Formerly in the chapel of a catholic convent in England; Heim Gallery, London, 1979; Dr Arthur M. Sackler, New York (accession no. 79.1.1); his sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 29 January 2010, lot ..; private collection
J. Guiffrey, Les Comptes des Bâtiments du Roi sous le règne de Louis XIV, Paris, 1881-1901;
S. Lami, Dictionnaire des sculpteurs de l’école française sous le règne de Louis XIV, Paris, 1906, p. 234; Charles Avery, assisted by Alastair Laing, Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terra-cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M, Sackler Collection, New York/Washington D.C., 1981, p. 162; François Souchal, French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th centuries. The reign of Louis XIV, II, 1981, pp. 104-21; Françoise de la Moureyre, ‘Hardy, Jean’, in J. Turner [ed.], The Dictionary of Art, London /New York, 1996, vol.14, p. 174.
[on this sculpture]
Charles Avery, assisted by Alastair Laing, Fingerprints of the Artist: European Terra-cotta Sculpture from the Arthur M, Sackler Collection, New York/Washington D.C., 1981, pp. 162-63, no. 69; François Souchal, French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th centuries. The reign of Louis XIV, II, 1981, pp. 118-19, no. 63.
Biography [cited in abbreviated form from F. de la Moureyre, 1996]
“Although a relatively minor artist in the team of sculptors employed in Louis XIV’s ambitious schemes of embellishment at the royal palaces, he was in constant demand throughout his long career. His earliest work was decorative stone sculpture for the Condé family at the château of Chantilly (1682-84). He became a member of the Académie Royale in 1688, with a bas-relief of Religion crushing Idolatry (Louvre, Paris, MR 2729). Nearly all his ornamental and garden sculptures for the châteaux of Marly, Yvelines and Meudon have been destroyed. At Versailles, Hardy carved for the gardens two marble vases (1684-87); … two dragons in lead for a fountain at the Trianon (1702); and a group of frolicking children for the Isle of the Children (1710) - all in situ. From1703 he received regular payments for repairs to the sculptures in the royal parks and for rocaille decorations for fountains.” In 1726 Hardy even provided seven vine leaves to cover various nudités, including une double sur la grande figure d’Hercule!
This statue of the Virgin and Child thus throws new light on Hardy’s approach to devotional sculpture, with which he was officially involved only with some sculpture in the royal church of Les Invalides (1692-1703) andhis morceau de réception for the Académie Royale of Religion crushing Idolatry [Fig. 1], an allusion to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which ended religious tolerance in France and caused the exodus of – in particular - the Huguenots) and. Although his figure of Religion is seated, it manifests the same squat proportions as the present, standing, Virgin and the same broad, round face with the hair parted centrally, in the classical manner. The treatment of drapery is not dissimilar, though the Virgin wears a fine bodice, richly embroidered with strap-work and foliage in the latest Versailles fashion of ornament. Above it, the pleats of her loose chemise disguise her breasts more effectively than does the classical garment worn by Religion, while below, the sandaled feet, set at ninety degrees to one another, project similarly from under the floppy edge of the dress.
Furthermore, the flying cherub holding open the Book of Doctrine in the relief has the same, chubby, proportions and slightly pendulous cheeks as does the present Christ child, though the latter is more corpulent still, in full Rubensian mode. Similar plump, active and joyous babies featured in 1710 at life-size and in lead on the Ile des Enfants at Versailles [Fig. 2].
The parallel with Hardy’s dated work of 1688, which to him was of the utmost importance, inasmuch as it gained him admission to the Académie Royale and hence an assured livelihood as a court sculptor, indicates that the Virgin and Child almost certainly falls early in his career, maybe in the 1690s (unless he produced it earlier in the 1680s, even before the marble relief). This may account for the fact that so few parallels can be found in his subsequent work, for - under the aegis of Charles Le Brun - this was inevitably dedicated to classical, mythological, allegorical or historical themes relevant to celebrating the pomp of the Sun King, and not to devotional Christianity. As such the terracotta group occupies a significant place in the formative years of this prolific member of the Versailles School of sculpture.
DR CHARLES AVERY