Home‎ > ‎Connectivity Maps‎ > ‎

WATTEAU's Embarquement pour Cythère

Kythira (Κύθηρα, Cythera, Kythera, Italian: Cerigo) is an island of Greece, historically part of the Ionian Islands. It lies opposite the eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula.

Cythera is mentioned in the Histories of Herodotus Bk. 1 (2), Chapter 105:
(in 1.105 BC) " From there they (the Scythians) marched against Egypt: and when they were in the part of Syria called Palestine, Psammetichus king of Egypt met them and persuaded them with gifts and prayers to come no further. So they turned back, and when they came on their way to the city of Ascalon in Syria, most of the Scythians passed by and did no harm, but a few remained behind and plundered the temple of Heavenly Aphrodite. This temple, I discover from making inquiry, is the oldest of all the temples of the goddess, for the temple in Cyprus was founded from it, as the Cyprians themselves say; and the temple on Cythera was founded by Phoenicians from this same land of Syria. But the Scythians who pillaged the temple, and all their descendants after them, were afflicted by the goddess with the “female” sickness: and so the Scythians say that they are afflicted as a consequence of this and also that those who visit Scythian territory see among them the condition of those whom the Scythians call “Hermaphrodites”."
For a full account about  the worship of Aphrodite  and her temple in Kythera, see  Chapter VIII (p.217-226) in 'L'Aphrodite grecque' 
by Vinciane Pirenne-Delforge, Centre International d'Etude de la Religion Grecque Antique, Athènes-Liège, 1994.527 pp.

Charles Baudelaire:  Les Fleurs du mal 

         — Île des doux secrets et des fêtes du cœur !
De l’antique Vénus le superbe fantôme
    Au-dessus de tes mers plane comme un arome,
     Et charge les esprits d’amour et de langueur.

                                                          Belle île aux myrtes verts, pleine de fleurs écloses,
       Vénérée à jamais par toute nation,
         Où les soupirs des cœurs en adoration
            Roulent comme l’encens sur un jardin de roses   
                                                               Read the full poem
or listen to the poem.

YouTube Video

Also Victor Hugo wrote in the same year 1855 a poem
'Tout homme qui vieillit est ce roc solitaire
Et triste, Cérigo, qui fut jadis Cythère,
Cythère aux nids charmants, Cythère aux myrtes verts,
La conque de Cypris sacrée au sein des mers.

L'Embarquement pour Cythère, for 2 pianos, by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963)

Poulenc - L'embarquement pour Cythere, for two pianos; Liora and Yuval playing at a graduation contest

And a modern Greek song by the Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou from the film of Theodoros Angelopoulos:Voyage to Cythera:

Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage To Cythera) - Νταλάρας - Καραΐνδρου

YouTube Video

The famous paintings of Jean-Antoine WATTEAU (1684-1721), dated 1717-19, classified under topic 1. 'Allegories'  in the Topical Catalogue 'The French Venus', are known in two versions:

one in Paris, Musée du Louvre, presented by WATTEAU for his reception at the Académie in 1717, originally called 'Pèlerinage à l'île de Cythère'. Smarthistory, Art History at Khan Academy offers a description on video of 5:18 min.

YouTube Video

and one in Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg (since 1983, previously in private ownership of the Hogenzollers since it was acquired by King Frederic the Great), painted a few years later and entitled 'Embarquement pour Cythère' or 'Le retour du pèlerinage à Cythère'. There has been much discussion and confusion about these titles. The Paris version is also called 'Embarquement pour l'île de Cythère'.
The paintings have a similar composition (although the Berlin version counts 24 persons instead of 18 in the Paris version) and same dimensions (129x194) on canvas. Hence, they may be considered as replicas.  A main difference between both paintings is the statue of Venus on the right side of the picture: in the Paris version the statue is a bust on a pedestal, called a 'Venus-herme'; in the Berlin version the statue is a life-size Venus with Cupid at her feet.

The same statue is found again in another famous painting of WATTEAU: 'La fête d'amour', also called 'Plaisirs d'amour' or 'Sacrifice à l'amour', dated around the same time and owned by the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. A high resolution picture can be explored in the GoogleArtProject.

About the importance of these paintings in WATTEAU's career, the historical and literary background, the patrons, the meaning of the allegory and the details of the paintings, see Claudia Denk's contribution (p.160-171) in 'Venus, Bilder einer Göttin'  edited by E. Mai, SDZ, 2000.

More about Antoine WATTEAU can be found on the website 'Watteau and His Circle' with several highly professional essays by Martin Eidelberg.

