François Girardon produced his last masterpiece in Paris: the bronze equestrian statue of Louis XIV, on the place Vendôme. He took over from Pierre Pugot who subsequently retired. In 1699 he completed the statue, erected by the town of Paris on the Place Louis le Grand. This statue was melted down during the French Revolution, and is known to us only by a small bronze model (shown above in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre) finished by Girardon himself. Designed on a scale with the setting (30 feet tall) it was to influence all similar statues in France and in Europe. The foot of the original statue is in the Getty museum in LA.
In France, in the middle of the seventeenth century, the principle role of sculptors was to decorate Versailles or the royal chateau. The influence of Bernini was everywhere, his style was characterized by movement and virtuosity. Giradon, Pugot, Zirn and Coysevox all were all heavily influenced by Bernini.
Born in Troyes, Girardon was the closest collaborator of Le Brun (architect of Versailles) and also the protégé of the Chancellor Séguier. Sent to Rome where he studied art with Bernini, he worked on the decor of the Apollo Gallery of the Louvre, his first royal commission (1659), then in the Tuileries.
Arriving in Versailles in 1666, he began with a masterpiece, the group of Apollo Served by the Nymphs. Placed originally in the centre of the grotto of Thetys (demolished in 1684), it was installed in the 18th century in the grotto designed by Hubert Robert. Inspired by antique models, the elegance of its figures made it the manifesto of classical statuary of the 17th century. The three figures in the rear were done by Regnaudin.
François Girardon dominated sculptural production for Louis XIV’s myriad building projects between 1670 and 1700. Initially working under master planner Charles Le Brun’s direction, Girardon eventually managed his own large sculptural projects. He rose to great fame until, in his old age, he was overshadowed by Jules Hardouin Mansart.
His talents earned him other important commissions: the Saturn Fountain seen above (1672-77, the winter part of the seasons fountains), the statue of Winter (1675-83) depicting a freezing old man with a heating pot-stove at his feet, and especially the famous group of the Ravishment of Proserpine (1677-99). Originally intended for the Orangerie parterre, it was finally placed in the centre of the Colonnade in 1699.
He also sculpted the tomb of Cardinal Richelieu in 1694, seen above in the chapel of the Sorbonne which was built and funded by Richelieu. At the head he is comforted by the arms of Piety while Doctrine mourns at his feet. I love this concept and this was the example of over the top Baroque tombs for the next century. Although this fine example of stonework is still in its original location, its contents spent quite a bit of time apart from it. The remains of the Cardinal were pilfered during the French Revolution, and his well-preserved face was stolen and kept for years by Nicholas Armez of of Brittany, who occasionally displayed it to visitors!