Mars and Venus
Etienne Delaune (French, about 1519–1583)
Robert-Dumesnil 095 IFF 102
Sheet: 18.2 x 14.1 cm (7 3/16 x 5 9/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Delaune’s birthplace and birth year are unknown. He is thought to have been born about 1519. By 1546, he was a journeyman goldsmith in Paris. Six years later he became a medallist for the royal mint, but he was dismissed after just six months. His termination may have had less to do with his talent than with his religion. He was a Calvinist, and this was a period of rising animosity toward Protestants. Not until about a decade later does Delaune seem to have taken up printmaking. The earliest date to appear on his prints is 1557. He seems to have continued to make engravings throughout the remainder of his life: the last dated plate is 1582, the year before his death.
Over 400 prints are attributed to Delaune. His engravings are notable for their finesse: the clarity and precision of his work stands out in his time and place. He often based his work on designs by other artists, but he engraved his own inventions as well. Most of his works are wonders of miniaturization. When working on a larger scale, he sometimes became somewhat clumsy; however, “Mars and Venus” is one of the larger plates in which he managed to work at his best. Though he treated many Old Testament subjects, his work is remarkable for the paucity of New Testaments scenes. Antiquity, mythology, allegory, and ornament were his other principal topics.
Delaune’s interest in the art of the Italians working at Fontainebleau is readily apparent in his engraving “Mars and Venus.” Mythological subjects from Roman antiquity, especially those pertaining to love and war, were the fashion of the day. Among the radical artistic innovations developed by the Italian immigrants was their rejection of High Renaissance norms of classical proportion. Delaune was most strongly influenced by Luca Penni, who often stretched his figures to create artificial standards of elegance. Here Delaune so extremely elongated his mythic lovers that he may have hoped to outdo Penni. The contrast of powerful, stylized musculature with the tiny delicate hands adds to the peculiarity of the physiognomies–as do Mars’s miniscule genitalia.
The image is quirky in other ways as well. The raking light causes all elements of the composition to meld together into one undulating, glimmering mass. The finely carved and sumptuously draped bed is set outdoors among tree stumps, rocks, and weeds. Cupid, who rests after having completed his task, has raised his blindfold. Had he cheated a bit by peeking, or was he just inspecting his work? Delaune signed the plate with a monogram: S for Stephanus-thereby identifying the author with classical erudition. Despite his checkered relationship with the French crown, Delaune inscribed the plate with an assertion of royal copyright protection.
Signed in plate lower left with monogram: S
In plate lower left: •CVM•PRIVILEGIO•REGIS•
Watermark: Top near center: Pot
Hill-Stone (New York); from whom purchased, 20 September 2006.
Museum purchase with funds donated by Stephen and Barbara Bergquist in honor of Sue Welsh Reed