'Cythère' was a very popular literary subject and WATTEAU painted a few years earlier 'L'Ile de Cythère' or 'Voyage à Cythère', but without any reference to Venus. It is generally considered as the prelude to his masterworks and was probably inspired by works by his master Claude GILLOT, by Bertrand PICART and an engraving  by  Claude DUFLOS (1665-1727) with the same title, featuring the 'temple of Venus' in the background.
An early engraving (c1718) of WATTEAU's 'L'île de Cythère' is by Nicolas LARMESSIN.

Jacques DUPLESSIS (1680-1732) made cartoons in 1723 for tapestries featuring the temple of Venus in Kythera: one of these tapestries is in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
, another was sold by Sotheby's, Paris in 2003.

WATTEAU also painted 'Les amusements de Cythère' , only known through an engraving by Louis SURUGUE published in 1729 : it shows a reclining Venus surrounded by putti in an attitude very similar to the one in the painting 'Adonis conduit près de Vénus par les Amours'  by Franceso ALBANI in the Musée du Louvre.

WATTEAU made several preparatory drawings, which he used for the three MASTERWORKS discussed. Some are shown in the Connectivity Map (see below) with a link to the respective paintings.
Grasselli M & Rosenberg P  'Watteau' Ed. RMN, Paris 1984, p.406-411 refer to a print by Abraham BOSSE (c.1650) as the inspiration for his 'statue vivante' of Venus.

Michel E et al. 'Watteau - L'embarquement pour l'île de Cythère' Monographies des peintures du Musée du Louvre II. Edtions des Musées Nationaux 1939
refers to a copy of the Paris painting attributed to Jacques Sebastien LE CLERC (dit Leclerc des Gobelins) (1734-1785) in a private collection in Paris. LE CLERC is also accredited for a painting 'Couples dancing and playing music at the foot of a statue of Venus', probably inspired by 'La fête d'amour'  of WATTEAU.

Pierre Antoine QUILLARD (1701-1733) painted 'Pèlerinage à Cythère' with a Venus statue in a circular temple.

A painting by Jérôme-François CHANTEREAU (died 1757 Paris) 'L'embarquement pour Cythère' was sold in Paris, 13 June 1986.

An 'analogue' painting with a bust of Venus and the title 'Embarquement pour Cythère' was made ca 1785 by Jean-Pierre NORBLIN de la GOURDAINE (1745-1830).

According to Grasselli & Rosenberg (op.cit.) the Berlin version was copied by WATTEAU's colleague Nicolas LANCRET (1690-1743) with the title 'Le départ pour Cythère' .
It was engraved in reverse by  Nicolas Henri TARDIEU in 1733. In the 19th century it was copied on a porcelain plaque by Abel SCHILT in 1872.

Copies of the Paris- version were made in the 19th-20th century by well-known artists (such as Eugène BOUDIN ,  Ignace-Henri FANTIN-LATOUR  and Pierre-Auguste RENOIR),  by many lesser known artists ( Louis AUDIBERT,  Albert BERTRAND, Henry COEYLAS,  Alfred DABAT, Eugène FAURE -with an engraving by Eugene-Louis PIRODON,  F. KWIATKOWSKI) and by unknown artists, for instance one painting in the Musée Antoine Vivenel at Compiègne. Since no images are known of these lesser known artists, it remains a guess whether these paintings are copies or imitations of the Paris- or Berlin-version, including a Venus-statue. They are, however, all entitled 'Embarquement pour Cythère' .

One peculiar example is a painting of smaller size (82x102) with the title 'Le voyage à Cythère', probably falsely attributed to WATTEAU, <painted for M. Crozat after the esquisse presented by WATTEAU for his reception at the Académie>, according to the text published in the catalogue (n°104) of the sale Khalil-Bey at Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 16-18.1.1868 (Haddad M 'Khalil-Bey  Un homme, une collection' , Paris, 2000). The catalogue refers to TARDIEU's engraving and also to another early engraving made by Laurent CARS (1699-1771), which is not yet traced. The whereabouts of this painting are not known and no image is available.  However, the reference to TARDIEU's engraving suggests a copy after the Berlin-version.

Engravings of the Paris version  were made in 1864 by Charles CHAPLIN (on request of the Musée du Louvre), by LECOUTEUX and by Alphonse-Alexandre LEROY (1820-1902). Eugène André CHAMPOLLION presented an engraving and a lithography at the Paris' Salon des Artistes in 1881. 

