings, sketches, sketches of the artist. The overall impression of the picture is determined by the atmosphere of melancholy, short-lived and fragility. The highlight of the work is the slow dynamics of the process.
What kind of celebration is this? And who are these people-comedians or guests of aristocratic entertainment? If you look closely at the three couples in the center of the canvas, their conventional poses and understand their game, you will see that the dandy depicts passion, kneeling before the lady, and the child (resembling Cupid) spies on them. The second hero helps his lady up. A third man with a shepherd’s staff leads a young woman away. Thus, the picture is the personification of the relationship between a lady and a gentleman. In the background, the performance continues, but the expressions are more lively, the gestures are less modest and restrained. Love triumphs. However, the picture does not so much describe love as impartially analyzes the roundabout ways that this feeling moves.
Of course, the judges of the Academy of arts, evaluating the work of Watteau, were shocked by the result of the artist – a kind of theatrical universe of Watteau. They were delighted with the new style and gave Antoine Watteau the highest rating that any young artist could have dreamed of.
However, the popular genre of “gallant celebration” in his time, a few years after Watteau’s death, exhausted itself. 80 years after writing the work, during the French revolution, Watteau’s work with its frivolous characters was associated with the old days of the monarchy and the frivolous aristocracy. The “Rococo” genre returned to painting in the 1830s. In 1904, Claude Debussy, inspired by Watteau’s painting, wrote a piece for solo piano called “L’isle Joyeuse” (FR. Island of joy). Four decades later, Debussy’s compatriot Francis Poulenc wrote a live piece of the same name for two pianos, “Pilgrimage to the island of Kiferu”.
The artistic content of Watteau’s work is due to two factors: his love of theater and his passion for the Rococo style. Thus, Jean-Antoine Watteau managed to develop a unique style and revolutionize the art world thanks to his personality.