An engraving after the Dresden painting and entitled 'Ländliches Fest'  by the English-German artist Albert Henry PAYNE is in the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum, Leipzig.

Also Belgian artists copied the masterwork: Auguste DANSE (1829-1929) made an engraving and the  painter Armand HEINS made a very large decoration copy around 1888 in a salon of Hôtel Falligan in Gent, Belgium.

The latest engraving was made by André DEVAMBEZ in 1913 after the one by TARDIEU.

Some modern artists (André DERAIN, 1945,  Camille CLAUS, 1955, Armand MASSONET, 1892-1979) got inspiration from WATTEAU and entitled their work 'Embarquement pour Cythère' but did not depict Venus. An abstract painting with this title was made in 1929 by Maurice ESTEVE.

WATTEAU was considered old-fashioned and a typical representative of the 'ancient régime' by the end of the 18th century and was still rebuked in the beginning of the 19th century. But by mid-century the above MASTERWORKS  were reappraised: Edmond and Jules de Goncourt wrote <the masterpiece of French masterpieces> and <the marvel of the Master's miracles> (quoted by Posner D 'Antoine Watteau'  Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1984, p.182) and Théophile Gautier wrote <le chef-d'oeuvre de l'artiste> (quoted by Michel et al. 1939, p.16).  It is generally accepted that WATTEAU's masterworks are forerunners of the impressionist style.

The poem of Baudelaire (see above) was the subject of a painting by Henri VOLLET (1861-1945), exhibited at the Salon in 1892, n°1670, and the many satiric drawings/prints by the notorious Belgian artist  Félicien ROPS (1833-1898) with such titles as Cythères Parisiennes (1863) or Académie cythéréenne/ Départ pour Cythère/ Pesage à Cythère/ Toilette à Cythère/ Hippodrome de Cythère (1878-81)  or La Gazette de Cythère (1881) of Octave Uzanne, with a frontispice by Eugène GAUJEAN (1850-1900)
point out how 'Cythère' was again the talk of the day in the latter part of the 19th century.

In the 20th century a comedy play 'L'embarquement pour Cythère' in 4 acts by Emile Veyrin had great success in 1904 in Paris. Another play with the same title was published by H. Bourgerel in 1929, with illustrations by Pierre LAPRADE (1875-1931). A one-act comedy with the same title by Maurice Mousenne & Gaston Furnelle was presented in 1934.

Later in the 20th century, the island is the title of a collection of aphorisms  by the French/Italian film director and poet Jean Josipovici : Citera : isola di Afrodite (Laterza, Bari 1989).

Exceptional is the fountain sculpture called 'Citerea'  (Cythera). It was awarded a prize in the Sculpture Project Competition of the  'Les Corts District' in Barcelona, held in 1990, and was presented by three women:  Cristina Desplat García,  Carmen Rodríguez-Filloy-Quiñones and Maria Luisa SERRA CATALAN, the sculptor of the fountain. They wanted to put up a monument based on  WATTEAU’s painting.
It was erected in the 'Jardins de Clara Campoamor' and inaugurated in 1993. Clara Campoamor was a Radical Party politician in the Republican government and a key figure in obtaining the vote for women in 1931.
Read the review by Carla Padró in Art Public of the Ajuntament de Barcelona about the contradiction: a classic male legend of happiness in a place paying tribute to the person who achieved the vote for women, and was exiled in 1936 and could never return.

Remarkable is the JAQUARD tapestry 'Die Einschiffung nach Kythera' of 2004 after the digital design by Margret EICHER, a German artist born in 1955. EICHER transforms the Kythera -myth with figures from the Dolce & Gabbana fashion advertising campaigns.

The links among these MASTERWORKS, their PREDECESSORS and their SUCCESSORS (copies or analogues and engravings), are visualized with VUE in a Connectivity Map, here given as a small jpeg figure. A larger figure can be viewed in attachment which can also be downloaded under the Creative Commons License.
Please read the general introduction about the VUE presentation in 'Connectivity Maps'.
Consistent with the general approach of the Topical Catalogues, only  works which depict Venus and made by identified artists are considered and only those SUCCESSORS are shown in the Map if a minimum of information is available, i.e. dimensions, ownership and available image in order to relate the work to one of the MASTERWORKS (more specifically with respect to the Paris or Berlin versions).

Hence the Map is tentative and may be adjusted whenever more information become available.

NEXT         HOME
Latest update:16/10/2016
K. Bender,
Dec 23, 2009, 1:43 PM